Historical settings as transmedia storyworlds

1 see a historical period/setting as a transmedia story world: one that crosses the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction; or factual and counterfactual. In contemporary narratology non-fictional accounts of factual events are considered as narrative representations using the actual life-world as the storyworld. This view was popularised by Herman (2009) and his Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, and other leading narratologists and imaginary world theorists, including Mark J.P. Wolf (2012; 2016, 2018), Jan-Noel Thon (2016, 67-68), and Marie-Laure Ryan (Ryan & Thon 2014; Ryan 2016, 16; Ryan & Bell 2019, 18; Ryan 2019, 62-65). When Ensslin (2018, 404) speaks of “a storyworld in the traditional narratological sense,” she adds “(fictional or non-fictional)”, as if she finds it useful to highlight this. It applies to many non-fiction genres such as autobiography, news report, magazine article, travel blog, or account of one’s own experiences in a private conversation.

More support for the narrative nature of historiography comes from historians themselves. Academic history has largely abandoned its claims to objective truth, accepting the constructivist view of history as an imaginative reconstruction (Collingwood’s philosophy of history; Nielsen 1981), and of historiography as partially-fictionalised narratives based on such imaginations (this view popularised by Hayden White, Alun Munslow, Robert Rosenstone) (see Introduction). This is compatible with cognitive narratology that sees storyworlds as mental models constructed in the reader’s (viewer’s, player’s) mind from media-delivered narrative information, interpreted in the light of prior knowledge: of media/genre conventions, and of the story world in question (Thon 2016, 54 55). Fictional or not; historical or present-day (or futuristic) - it emerges as a mental construct. (So does heritage; Nic Craith & Kockel 2016. 430).

Subjectively constructed in every recipient’s mind, storyworlds are not self-contained and isolated, because they are shared: between media and between consumers. Hence, Thon (2016) defines storyworlds “as intersubjective communicative constructs” (55). This is what allows for collective (and mass) consumption and fan communities united by a story world: intersubjective sharing of experiences, practices, opinions, knowledge and imaginations.

Consequently, historiography (monographs, journal papers) finds itself on one level with historical fiction, film, games, and other genres. Whether popular or academic, fiction or non-fiction, they all are narrative media (Chapman 2016). This claim leads to another: those media which share the same historical setting - informed by real-world historiography - are (transmedially!) sharing the storyworld. It goes without saying that all non-fiction historiography refers to the same (actual/primary/real) world, so all academic publications, school textbooks, conference talks, museum websites, 3D virtual heritage etc. share the transmedia universe of the Earth. In practice, each of these media adopts a localised focus on a particular region and time period (e.g. the Wild West): a historical storyworld smaller than the universe. Smaller - but analogously shared by all non-fiction media that refer to the same existents, places, events, social rules (Ryan 2014); or genealogies, maps, timelines, languages and cultures (Wolf 2012).

Fiction, in turn, “can stand at various distances from the Primary World” (Ryan 2018, 75), which complicates the ontology of historical fiction/fictio-nalised history. Shall we see all Wild West historical fiction as united by one story world with non-fiction accounts of Wild West history? Non-fiction aside, is the Wild West even the same storyworld for all historical fiction? Certainly not: a steampunk variation with retro sci-fi technology and counterfactual events (the film Wild Wild West, 1999) coupled with magic and monsters (TRPG Deadlands', Hensley 1996) is incompatible with realistic Wild West we see in The Magnificent Seven (1960) or play with in the non-supernatural variant of True20 Wild West (Rice 2007) TRPG.

Fimi (2016) shows how a non-fiction historical past becomes a resource for various kinds of imaginary world-building: “representation of the ’real’ Middle Ages” in Eco’s The Name of The Rose, “fictitious medieval past” in T. Chatterton’s fake manuscripts, and “pseudo-medieval England/Europe in some distant, imaginary past” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. She looks at a historical past as an imaginary world, but she does not claim it to be a shared storyworld for the three fictional works. After all, they all differ in the degree of fictionalisation, called secondariness by Wolf (2012) and ontological distance by Ryan (2018, 2019). My investigation goes in a different direction. Looking for a universal sameness of the storyworld in historical fiction and non-fiction, 1 will focus on those cases of historical fiction with the lowest secondariness/distance. Given that even non-fiction is credited with a degree of fictionality due to (even unintended) inaccuracies (Wolf 2012), it is possible to place highly accurate historical fiction on the same ontological level.

Eleven aspects of world’s ontology proposed by Ryan (2018) allow for detailed measurement of this distance, with historical fiction necessarily departing from non-fiction only in three (see А, В, C in Table 10.1 in Ryan 2018, 80). In my book 1 assume the ontological sameness of historical settings (storyworlds) between non-fiction and those instances of historical fiction that strive for factual historical accuracy, avoiding alternate counterfactual timelines and supernatural elements. In Ryan's (2018) words, these would be fictionalisations limited to “adding a few individuals to the inventory of the real world, while leaving everything else unchanged (physical laws, natural species, history, geography)” (74) so that “the entire inventory of the real world is also part of its ontological background” (Ryan 2018, 76). 1 develop this claim further in Chapters 4 and 6.

This conceptualisation of a historical period also holds in the light of definitions of transmedia storyworlds: “an imaginary world presented on different media platforms ... such as narratives, games, encyclopedias, maps, and other kinds of representations” (Konzack 2018, 136); or “abstract content systems from which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms” (Klastrup and Tosca 2014, 409). To Konzack (2018), “Each representation of the imaginary world adds to the transmedial world as a whole”, which “means that a transmedial world may develop to become so huge and detailed that it requires constant scholarly work and effort to get an overview of and to handle all the different parts of the imaginary world” (136). This happens with the collective effort of fans building wikis and other databases cataloguing the lore of the storyworld. Lindgren-Leavenworth (2014) calls this “encyclopedic drive” (322) - very tellingly, comparing lore-building for fictional universes to the work of historians and encyclopedists. Historiography, in turn, may be seen as lore for the actual/primary/real-life world -and again: this lore is shared by non-fiction and these works of fiction that care for historiographical accuracy.

Consulting, discussing and contributing to this lore is an important component of fan practices mentioned in 2.2.4. For players of historical games, non-fiction historiography is a frequent point of reference (Chapman 2016). The interdependence of historical fiction and non-fiction radically increased with the internet, as “hypertext fiction became available to read in the same online space as works of nonfiction” (Ryan & Bell 2019, 35), thus online historical research belongs to regular ‘macro-level involvement’ with the game’s storyworld (see Chapters 7.2, 8.1 and 9).

All things considered, 1 present history/heritage enthusiasts as implicit (trans)media fandoms. Furthermore, 1 present historical settings as storyworlds open to multiple activities that simultaneously count as fannish engagements, and as heritage/history practices (research, education, reenactment, media entertainment, site visitation, creative work etc.). This framing uses ‘fandom’, ‘media’, and ‘storyworld’ as important common denominators, linking SEVs to RH+TRPG+LARP:

  • 1 The implicit fandoms of traditional (and less traditional) SEVs are brought closer to hobby RH and explicit fandoms of TRPG+LARP
  • 2 Academic historiography (books, journals, conferences) is brought closer to popular history/heritage (fiction, film, games) as forms of media

3 A historical setting is positioned as a transmedia storyworld shared by both academic and (some of) popular narratives

The discussion of (trans)mediality and (story)world ontology continues in Chapter 4.

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