American Experience
Murder at Harvard: History and Fiction

Question 4:
video | transcript


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What are the challenges of converting archival materials into a historical narrative?

The challenge for the historian at work -- you know you have it right away, once you've got over the exhilaration of these bits and pieces of people's lives in front of you -- how do you turn them into living people again? And you shouldn't be under any illusions that the incarnation of the dead person you're going to produce is going to be in any way approximately like the person. It's not. You're the intermediary. Literally, you're the medium. This voice from the dead is going to come out with your glottal stops... it's going to be your voice. But nonetheless, you have to make a good attempt to sink yourself into the experience of these dead people, these other people writing to each other, or whatever it is. And produce that for your reader. So your reader, from these little bits and pieces of this broken stuff from the past, is going to be living inside that world for a few hours, a few days.