Historisk Tidskrift. Utgiven av Svenska historiska föreningen
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Historisk tidskrift 133:3 • 2013

Innehåll (Contents) 2013:3

Uppsatser (Articles)


Skönlitteraturen i historievetenskapen – några metodologiska reflektioner

Henric Bagerius, Ulrika Lagerlöf Nilsson & Pia Lundqvist

Fulltext (pdf)


Methodological reflections on fiction in historical research

How can novels and short stories be used in historical research? There seems to be three different approaches to the relationship between fiction and society among Swedish historians today: Fiction as reflection of society, fiction as action that influences society and fiction as dialogue between text and society.

The main advantage of using literary sources is that they can contribute to a deeper understanding of social phenomena. This is because novels and short stories are often biased, subjective and fictitious. Although the selection of appropriate novels and short stories for use in historical research raises questions of representativeness, similar methodological problems are part of all historical research. In general, it probably seems more proper to historians to choose realistic fiction that describes the contemporary society of the novelist, but this is not an absolute rule. Historians should not view the research methods employed to analyze fiction as particularly unique. Common historical approaches such as comparisons, argument analysis, discourse analysis of ideas, constructions and representations etc. can be applied to novels and short stories as well as to other types of written sources.

In three readings of the same short story, ‘Tvifvel’ by Anne Charlotte Leffler, we provide three examples, based on different research interests, of how historians can analyze a fictional text. These examples also demonstrate different methodological approaches. One reading takes individual words and their meanings and connotations as a starting point. Another emphasizes dialogue in order to scrutinize the fictional characters’ views and positions. A third reading focuses on key episodes in the story. As these readings show, fiction can be valuable in historical research by complicating, refining, and qualifying our understanding of the past.


Historical method, fiction, source criticism, Sweden, 19th century, Anne Charlotte Leffler