Events long ago may be harder to document than current events, but they can be easier to write about. My term papers, seminar papers, and theses were mostly set in Europe between 1400 and 1700. Later non-academic projects pulled me into more recent settings.
How different could it be to write history as it happens? I loved the new kinds of sources, such as eyewitness interviews and aerial photographs, but the basic process of gathering, synthesizing, and interpreting information had to be the same. As I got into it, other differences became apparent.
• Tone. Writing about private individuals still living or fondly remembered posed a new challenge: to be respectful as well as honest. It made me aware how much I relished the freedom to be snarky about people who died 300 years ago.
• Perspective. In the middle of a situation, it’s hard to distinguish major turning points from blips. Today’s headline may be forgotten in a month, or it may start a new chapter in future history books. You make your best guess, use convoluted wordings like “Discussions began with a target date of implementation by XXX,” and hope you’ll get a shot at revision.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.