What I’m Reading: An Interview with Andrea ZuvichHistorians/History
tags: interview, Andrea Zuvich
Erik Moshe is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia and an HNN features intern.
Andrea Zuvich is an American historian, historical consultant, and author of historical fiction. She was educated in both History and Anthropology at the University of Central Florida. She specializes in the House of Stuart during the latter half of the 17th-century. Zuvich is the founder of the website The Seventeenth Century Lady.
What books are you reading now?
I’m currently reading several books at the moment. Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Fraser, which thus far is a fascinating history of the trade in nutmeg and the hazardous journey to the island of Run, on which nutmeg grew plentifully – I’m never going to look at my spice rack in the same way again. I previously read Fraser’s White Gold and thought it was superb. I’m also reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I’m very much enjoying. Finally, I’m reading An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, which is set in seventeenth-century England.
What is your favorite history book?
This is a very difficult question to answer – impossible, frankly. Although I have read many wonderful history works that have influenced me, I suppose I’d have to start with the three books that got me started on the road to being a historian when I was in school: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, The Virgin Queen by Christopher Hibbert, and all the books by David Starkey. In recent years, however, I’ve been reading a great deal by J.D. Davies, Adrian Tinniswood, Antonia Fraser and Kevin Sharpe. I think Mark Kishlansky’s short biography Charles I: An Abbreviated Life is the most well- balanced look at that monarch’s life that I’ve ever read, so I suppose I’d say that is my current favourite.
Why did you choose history as your career?
Ever since I was a little girl, I had a great respect and appreciation for the achievements of our ancestors, combined with an excitement to learn about past events and historical figures, plus a great deal of curiosity. I was also an Anglophile and a monarchist, which to a large extent I still am. I am also an unashamed bibliophile – much to the detriment of my eyesight, unfortunately – but I have a voracious appetite for reading and learning. I dabbled in acting, singing, and modeling for a time, but I needed a great deal of intellectual stimulation that those pursuits simply didn’t satisfy for me, and history just seemed the perfect fit.
What qualities do you need to be a historian?
I think that someone who yearns to be a historian must definitely enjoy reading. As for qualities, I believe patience, determination, and a keen desire to analyze information and the ability to convey it in a well-balanced way are essential. Also, humility is an overlooked quality – no matter how much you think you know, you will never know everything, and it’s important to remember that. I have many times encountered historians who call themselves “experts” but they seem to lack humility. A true historian never stops learning!
Which historical time period do you find to be the most fascinating?
Hands down, the seventeenth century. Like many other historians, I started off liking the Tudors because that was what was covered most in school; but in my teens, I started to gravitate away from that and into the subsequent Stuart period. I’m so glad I did! I find that time utterly enthralling. All aspects of life then hold a great appeal to me - literature, art, music, military and political movements, as well as the burgeoning scientific movement. When I began to be a professional historian in 2010, the seventeenth century was largely overlooked in terms of popularity with the general public, but this has steadily changed and more people are becoming interested in the period.
Who was your favorite history teacher?
Mr. Johnson was my history honors and economics teacher at Rockledge High School in Rockledge, Florida. He was very encouraging and believed that I had what it took to be a historian. This gave me the confidence to pursue history at university. When I begin to doubt myself, I read the recommendation he wrote for me and it still proves a very useful motivator even now.
What are your hopes for world and social history as a discipline?
I think many historians spend too much time denigrating the positives of European history, for example, whilst simultaneously focusing on the negatives. Every single culture and nation has had good and bad episodes in their history – I think a more balanced approach should be the aim, and I hope more up-and-coming historians can be open-minded enough to do this. I find myself increasingly concerned with how there seems to be a trend for history students and professional historians (especially, perhaps, some academics) to be very polarized in their views, as if the shades of gray no longer exist – nuance often ignored. I generally find myself at odds with those who want to remove statues and portraits and busts from display and change names because those people had different views to those that prevail today. It reminds me of episodes such as the destruction of the Cheapside Cross (one of the Queen Eleanor Crosses from the 13th century) in 1643 by order of Parliament – a beautiful monument destroyed because it was seen as idolatrous, and now we lament its destruction. I can’t help but find parallels between these attitudes and the movements sweeping over the UK and the US at present. Ideologies and movements should be able to be discussed openly, calmly, and rationally.
Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?
I do collect seventeenth-century artifacts, from jewelry to pamphlets. Some of my favorites includes Gilbert Burnet’s sermons published in the 1690s and a 1789 edition of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion. I have a very plain mid seventeenth-century ring that is very special to me, too. I often wonder who it belonged to and what their lives were like. I’m always on the lookout online for any seventeenth-century pamphlets – I think they’re splendid!
What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?
The most rewarding aspects of my career thus far would have to be how many readers – some of whom had never really been interested in history – follow my website (http://www.andreazuvich.com) and read my books, and have told me that they really enjoy what they read. Sometimes a piece of Baroque music or seventeenth-century work of art/poem I’ve posted on Twitter or Facebook has resonated with them, and many have said that they’d not previously been exposed to this kind of music or artwork. I have a great deal of love for everything Baroque, and when someone else finds that through my work they, too, enjoy it, that means a great deal to me. As for what I’ve found frustrating, I must admit I find the sometimes-endless political pontificating by some of my peers rather tiresome. I’ve noticed that if one does not fully share the political views of one’s most vocal peers, one is liable to be totally shunned by them (which is lamentable, especially as I had always hoped that those in our profession could be the most open to a wide array of opinions).
How has the study of history changed in the course of your career?
I have been an independent researcher since 2010, and the biggest change is the availability of resources available online. I’m able to order documents online and download them from the British Library, for example, and it facilitates the process so much. Technology has definitely made modern research easier.
What is your favorite history-related saying? Have you come up with your own?
“I’m going totally historical!” No, only joking. I don’t really have any particular favorite saying. I do say, “That’s Baroquetastic” quite often when referring to a Baroque artwork or musical piece, but I don’t think I can take the credit for coining that, sadly.
What are you doing next?
Well, my last book, A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain, was published in 2016 and I have since written several magazine articles. My wonderful primary focus at this time in my life, though, is looking after my infant daughter. I would like to finish the three historical/biographical fiction works I’ve been writing on-and-off over the past few years, and I have quite a few ideas for future projects – including one or two biographies of certain seventeenth-century figures! Watch this space.