Call for Papers: 2019 academic program

‘History Repeats’

Historical Novel Society Australasia 2019 Conference

25-27 October 2019, Rydalmere Campus, Western Sydney University.

Academic Stream: Sunday 27 October

On the final day of the HNSA conference, we will bring together postgraduates, academics, and other interested scholars to consider the complexities of the genre of historical fiction and its readership. What counts as an historical novel is increasingly up for grabs: in terms of period (what counts as ‘the past’—and how past is past?), and the porosity of the boundaries of genre (viz. how historical is historical fantasy?).

Our aim is both to celebrate historical fiction and critique its moment—the genre’s renaissance. Does our sobering present (and dire future) make the imagined past more inviting; a retreat ‘into the far off, the period, the unfamiliar, the allegoric’ that eschews the ‘messiness of the present’ (Delia Falconer).

Is Hilary Mantel’s jibe, that some writers and readers prefer, ‘Ducking the tough issues in favour of writing about frocks’ fair? Or do the ‘tough issues’—the ongoing inheritances of colonial invasion and rule; of genocide; of institutionalised slavery; of political and economic domination; of institutional, legal and cultural policing of gender and sexuality—sit at the very heart of the literary historical novel? Is the determination to engage with them behind the rise of a new literary genre: the ‘recent historical novel’ (novels set in the later 1970s through to 9/11 and on to the second Iraq war)?

When A.S. Byatt observed the ‘interesting path to be explored along the connections between modern historical novels and the popular genres that tell stories about secrecy’ (Byatt 2001: 57) and the shared compulsion of historian and historical novelists to get the ‘foot in the door, to get behind the façade… to penetrate into the inner room’ (Richard Cobb quoted in Byatt, 2001), she’s pointing toward the unruliness of the genre, its potential for a stealthy unpacking of the baggage of history.

We invite abstracts for panel sessions and/or for individual papers that explore the current moment of the historical novel, its critical flourishing, and the thematic preoccupations of the genre. Possible topics or sub-fields include but are not restricted to the following:

  • The representation of incarceration/institutional life
  • The boundaries of genre/s
  • Gender and genre
  • Class and genre
  • Race and genre
  • Nostalgia and escape
  • Narratives of colonisation and decolonisation
  • Place and the past (particularly Parramatta and Western Sydney regions)
  • Fame and infamy
  • Reader cultures and readership
  • Biographical fictions
  • Novels of prehistory
  • Genre and form (including short stories and verse).

Abstracts of 350 words, along with a 50-word bio (in email body or in doc.x), can be sent to Kelly Gardiner  by 30 June, 2019. 

You will be notified in August if your paper is accepted. People whose papers are accepted will receive a free ticket for the Sunday of the conference.

Contributions from postgraduates are particularly welcome.


Byatt, Antonia S. (2001) ‘Forefathers’, On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays. London: Vintage.

Falconer, Delia (2006) ‘Historical Novels’, Eureka Street, July, http://www.

Mantel, Hilary (2009, 17 Oct) ‘Booker Winner Hilary Mantel on Dealing with History in Fiction’, The Guardian

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