“Writing History into Your Work” at CNFC Conference

I just gave a workshop “Writing History into Your Work” at this year’s Creative Nonfiction Collective conference at the beautiful Banff Centre for the Arts!

The conference lineup this year also included:

Anne Gafiuk, a colleague and participant in the workshop had this to say:

“Approximately fifty delegates came together to participate in workshops, readings, a plenary session, to hear a guest speaker, do some networking, learning, experience camaraderie and enjoy good food!  Some people came all the way from Halifax and Nanaimo, plus many places in-between, including numerous writers from Alberta. At Danielle’s session, we shared what areas we were interested in and what tools we would need to accomplish our goals.  I came away with more ideas and was also able to contribute a few, too.  Before we knew it, our ninety minutes was over!  We were so engaged; we all agreed we could have continued until noon. “



As I promised to Anne and the other participants, here’s some info to help you on your historic journey – and answers to those burning questions they brainstormed! Thanks to all who came out, participated, and contributed so much energy at 9am!


  • portable scanner
  • digital camera
  • digital voice recorder
  • notebook and pens/pencils
  • coffee/baking
  • memory stick/external hard drive
  • Drop Box/Cloud
  • Dragonspeak
  • transcription services
  • empathy and a sense of humour

Online resources:

  • Google and GoogleEarth
  • David Rumsey Map Collection
  • Twitter and Facebook
  • Forums
  • Subject-specific sites (like aviation, for example)

Community resources:

  • Local archives or museum
  • Historical and genealogical societies
  • Historian laureates (kind of like writers in residence)
  • Universities or colleges
  • Knowledgeable individuals

 Historical Q&A’s (for the whole list about research, ethical issues, etc, please click here):

How do you work in history when you are not a historian?

I’m biased toward professional historians, because I’ve seen major differences between how historians and non-historians go about research and documentation, and between how journalists interview and historians conduct oral interviews.

A great example of a non-historian “doing history” is someone like Pierre Berton, who has been credited with popularizing Canadian History. He started out as a journalist and had a set of skills and experience in that field, and then moved into historical territory. There can be a lot of overlap, but I’ve spoken with professional historians who were his friends and gave him grief for his sometimes flippant attitude toward historical accuracy. It does sound like he got more and more careful as he went on (and employed many researchers, transcriptionists, and fact-checkers on his projects). I’m all for the democratization of history but I also believe in maintaining professional standards. It’s a tension I struggle with daily.

If you’re going to be a self-taught historian, I would recommend the following texts:

  • Keith Jenkins: Re-thinking History
  • The Craft of Research
  • Oxford’s Writing History
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide
  • Colleen Fitzpatrick’s Forensic Genealogy
  • Pierre Berton’s The Joy of Writing

And take courses, workshops or attend historical conferences whenever you can to learn new skills and hear different perspectives.


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