Friday, 12 August 2022

G Guest Editorials

Celebrate Lit: The Making of a History Nerd

By Liz Tolsma

Hello. My name is Liz Tolsma, and I’m a history nerd. Actually, I don’t want any help overcoming this affliction. I’m proud to be one. Hours and hours of pouring over websites filled with historical details? Sign me up. Way too much time on YouTube watching historical documentaries? I’m there for it. A library of research books that is taking over my office? I don’t mind one bit.

How did I come to this place? There were several contributing factors.

First of all, my dad loves to talk about our family history. My grandfather was known to his friends and family as the Dutch Will Rogers, and he7 Slashed Canvas 663x1024 could spin a yarn. My dad and uncles and cousins inherited this trait. There is a family story about a dog named Penny my dad and his siblings had when he was young. Penny, apparently, could talk. The weird thing is that whoever tells this story—my dad, my uncles, my cousin who I hadn’t seen in 40 years—all tell it EXACTLY the same. And we still laugh. That’s how I came to love our family history.

Another way I managed to get to this point was through my reading. From the time I was small, my family would make weekly trips to the library. I was one of those who came out with a stack of books as tall as myself—as many as they would allow me to check out. Very often, the stack included biographies. I remember reading about Pocahontas and John Rolfe, for example. When I was an adult and took my kids to Jamestown, I about burst with excitement to stay in an Airbnb on land John Rolfe had once owned and to stand on the spot where they believe Pocahontas married him. True geekdom, I assure you.

Stories are an amazing way to build a love of history. I had learned about the first settlements in America in school, reading them in my history books, but they came to life for me when I read biographies. These were real people. These things really happened to them. They lived lives that people still talk about today. I was captivated.

Of course, we can’t count out my minor in history. By the time I got to college, I was already pretty much a history nerd. A book nerd. Maybe just a plain old nerd. I studied elementary education, and the program I was in was unique in that you took your education classes plus had three minors. Simple choice. One was English, while the other was history. (In case you’re wondering, the third was special education.) Wow, was I in heaven. I got to learn about more historical figures and events, hear about wars and kings and dictators, and research the truth behind some of my favorite historical characters. By the time they handed me my degree, I was a bona fide history nerd.

The internet has only fueled my love for history. I remember when we first got dial-up at our house. I hopped on the computer and one of the first things I looked up was Laura Ingalls Wilder. I don’t remember why, but I did. I was fascinated to see pictures of her I’d never seen before and to learn some of the truth behind her stories. I can get lost for hours researching any number of topics. As a WWII and romantic suspense author, I shudder to think what the government would think if they ever confiscated my computer and looked at my search history. At the very least, I’d find myself on a watch list.

There are times when being a history nerd comes in handy; for example, in my latest release, Slashed Canvas. When I heard about this fairy-tale-turned-1920s-mystery series and someone suggested I put a twist on The Lost Princess, I immediately knew I had to write about a Russian princess escaping the 1917 revolution and fleeing to Paris. I loved my Russian history class in college, and what I learned there stuck with me. I got to do even more research on the Russian revolution, Paris in the 1920s, and the Louvre. Fun history nerd fact: In Russian aristocracy hierarchy, a princess is beneath a grand duchess. That’s what the tsar’s daughters were all grand duchesses.

So, do you think you’re a history nerd? Ask yourself these questions to find out.

  1. When you go down a flight of stairs, do you ever imagine yourself sweeping down the staircase in a hoop skirt?
  2. Have you driven through Virginia and, as you passed exit signs on the highway, entertained those in the car with stories about the Revolutionary and Civil War battles fought in those towns?
  3. Have you ever dressed up in period clothing?
  4. Do you have the ability to glaze your friends’ and family’s eyes over with your useless trivia about a certain historical character or event?
  5. When you go to a museum, do you read each and every little note by all of the displays?
  6. Does your favorite Jeopardy category have anything to do with history?
  7. Have you ever almost fainted when you visited a historical site and stood on the same ground as one of your favorite historical characters?
  8. Have you ever binge watched historical documentaries or period dramas (Downton Abby, for example)?
  9. Have you ever inwardly (or outwardly, for that matter) screamed at the TV or movie screen because the historical show you were watching didn’t get the period details correct?
  10. Are you obsessed with tracing your family tree and secretly hope that you’ll be related to someone famous or with an interesting story? (My husband is a direct descendant of King James II of Scotland. No matter how hard I try, I can’t find anyone interesting in my genealogy.)


If you answered yes 1-3 times, you have no business calling yourself a history nerd.

If you answered yes 4-7 times, you might be aspiring to be a history nerd.

If you answered yes 8 or more times, welcome to the history nerd club. Glad to have you along!

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Certified history nerd Liz Tolsma is the author of over 20 historical novels and novellas, including WWII and romantic suspense. Her latest release, Slashed Canvas, transports readers to Paris in the 1920s and is a retelling of the fairy tale The Lost Princess. When not on her computer adding to her repertoire of historical facts, she enjoys reading, walking, and working in her perennial garden. She’s married to her high school sweetheart. He and their three kids know how to brace themselves when she starts a sentence, “Did you know…?”

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