The Clive Cussler Effect: More Gateways to History

A while back I wrote a post about gateways to history. These are sneaky ways to get interested in history if you weren’t blessed with splendid history teachers.

It’s time to revisit. Specifically, fiction books.

How can fiction and history be mentioned in the same breath? Isn’t fiction more or less a mess of lies, accounts of things that never happened? And isn’t history, ideally, an account of things that did happen?

Yes, and yes, but fiction we are supposed to know is not true, and history, we are supposed to assume has been researched for veracity. So, how can the one be useful for exploring the other?

Fiction is fun and, for some, history is boring. Sad, but true, but if you use the fiction as a jumping off point, you get the benefit of the fun which will hopefully be carried along into the study of the history, thereby making it fun too!

The briny deep

Now for the Clive Cussler part. I just started reading Medusa, a mystery by Cussler and co-author Paul Kemprecos. The book is one of several in a series that feature the protagonist Kurt Austin, a tough, marine researcher and systems specialist.

As is often the case with Cussler books, the story begins with a flashback in history. In this case the whaling industry of the mid-19th century. Then in the present-day setting of the bulk of the book, reference is made to William Beebe and the bathysphere (submersible sphere) in which he launched himself in the 1930’s.

These are prime examples of history nuggets. They are the bits of accurate history that give a realistic touch to works of fiction. They are also history gateways.

I like to take these gateways when I’m working through a book like Medusa, do a little bit of my own research to further my store of historical knowledge. Sometimes I also want to make sure the author I’m reading is accurate, not all are as conscientious as Cussler and company.

So, the next time you pick up a piece of fiction, a favorite mystery or adventure, look for the history nuggets. If they strike your fancy, dig a little deeper, and as you travel to a different time and place in the past carry the fun with you and you’ll discover that history can be a blast!

– Amanda Stiver

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