One of Professor Tom Devine’s better known aphorisms is that “history is the queen of disciplines”.
His robust celebration of the past and continuing success of Previously, Scotland’s History Festival (Perspective, 13 November) shows a clear commitment to this view. He also asks a cogent question about the readability of current works of history: do they count as literature? From the popularity of a number of recent publications they certainly seem to because their authors have devised a winning formula in examining a well known, and sometimes less well known, period of history from an altogether new perspective.
Such authors as Stephen Alford, Amanda Foreman, Sarah Bakewell, Stephen Greenblatt and others have used this technique to make their books almost impossible to put down.
The topics covered include espionage in Elizabethan England, the British official response to the American Civil War, Michel de Montaigne’s astonishing 15th-century liberalism and the recovery of a work of philosophical poetry written in the first century BC and subsequently banned by the Christian church.
Today, when the words “creative writing” seem to carry a mute academic sneer, it is refreshing to see creativity used so effectively in the service of history.
This is the whole essence of the Scottish History Festival’s progressive thrust, and I wish it well.