Fictions of History

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Centre for English Studies

Module overview

Student Profiles

Fictions of History was one of my favourite classes that I took during my undergraduate degree. Having come from a different department, the freedom to explore, question, challenge and share my views was empowering. I remember receiving feedback for one of my essays that told me to "take more risks". Never before in an academic context was I being encouraged to go beyond what was expected, to try new things. In this class my voice was valued. My personal history, recorded in familial archives, was relevant and important. This course was significant in helping me to develop personally and academically.

Maxine Thomas-Asante, BA Law (2019), co-president for Democracy and Education at SOAS Student Union

SOAS is a place you come to grow: as a person, writer and thinker. The Fictions of History class was a particularly transformative experience for me. As a bilingual, bicultural and interdisciplinary student it allowed me to explore not only the world but also myself. Hank van Woerden, Caryl Phillips, Alexandra Fuller... these are all authors I have come to love and would not have discovered without SOAS. And the best bit? I have not stopped exploring since.

Kalle Oskari Mattila, BSc International Management (China), Class of 2013

Graduate destinations:
Community Manager, Penguin Books UK
Nonfiction Creative Writing MFA, Columbia University in the City of New York



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be able to:

  • show an advanced level of understanding of literary and critical representations of history in Africa and the diaspora
  • undertake independent research and complete it successfully
  • show advanced level of expression of his/her views both orally and in written form


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

This module looks at representations of history in fiction and auto/biography.  Focussing on texts in English geographically ranging from England to the Caribbean, North America to Africa and Australia, and temporally from the eighteenth century to the present day, throughout the module we are examining the intersections of history and literature to discuss the ways in which they work as genres and as disciplines. What are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy?   How does the memoir negotiate intergenerational histories and ideas of veracity? How do different writers reflect on questions of authorship and audience? Looking at questions of orality and transcription, prequels and sequels, intertextuality and canonicity in a selection of colonial and postcolonial works, including film adaptations, the module is excellent preparation for third-year BA English modules such as Southern Spaces and Empire and the Postcolonial .

Method of assessment

  • One 750 word creative-critical letter assignment - 30%
  • One 2,000 word archive story - 50%
  • One 500 word reflection on notebook assignment - 10%
  • Regular attendance and seminar participation - 10%

Suggested reading

  • Sara SALIH (ed), The History of Mary Prince (Penguin, New ed, 2000).
  • Valerie MARTIN, Property (Abacus, New ed, 2003)
  • Harper LEE, Go Set a Watchman (Heinemann, 2015; available on Kindle)
  • Jean RHYS, Wide Sargasso Sea  (Penguin, 1997)
  • J. M. COETZEE, Foe  (Penguin, New ed, 2001)
  • Sally MORGAN, My Place  (1987; Kindle edition available*)
  • Henk VAN WOERDEN, A Mouthful of Glass (Granta, New ed, 2001)
  • Zoë W​ICOMB, Playing in the Light  (The New Press, 2007 [2006]; Kindle edition available*)
  • Alexandra FULLER, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (Simon & Schuster, 2012; Kindle edition available*)
  • Louise ERDRICH, The Plague of Doves (Harper Perennial, 2008; Kindle edition available*)


  • Mansfield Park
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Skin
  • The Furiosus
  • The English Patient
  • A United Kingdom


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules