What is Historical Context

Literature may be impacted by Historical Context in several ways.

An author’s writing may be impacted by a story’s historical setting or the historical time it was written in.

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Question 1 of 2

Use the context clues to determine when this story is happening.

Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing to the Northland. [Jack London]

 

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Question 1 of 2

Question 2 of 2

Use the context clues to determine when this story takes place.

The door opened, and some men-at-arms appeared. The leader said: 'The stake is ready. Come!'

The stake! The strength went out of me, and I almost fell down. It is hard to get one's breath at such a time, such lumps come into one's throat, and such gaspings; but as soon as I could speak, I said:

'But this is a mistake—the execution is to-morrow.'
'Order changed; been set forward a day. Haste thee!' [Mark Twain]

 

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Question 2 of 2


 

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This transcript is merely for your convenience.
For example, when Charles Dickens wrote his pieces, he wrote in a period of time where most authors got paid by the number of words, meaning that the novels he wrote were long. Very long.

So that was because of the time during which he wrote his work.

He wrote long novels because he was aware that he would get money for every word he wrote. Something else that may be taken into account is Dialect.

Dialect could refer to the words an author was using in his daily life, or dialects may be related to historical settings of stories.

So dialects are things we want to take into account so we should ask ourselves, “Was this dialect actually used during the story’s setting, or is it more of only this author’s use of his own and personal dialect, a thing he was used to?”

One more thing to take into consideration when dealing with historical settings is looking at major events that were going on. It’s a good idea to get somewhat familiar with the time in which the story happened to get a better understanding of the story.

Take the Civil War, for example. During the American Civil War, in the south, slavery was a normal thing. When the Civil War had come to an end, many slaves or persons that once were slaves stood up and wanted their story to be heard. So we can see many slave narratives that painted pictures of what the lives of slaves actually looked like in those days. These were actual accounts from those days and they also sort of told us about the relationship between slaveholders and slaves.

Now, these sources of writing are very valuable. They are among the most important genres of literature for African-American authors. These days, people can still be writing from those days’ perspectives, but the old slave narratives with accurate first-hand accounts of what happened in those days, are very important.

Also, important things to take into account when reading Civil War texts, slave narratives, or anything else from those days, are the pieces’ themes. Many times, we can see themes like race, power, and equality. This only makes sense as, when slavery had ended, people were stating: “The color of your skin color won’t make you more or less than another person, or a worse or better person. All persons are equal.”

Although equal rights weren’t addressed until much later, the theme of equality started around the days of the Civil War. Another common major event is the Second World War. We have numerous novels that are based around events during World War II. Regardless of whether these novels are in Nazi Germany or in America, as a lot of people are still dealing with the things that were going on right here, one of the most horrific things that we come across is about the genocide topic. Destroying an entire race.

So we can see many books about Jewish/Nazi relations. The book of Anne Frank, very popular, is among the books most people will have heard about and the book is on this. And when you’re aware of what happened during the era of World War II, you know what you can expect when you’ll be reading it.

Then, you’ll know that the German Nazis were trying to seize most of the European continent. You’ll know that Jews were being persecuted. You’ll already have that piece of background information and knowledge even before you’ve read the book.

So again, also with novels about World War II, you’ll see the themes of power, race, and democracy. That is because eventually, people were saying that having governments where totalitarian dictators took everything really wasn’t a good way to be. Then, we could see more and more people that highlighted the pros that come with democracy.

So every time you’re reading a novel a story, pay close attention to that story’s historical context. The historical period in which a piece is written will always have an impact. It is important that you understand the historical setting of a piece in order to comprehend why an author was giving his or her characters specific motivations,  and how it came that an author constructed the plots the way they did.

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