So You Want to Travel Back in Time?

Ronald E. Yates is an author of award-winning historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy.


When I taught a class in foreign correspondence at the University of Illinois I was always saddened at how little knowledge of history my students had.
I didn’t blame my students so much as I blamed their K-12 schools for sending them into the world with little if any appreciation for the past and how it shaped today’s world.
I was amazed at how many students simply assumed that the world they lived in today was always this way. Most thought the modern conveniences we take for granted today were always there–just made from different materials or designed differently.
When I revealed to students how different life was in 1905 (less than 110 years ago) most were stunned.
Lunchtime on a Kansas Farm 1905
I pointed out that in 1905 average life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years; that only 14 percent of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub; that only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone; that 95 percent of all births took place at home; that 20 percent of adults couldn’t read or write; that only 6 percent of all Americans  graduated from high school; that marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores; and that there were only 230 reported murders in the entire U.S. you could hear a pin drop.
Those facts alone spurred some students to learn more about life in the past.
For me, an author of historical novels, visiting the past is not an option. It is a requirement. How can you write a novel set in the 19th or 18th Centuries without understanding what life was like for the characters you create? The answer: you can’t.