History as Inspiration

History is more easily overlooked than crazy dogs or nature, but stories from long ago can also be a source of inspiration. It’s the everyday history that inspires and it’s all around us. Whether you’re writing historical fiction or an adventure novel, it’s always fun to sprinkle bits of the past through the pages.

Martha's Vineyard houses

GosnoldSometimes finding these stories is as easy as walking up to a plaque or statue, even if it might make you look like a tourist. I found this plaque practically covered in vines. It mentions Bartholomew Gosnold, who led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod before the Pilgrims. It brings to mind what this area would have looked like at that time, what life would have been like, the challenges people faced.

Gosnold's landing area today

historic Cape Cod houseWidow’s walks or cupolas make me think of the days when women waited for years for a ship to appear on the horizon. Although we romanticize that kind of thing today, would it be all that romantic if you were really living it? Somehow, I don’t think so.

windmillShipbuilders, farmers, and fishermen once worked this land. Some may have spent their lives building ships bound for the Orient, hearing only tales and legends from the adventurers who came back.

stone building for whalingStone walls always make me think of borders that are now long gone and the people who placed each heavy stone, building and shaping their land and future.

Just imagine: ice was once cut and harvested from local ponds for refrigeration. Windmills were needed to grind grain into flour. A stone building that’s now a research center was used as a holding area for whales that were caught and hauled in from the ocean. And we think we work hard these days.

I like to imagine these people who came before us. Their stories are everywhere.

stone wall

Have you found inspiration in local or everyday history? Do you think history has a place in all kinds of fiction or just historical fiction?

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41 thoughts on “History as Inspiration

  1. History is amazing. I could write a story based off each of your cool pictures in this post. They are wonderful.

    • Thanks Char! I tried to find some rustic looking ones. Those old buildings and stone walls seem like they do have lots of stories to tell.

  2. Definitely! And history is known to repeat itself, in some shape or form. I love these images! Is that first one of Oak Bluffs? And the windmill in Eastham? Just beautiful!

    • Thanks Susan! Yes, that first one is Oak Bluffs. I think the windmill is on Nantucket but it was taken a while ago so I’m not sure. The house is on Nantucket though and the stone building is in Woods Hole. You’ll have to come and visit!

  3. You know this post resonated with me. 🙂 History can have a place in any kind of story. It takes center stage, of course, in historical fiction, but it can be worked into just about any type of fiction if the story calls for it.

    • Yes, I don’t know why I even asked that question. 🙂 I do love sprinkling bits of history into everything. It’s just more fun that way.

  4. There are just so many images I get in my head when I look at old places and wonder about the lives of the people who have come an gone. What a brilliant post, Sheila 😀

  5. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, along with viewing the beautiful images and I feel that history has a place anywhere and everywhere…It’s very easy for us to romanticize about events in the past and complain about how hard we work. But, I agree with you…I’m sure it was tough waiting to see who returned on those ships and our hard work these days can’t come close to comparing…Really wonderful post! xx

    • Thanks so much Lauren! Thankfully, some of that history can still be seen around here even though there have been a lot of changes too. Widow’s walks have always made me think it wouldn’t be so great to be left to tend to the farm, raise the kids, and basically do all the work for years while the husband went off adventuring! 🙂

  6. As a retired history teacher I have moved away from the study of textbook history and enjoy anecdotes and letters and such things that give us insights into the daily living of the people in any particular time. “The Year 1000” is a book about life in Britain in that time. So revealing. Life was so hard for people of the past. Life in American colonial times is also of interest as we see how people did so much with so little and were resourceful above any normal expectations.

    • That’s true, sometimes we forget that history is made up of stories and it’s much more interesting when told and imagined that way. I’m always amazed whenever I wander around an old graveyard. There are so many stories there. I’ll have to look that book up – thank you!

  7. The Northeast is my favorite area of the US because of the history and its remnants. The Southwest’s history is very limited, unless you include some Native American history and the remnants are minimal. Coming from Europe, it’s always hard to accept that Americans love to tear down the old and build the new on top of it.

    I don’t mind historical fiction and the inclusion of history in novels but I think it’s hard to find the right balance and sometimes a novel gets drown in historical facts. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a good example. It’s fun as a vampire story (completely ridiculous story, by the way), and great as a history book, but put them together and you go between vampire hunting stories and moments of Lincoln’s political runs. It’s either too much of one or the other.

    • It is nice to look around and see the history. I could probably never live in an area that’s filled with malls and parking lots instead. Luckily, the Northeast still has a lot of character (and characters). That does sound like a crazy book! I might have to read it for fun. I love any kind of history, but don’t really like it either when a novel gets bogged down with too much information. I end up falling asleep too easily. But then I also like to feel like I’ve learned something after reading a book, so it’s great whenever a novel can find that balance. By the way, I’m almost done with Gathering Blue now and I love imagining those different worlds. I think I will end up reading them all one right after another – thank you for suggesting them! Next up, Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. 🙂

      • I’m glad you’ll try reading the four books in a row. Even though they’re just slightly related, I think they have more of an impact that way. They made a movie of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that came out last year, I think. It’s a pretty wacky story.

  8. I love history sprinkled through a novel or a movie, whether it is the myths and legends of a certain time or people or the history of a people, their lives and locations I find it fascinating.

    • Those legends are a lot of fun. You might like Ireland: A Novel by Frank Delaney. It’s about a storyteller who wanders around Ireland, so the stories he tells are mixed into the main story and he mentions a lot of legends too. With this book, the history is a little more than sprinkled but I loved hearing the legends and stories.

  9. Love the Oak Bluffs image – I’d say that’s a place lots of people would like to live.

    Without historical context our present lives are one-dimensional. But it’s a fact that we only usually start to appreciate this context as we get on in life. Whilst we’re young we only look forward – how many children really enjoy history lessons?

    I know little enough about American history and I must read up a bit on it’s connection with the European settlers. Some of our Jersey (Channel Islands) cod fisherman washed up there in times past.

    • Thanks Roy! People do flock there in the summer. It’s a great place for bike riding with paths all over the island. It is too bad history isn’t usually taught in a more entertaining way in school. So then I guess we have to look for more entertaining history books and novels later on. I haven’t read too many from that time period but there’s a pretty good one on the Pilgrims by Nathaniel Philbrick that tells it all more like a story.

  10. A book becomes worth reading when sprinkled with colors from the past. It is history that teaches us so many valuable lessons. but more importantly for me, history shows that humanity aspires love, kindness, harmony … we come full circle and meet the same sentiments. And yes, the places and culture and the way of living, the ingenuity of people before us … these just adds more value to the reading experience.

    • That’s such a nice way of looking at history. Very true. We’re building off of each other and learning along the way and hopefully that will help us all grow in a more positive direction. And I love those sprinkles too. 🙂

  11. As Soonie too noted, history does repeat itself, and man should recognize that window into the future and utilize it.
    Your pictures bring back memories of summers spent on the Cape.

    • Yes, hopefully we’ll learn from it. I like that idea of history as a window to the future. I’m glad those photos brought back summer memories and hope you’ll be able to visit Cape Cod again. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll be putting up more photos through the summer. 🙂

  12. Gee! I’m drawn to these secrets few write about and the beautiful photography ~fabulous ! Wish I could be there! You give me a chance to dip my toe!

  13. Aw, I really liked this. I always get a kind of chill whenever I pass one of those gravesites that’s cordoned off because it’s so old, or a stone wall in the middle of nowhere (now it’s nowhere, but back then it was a place for someone). Great pics, fun things to think about.

    • Thanks Kate! I know what you mean. I love thinking about and imagining the past, so it’s nice to run into it around here every once in a while.

  14. I love to imagine what things were like back in history in the area where I live. A lot of the neighborhoods of the city I live in are named for villages that used to surround the (then much smaller) city. If only I had a time machine to see it as it was.

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