Do you have literature suggestions or do we just have them read literature from the same time period that we are studying? Lo
Thank you, Lo, for your wonderful question. At present, the Classical Historian does not offer a recommended list of literature to read along with our history courses, and we are reluctant to do so.
There are some misconceptions regarding trying to combine a history program with literature. First, the study of history is analyzing historical evidence in order to understand the past and its meaning, and to impart on students analytical tools. Historians use primary and secondary resources and analytical tools to make sense of the past. Primary sources are those that are created by eyewitnesses of the event. The criteria the historian places on finding and reporting the truth are extremely high, or they should be! The historian's goal is to report what actually happened, and then to convey to the reader the meaning of these events using reasonable judgement.
The writer of literature, however, is not a historian, and his writings are not primary or even secondary sources. In fact, a literary work is not really a view into the actual setting of the story, but it is more a view into the life and time of the author. A good friend of mine explained to me that in literature, there is setting and context. The setting is when and where the story takes place. The context, however, is the time period of the writer and the writer's own personal history and perspective. For example, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more about the writings of a gentleman (Twain) who reminisces about his ideal version of a lost America instead of a historical reporting of events in the United States before the Civil War.
The writer is not held to the same accountability as the historian. A writer's job is to convey theme through his craft, and to be interesting to enough people so that he sells books and makes a living. Theme is the message, or meaning of the story. Theme can involve a message of historical importance, but in the end, it is one person's view, that is not even expected to be historically accurate. Another way to look at it, is to recall movies that are based on historical figures, but they are not historically accurate. Movie directors attempt to convey an interesting story, in order to make the most money and to make a point, but, they do not need to be historically accurate.
To teach history from literature alone is a serious error, because we are giving to writers too much credit. Asking children to create a picture of the past based mainly on the context of the writer is full of dangers and open to manipulation. However, we understand it is pleasant to read historical fiction - we love to! :)
For those of you looking for a top literature program, we strongly recommend Center for Lit., Adam and Missy Andrew's company.
Teaching with the Take a Stand! series helps me get to know my children and students better and it helps them how to think critically, form historical judgement, and express themselves in speech and in writing.