In March, The C.O.H.O.R.T.’s inaugural month, contributors examine early influences on why they decided to pursue history as a field of expertise and career, in the “Why History?” series.
Unlike many historians, I did not always aspire to be a historian. Instead, I immersed myself in theater, music and writing.
Meanwhile, I logically planned for a career in theater arts as a secondary teacher and pragmatically chose history as my alternative teaching subject (just in case of budget cuts). And yet, looking back on my childhood, history presented itself in every facet of my art. For this inspiration, I only needed to look out the window since I lived on a family-farm in a historically-rich southern town. I often spotted Civil War reenactors and visited local historical house museums. With ease, my surroundings extended into my free time, where I read historical literature, enjoyed historical media, and wrote historical fiction.
As a teenager, I loved writing about history. I set my stories in historical periods and revolved them around gender-barrier breaking female protagonists. One such story involved the experiences of a fictional Army nurse during World War II. Logically, I knew that in order to write an accurate account, I needed to conduct research from “reliable” sources. In 2000, after scouring the not-so-great dial-up internet, I decided that I needed to use a nonfiction book on World War II. Thus, Betsy Kuhn’s Angels of Mercy: The Army Nurses of World War II became the most influential book of my young adulthood. In her non-fiction work, she narrated real women’s experiences in the context of World War II events, using primary sources such as pictures, quotes, and memoirs of real nurses. Thus, using this book became my first experience of interpreting secondary and primary source material and inspired the writing of a 300-page fictive interpretation of World War II.
My scribbling extended into college, where I enjoyed my general education courses so much that I eventually decided to major in history. While taking upper-level history classes, I still wrote historical fiction but in hiding. I often felt like an imposter in these classes because my interests in topics such as the evolution of historic clothing and women’s history did not seem to match my classmates’ knowledge of political history. In very little time, however, I found my niche by connecting the creative side of history such as teaching, writing and later studying social and cultural history to the more logical process of historical thinking and source analysis. Most importantly, I honed my craft of telling historical stories by pursuing a new writing form – nonfiction. Eventually, history became a way to balance my logical and creative sides into one pursuit. This blending did not occur flawlessly. In the early days of my Master in History program, a professor asked me randomly if I wrote creatively on-the-side. Not knowing how to respond, I decided to take this recognition, as a high-compliment of being able to write nonfiction for general audiences. After all, my interest in history began humbly by writing interesting and yet well-researched (fictional) stories.
Betsy Kuhn. Angels of Mercy: The Army Nurses of World War II, New York: Simon & Schuster. 1999.
Jacquelyne Howard is Ph.D. Candidate of History at Fordham University. She specializes in borderlands history, where she examines marriage and kinship patterns in French Colonial Louisiana. She is currently working on her dissertation tentatively titled: “Reading the ‘Bans’: Marriage Practices in French Colonial Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi Valley Borderlands, 1699-1768.” She received her M.A. in History from the University of San Diego, where she wrote her master’s thesis titled, “Yankee Doodle Bayou: Spanish Louisiana and British West Florida’s Contributions to Patriot Victory.” Jacquelyne’s professional background includes extensive work in digital archiving, eLearning and teaching. Jacquelyne is a lover of books, bookmarks, notebooks, tea, and cats.