A Writer's Guide to History series - would you read it?


New Member
Apr 15, 2013
Firstly, thank you to Brian for giving us permission to post in this forum.

Hello. I'm a Commissioning Editor at Manchester University Press and I'm hoping you can help me with some research I'm doing for a possible new series for us. As writers, would you find a series of guides to certain historical periods (Victorians, Middle Ages, Tudors, etc) useful? They would be written by historians who specialise in their fields and would contain information on everyday life, which would include anything from what people ate, drank and wore to how they wooed, posted letters, swore or committed crimes.

If so, what eras would you be interested in reading about? Are there any particular regions that interest you? What would you want to know about them and the people that inhabited them?

Thank you for your help and time – it is very much appreciated.
Writing guides to history are always useful for someone like me, but there are a lot of existing books on "daily life", especially for the mediaeval period, and these are very good. The question you need to ask is what sort of angle you want to take.

For example, Ian Mortimer's Time Traveller's Guide looks at the period via various themes from different locations; Gies' Life in a Mediaeval City looks at one location and how it develops, and Terry Jone's Mediaeval Lives looks at different classes of people.

Personally, I'm just happy to read about daily life histories, so whatever you do I'm sure should be interesting. :)
As Brian said, there are already books like those you propose to publish -- some of them very good, some of them not so much -- but I love reading about details of daily life and scattering them through my own books. I can never get enough of that kind of information. The more I read, the more I want.

As to what periods would interest me personally -- right now that would be anything from early Tudor right through to mid-Victorian, and I'm especially interested in the 18th century. I'm a little burnt out on the medieval period, but if there were something really good, I'd probably read it.
I agree with what's been said, and would add that I'd be more interested in pre-Tudor periods.
Ah! Had an idea - there's a lot of discussion about diversity issues and moving away from the European mediaeval period.

So - something I think most any writer would find invaluable is a book that has sections on "daily life" covering a wider number of cultures in history.

Some ideas that could to mind would be Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece and Rome, Mesoamerica, China, India, the Baghdad Caliphate, studies of individual tribal peoples such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines.

In effect, creating a single valuable resource for covering a large number of significant and/or interesting historical periods across the globe. I would imagine this would make it a book of wider appeal than a single European period. Even if impossible to cover everything in great depth, notes on further research would help, and you could further develop as spin-off books those sections which prove most popular. :)
Good idea, Brian, but Byzantium (as in the Eastern Roman Empire rather than the period preceding that) would be very good as well.
I'd be more interested in local history. Local, local. Not just 'European' or even 'English.' Like... 17th century south west England. (1685 if we want really specific).
More to the point, who makes the decision about whether the history being published is accurate, bearing mind that 'history is written by the winners'?

Wasn't it one of Napolean's Generals, when asked about what history would think of his actions, said "history, sir, will lie"
Thanks to everyone who has helped so far and offered their thoughts. I really appreciate your time and comments. Anyakimlin: I imagine it will be less humerous than Horrible Histories, sadly.
Hmm, I would focus a bit on architecture, food, the social niceties and subtle little things that someone who lived in a certain time and place would know. All those 'fish out of water' stories are about clearly not fitting in, so someone needs to be able to say what is the norm. That kind of subjective detail is what gives historical fiction its authenticity IMHO.
This is for a subset of history but there's a good publisher of military history - Osprey publishing http://www.ospreypublishing.com/ that I have to say I'm a bit addicted to.

They've got thousands of titles and are highly specific and are academically written. So for example the 'warrior' subprint will have 'Greek Hoplite 480-323 BC' up to 'Panzer crewman 1939-45' and to modern armies. But they also look at military architecture (a whole subprint on fortifications - the walls of Constantinople for example), weaponary, armies, tactics, battles, campaigns. Basically anything that can be researched and is military.

Generally they'll discuss the subject from primary sources (i.e. the discussion of the warrior Mycenaeans comes from pottery and Homer!) and have plenty of illustrations - a lot of colour plates of illustrations from artists who will try and get their paintings accurate. And also a lot of discussion about the every day nature of soldiery/castles/ships. I've found them a wealth of information that has sparked off loads of ideas.

They are however a little light, in terms of number of pages, and I admit quite expensive. But if you know what you want to research and they have it, check them out.
More to the point, who makes the decision about whether the history being published is accurate, bearing mind that 'history is written by the winners'?

Wasn't it one of Napolean's Generals, when asked about what history would think of his actions, said "history, sir, will lie"

"History is a lie, agreed upon," and that is credited to Boney himself, as I heard it. (but who really knows)

That is my main concern. I can't remember the source but I have heard that many of the tactical descriptions of Vitruvius et al are now considered as near impossible by modern scholars who have actually tried them (not re-enactors, either, actual military and historical experts).

And there is also the way that Tom Clancy is said to have depicted the inside of a Soviet submarine in a way so accurately that many Soviets thought he had somehow gotten access to classified information. "I studied what I could of American subs then I pretty much made it up.", is at least his story.

I try very hard to depict history accurately. I love a tiny historical detail that can add verisimilitude. If history gets in the way of the story, however, well....

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