What Kind of History Buff Are You?


We’ve been hanging out together at History in the Margins for two years now: come rain, come shine, come crazy deadline schedule. With a few exceptions*, I assume you have a basic interest in history or you wouldn’t keep coming back. But just what kind of history buff are you? I’m hoping you’ll answer a few questions to give me a clue:

  1. Have you always been interested in history or did high school history classes taught by the football coach put you off history for years?
  2. Do you have a favorite period or theme?  A cluster of them?  Or are you a happy time traveler?
  3. Do you visit historical sites when you travel?  If you do, do you prefer ruins or re-constructions?  Living history demonstrations or scholarly museums?  (I won’t ask you to choose your favorite historical site if you don’t ask me to choose mine.)
  4. What’s the best work of history or historical fiction you’ve read recently?  (Mankind: The Story of All of Us is not a useful answer.)

Feel free to give me your answers, and anything else you’d like to share,  in the comments section, by e-mail, or by whatever means of communication you prefer.  (Messenger pigeons are probably not a good idea.  They upset the cat.)  In order to sweeten the pot, anyone who answers by the end of May will have a chance to win a copy of one of my favorite history books from the last year.

Thanks for listening.  Stay tuned for more historical bits.

*Hi, Mom.


Image credit: michelangelus / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Melissa Marsh on May 17, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    1. Hmm. I think I’ve always been fascinated with history. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. It started with the American Civil War – I was obsessed with it in junior high. Then I gravitated more toward 18th century Europe, then the Regency period, and now I’m a WW2 historian.

    2. Favorite time periods: 18th century (England, France, America); Regency England; 1940s.

    3. When I went to England in 2008 for the second time, I mostly focused on sites and museums. Chatsworth House was a favorite!

    4. Oh, wow. Best work of historical fiction read recently…that’s a tough one. I’d have to put Susanna Kearsley’s “The Winter Sea” as one of the top ones, though I also thoroughly enjoyed Lauren Willig’s “The Ashford Affair.”

    • pamela on May 17, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Melissa: I’m a fan of the long 18th century myself. And it sounds like I’m going to have to give Kearsley a try: her name keeps popping up lately.


      • HJ on May 17, 2013 at 10:16 pm

        Melissa – I read your comment after posting mine. If you liked The Ashford Affair I think you’ll also like Deanna Raybourn’s A Spear of Summer Grass.

  2. HJ on May 17, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Have you always been interested in history or did high school history classes taught by the football coach put you off history for years? I have been interested in history since I started reading children’s historical fiction. Far from being put off, I was inspired by excellent history teaching at school. I very nearly did history at university.

    Do you have a favorite period or theme? A cluster of them? Or are you a happy time traveler? I do have favourites. My history is all English! I have had enough of the Tudors to last me for the res to my life, so no more of them. I know quite a bit about the eighteenth century and the Regency, so I enjoy them. But my absolute favourite is Romans in Britain and in Rome itself. That love goes back to first year history in high school, and to Rosemary Sutcliffe, Geofrrey Trease, and The green Bronze Mirror by Lynne Ellison.

    Do you visit historical sites when you travel? If you do, do you prefer ruins or re-constructions? Living history demonstrations or scholarly museums? (I won’t ask you to choose your favorite historical site if you don’t ask me to choose mine.) Definitely! Indeed, the availability of historical sites in which I am interested plays a large part in determining where I go on holiday. I prefer ruins (don’t like reconstructions). I prefer museums.

    What’s the best work of history or historical fiction you’ve read recently? (Mankind: The Story of All of Us is not a useful answer.) Tricky. I’m very keen on Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series of Napoleonic spies, and of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series (Victorian). Both recently published excellent books set in the 1920s in Kenya – The Ashford Affair and A Spear of Summer Grass respectively. I also adore the Sebastian St Cyr series by C. S. Harris. And Joanna Bourne’s novels are superbly written e.g. The Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster.

    • pamela on May 17, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Helena: Lucky indeed to have good history teachers in school!

      I’m fascinated by Roman Britain, though I don’t know much about the period. My Owwn True Love and I visited Bath this summer and were blown away by the Roman element.

  3. Stephanie on May 17, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    1. I got bitten by the history bug in 2nd grade in Sunday school from making replicas of the houses from Jesus’s time. I wrote a report on early man in 4th grade but the teacher didn’t believe me (1957 or 1958).

    2) favorite time periods: 400 CE-900 CE and late 16th -thru 17th centuries.

    3) I have dragged my family thru every little bit of history related to where we are. I’m not picky, ruins and reconstruction are great. I love talking clothing and textiles with re-enactors,

    4) I have two series. Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books and Conn Igguldonn’s series about Genghis Khan and descendants.

    • pamela on May 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm

      Stephanie: I’m going to look up the Genghis Khan series right now!

  4. Lois Fiorelli on May 18, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Hi Pam,

    #1 – Got interested in history in HS due to a great history teacher and mentor, Mrs. Barbara Cope.

    #2 – Happy Time Traveler

    # 3 Yes, I visit historical sites when I travel. Most memorable site visited is WTC Ground Zero. When I returned from my military deployment to the Mideast in September 2006, I drove to Maine for vacation. On the return trip, I stopped at Ground Zero. I cannot explain the wealth of emotions that I felt as I walked around, sobbing. I’m not one to cuss, but that day, I remember calling the terrorists bastards for what they did September 11. I hope to visit the recently completed new WTC.

    – I prefer ruins over reconstructions and living history demos over museums, although I do enjoy looking at artifacts in museums. The JFK Library in Boston is a wonderful place to visit.

    #4 WAR by Sebastian Junger

    • pamela on May 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Lois: I went to the Truman library last weekend. Absolutely fascinating. Sounds like I need to add the Junger to my growing list.

  5. Amanda on May 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I distinctly remember reading as many of the Dune books as I could get my hands on during coach whatshiname’s history class. (I guess you could say those books are historical in nature, but I assume you don’t count histories of nonexistent time and places?)

    If I had to pick a time period I would say the Civil War period, probably because of all those long summer days spent biking out to Wilson’s Creek Battlefield. Beyond that I’m a bit time period challenged – I wouldn’t recognize a Regency period if it jumped out and bit me. Dates and facts related to who and when often get jumbled in my little bear brain.

    I do, however, enjoy visiting historical sites of all varieties and seem to be particularly drawn to exhibits around medical stuff and mental illness. I loved looking at those Civil War surgical tools at Wilson’s Creek and enjoy similar exhibits of medically-sanctioned means of torture. I also enjoy history related to ordinary people doing extraordinary things. One of my favorite museums that I’ve been to recently is the Dutch Resistance museum in Amsterdam (http://www.verzetsmuseum.org/museum/en/museum).

    The books I enjoy, I guess, follow along similar themes. I enjoy biographies of people like Jane Addams and Dorothea Dix and histories of psychology and approaches to mental health and other forms of medicine. Most recent reads I really liked include: Blood Work (Holly Tucker), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot), and The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience (Kirsten Downey). I have to admit, however, that I probably wouldn’t have read any of these if they hadn’t been book club picks which is one of the reasons I enjoy being in the book club. Otherwise, I’d spend all of my time reading murder mysteries that involve cats.

    • pamela on May 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Nothing wrong with a thematic interest in history instead of a period. Seeing how things link across time and space is always fascinating. Personally I never met a trade route I didn’t like.

      I’m adding the Dutch Resistance museum to the want-to-see list.

  6. Carl on May 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Hei Pam,

    Current wind conditions rule out smoke signals, hence this written communique’.

    1. Have always had an interest in history, a vice likely picked up from my father. He was prone to give historic background for just about any topic of conversation, usually from an unusual perspective. Generally liked the history classes at my schools, including the modern American history course taught by the high school football coach, Frank Buford. He was a good teacher and had a real passion for history. Then again, nobody really expected much from our football team. But the golf team and the debate team…

    B. There are areas of interest from me for each era of human history (and prior, being a geologist), but I do find the late 1930’s, Second World War(s), the Cold War era, and proto-history particularly fascinating. (The secret wars in Indochina are like catnip.) Theme-wise, anything offbeat or that illustrates the underlying complexity of a situation, rather than the comic book versions of history, compels me.

    Thirdly, do like to visit historical sites, generally without anyone feeding me an Official Version. If I’ve done the homework, just Being There can be a spiritual experience.

    4. Best work of historical fiction read recently is Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, his thinly fictionalized account of his time as a Marine infantry lieutenant in South Vietnam. Marlantes also wrote What It Is Like To Go To War, the best book I’ve ever read on another favorite topic, psychology of combat. One favorite history book (a memoir, actually) is Homage To Catalonia by Orwell.

    Crikey, that’s a long message! As it is written, be careful what you ask for…

    • pamela on May 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Hey Carl:

      Thanks for the long message. I’m really enjoying the long answers I’m getting here.

      And if you’re interested in WWII, do I have a story for you!

  7. Bart Ingraldi on May 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    My interest developed in spite of my HS teachers. I had a teacher who handed out lecture notes that we were to silently read during class time, then collected the notes as we exited. No questions. No discussions.

    I’m a time traveler, with frequent stops at US and European history.

    I always try to fit in historical sites while traveling.

    When asked about my favorite books, I usually answer with the book I’m currently reading. Right now I’m enjoying The Violinist’s Thumb by Kean and Killer Angels by Shaara


    • pamela on May 21, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      Oh my, it sounds like your HS teacher hit a new low. We just suffered through many, many bad videos.

      Killer Angels is fabulous.

  8. BlueBindweed on May 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Majored in history in college thanks to a professor who inspired me. I was fascinated with East Asian history at the time. Now, I am fascinated with small places — how they came to be and how some of them hang on (or don’t).

    I also have an oddball interest in almost any book about the history of infectious disease. I think “Plagues and Peoples” set that one off.

    • pamela on May 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      The history of small places could send you down a lot of interesting paths.

      Plagues and Peoples is definitely a great book. Do you know Steven Johnson’s book about cholera, The Ghost Map?

  9. Wyatt on April 27, 2014 at 6:58 am

    I love this site. I love your question. However, I am a huge history buff, and I’m upset by this post. I’m upset simply because of the first question. I am a high school football coach, and I love history. I am also a great history teacher. I’ve had some terrible teacher/coaches, and I’ve had some terrible teacher/teachers. I’ve also had some wonderful teachers in each category. Therefore, not only was this post offensive, it was also a generalization — which is a big no-no for historians…so let me ask you the question, “How much of a history buff are you?”

    • pamela on April 27, 2014 at 8:57 pm


      Many thanks for calling me out on this. You are absolutely right that the way I phrased my question was inappropriate. I took my personal experience, turned it into a stereotype, and made a cheap joke. It’s particularly embarrassing in that part of what I do as a historian is try to look beyond the accepted story to see the other side.

      As far as what kind of a history buff I am, maybe it’s time to answer my own questions:
      1. I’ve been hooked on history since I was quite small. One of my favorite things to do was ask “What did you do when you a little girl, Grandma?”
      2. As I’ve said before, I like the times and places where two cultures meet and change each other.
      3. Historical sites are part of every trip I take.
      4. That’s a hard one! I think the most important historical non-fiction I’ve read recently is a new biography of Gandhi.

      Thank you for keeping me honest.

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