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Telling stories

Annual QUB Centre for Public History Conference

Telling stories: History, narrative and fiction


September 15-16th 2022

Queen's University, Belfast

The boundaries between history, story and fiction can sometimes be thin, and the role of imagination and creativity in historical research and writing is receiving greater recognition. Alessandro Portelli extolled the value of subjectivity when he remarked that the value of oral history lies ‘not in its adherence to facts but in its divergence from them, where imagination, symbolism and desire break in’. More recently the work of Saidiya Hartmann, in her words: ‘troubles the line between history and imagination’. Historians working with memories, life histories and personal testimonies are also attuned to the narrative shapes both in their sources and increasingly in their own work, sometimes reworking the traditional form of academic writing to fit their subjects, as for example in the work of Sarah Knott and Matt Houlbrook. The ‘Writing Radically’ article series for History Workshop Online explored different approaches to narrative, storytelling and the writing of history, with some suggesting that radical approaches to history writing could probe the gaps in the archival record and bring underrepresented voices and experiences to the fore. Equally the work of novelists such as Mazza Mengiste, Javier Cercas and Valeria Luiselli plays with the forms of fiction, history and the archive. Just as much as academic historians construct narratives in their work, novelists and creative writers have ways of probing historical truth. Approaching history in a creative way therefore not only offers new ways of engaging the public with history but new ways of ‘doing’ history.

This conference aims to explore the interfaces between history and fiction and between academic and creative approaches to history, by bringing together historians, writers and other creative practitioners to discuss these issues, exchange ideas and explore the potential for creative conversations and collaborations. 

Confirmed speakers

Keynote talks by Prof. Matt Houlbrook and Prof Sonja Boon

Panel discussions and talks with Lucy CaldwellProf. Glenn Patterson, Laura McKenna

and Nuala O’Connor

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