07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Monday, March 19, 2012

Passionate About the Past

I am passionate about history. I think it started with my grandfather, who talked to me about his experiences during World War II and loved reading books about the Civil War. He was a book collector and particularly took the time to acquire history books. He preferred American history. My love is British history. Grandma's family was from Britain, so perhaps that explains it.
Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy

It's no coincidence that my favorite type of romance is historical romance in a British setting. Those are also the kinds of stories I feel the most compelled to write. When I imagine a hero, he is inevitably wearing 19th century clothing. If you think buff breeches, shiny black boots, and an elegant waistcoat equally sexy, then perhaps you share my passion for the past. Put a man in a cravat and he's immediately more attractive to me. Maybe it's Mr. Darcy syndrome. If so, I am perfectly content to be afflicted.

Box Hill, Dorking, Surrey, UK
I have traveled to England and Ireland and even lived in both countries for a time in order to quench my passion for British history. I visited Box Hill in Surrey, England and couldn't help but be transported back to the early 19th century and Jane Austen's imagined picnic there with Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley. I wanted to know the real history too and learned that two barrows (burial mounds) on the hill date from the Bronze Age. 

Not surprisingly, when it came time to decide on a major in college, history was my first choice. Everyone told me there was nothing I could do with a degree in history. The warnings scared me, but I ended up enjoying every single class I took for my major. I also discovered something that I could do with a history degree. I could share my passion for the past with students by becoming a teacher. History teaching jobs are few and far between, but I have had the pleasure of teaching American history to middle school age students and it was the most fun I've ever had in the classroom. 

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
During graduate studies in history at Portland State University, I discovered a local historic treasure here in the Pacific Northwest and had the opportunity to work there for a time. Fort Vancouver is a National Historic Site and sits right on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. The original buildings from the 1820's are gone, but the National Park Service has done an amazing job of reconstructing many of them. At Fort Vancouver, I got paid to talk about history. I was encouraged to share my passion for the past with every visitor and even got the chance to dress up in 19th century costume for certain events. Is it wrong to admit that I actually enjoyed wearing a corset for the presentation I gave on 1860's army wives?

The best thing about being a history lover is that there are so many ways to indulge your passion. Popular shows like Downton Abbey generate interest in the past. History books line the shelves at bookstores and talented historians continue to produce new research. I get to visit the past by researching and writing my historical romance stories. Others join historical re-enactment groups to dress in accurate costume and truly "live" in the past for awhile. Sites like Fort Vancouver also offer another way to get involved in the past by seeking volunteers to lead tours. 

Do you have a passion for history? If so, how do you indulge your passion?


Judith Ashley said...

Hi Christy,

I was dissuaded from majoring in history when I was in college because high school history teachers were traditionally male because they were also the coaches! Why fill an opening with a woman who couldn't coach football?

At the time I was devastated but turned to my second favorite thing - reading and majored in English.

I love to read historical romance, especially if they are historically accurate. And, traveling to places to see for myself, to feel their history. I've been to Ireland, England, Scotland, Australia, and Canada - spent time just wandering around the cities just 'being there' not on a tour, not researching anything - just being in a place with a different sense of time and history.

I've done the same thing in AZ and NM at sites of ancient native cultures. There is something about the energy in these places that draws me, sets my imagination soaring with 'how did they' and 'what if they'.

Being able to live in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales would be a dream come true for me. To have days instead of hours to explore would be a gift. I'm so glad you were able to do that and share your experiences with us!

Christy said...

Hi Judith,
Thanks so much for your comment.

It was always between English and history for me in college too. :)

Yes, traveling is a great way to indulge a passion for history, even here in the US, as you mention. The western US has a particularly rich history.

I still miss living overseas and my husband teases me with talk of retiring somewhere in Britain. We'll see.

For now, I try to use all those memories of travel and sensory experiences to infuse my writing.

Sarah Raplee said...

Yes, I have a passion for history! I love learning local history when traveling-it always surprises me with its richness.

My next new book will be a Steampunk Romance set in the American West during the 1880s. That's a new way to indulge my passion for history.

I like to read about little-known episodes in history as well. Yesterday I bought Nokes's book about the massacre of Chinese miners in Hells Canyon, Oregon, in the 1880s. The story was buried and forgotten for a hundred years.

Validating the past through research and truth-telling feels important to me.

Christy Carlyle said...

That's so true that our writing and research about the past is a way of validating and even honoring the/our past.

History continually intrigues me and there is always more to learn!

I can't wait to read your western Steampunk story. Sounds great!