Definition and History of Nonfiction in Literature


Nonfiction is a form of literature that presents factual information about real events, people, or ideas. Unlike fiction, which is based on imagination, nonfiction writing is grounded in reality and strives to educate and inform readers. Nonfiction has been an integral part of literature since the ancient times, with its roots tracing back to some of the oldest known civilizations.

The earliest forms of nonfiction literature can be found in the work of ancient societies such as the Egyptians, Sumerians, and Greeks. These civilizations produced nonfiction texts in the forms of historical records, biographies, and scientific treatises. For instance, ancient Egyptian writings such as the “Pyramid Texts” and the “Book of the Dead” were considered nonfiction as they provided instructions and prayers for the afterlife. Similarly, the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s “Physics” and “Metaphysics” were nonfiction works that explored the principles of the physical world and the concept of existence.

As societies evolved, so did the genres of nonfiction literature. With the rise of the Roman Empire, nonfiction literature shifted towards documentation and records of military and political events. This period marked the emergence of “annals,” which were chronicles of historical events, and “commentaries,” which were records of daily life and opinions of the ruling class. The most notable work of this time was Julius Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic War,” which chronicled his military campaigns.

During the Middle Ages, nonfiction literature took on a more religious tone. The Bible, the most influential nonfiction work of this period, had a significant impact on the development of European literature. Other nonfiction texts, such as “The Confessions” by St. Augustine and “The City of God” by Thomas Aquinas, also played a vital role in shaping religious and philosophical thought.

The Renaissance saw a revival of classical Greek and Roman literature, which had a profound influence on the development of nonfiction. The Italian scholar Petrarch’s “Letters to Friends” and the work of the French philosopher Montaigne, “Essais,” were early examples of personal essays that explored moral and philosophical topics in a nonfictional format.

With the advent of the printing press in the 15th century, the production and distribution of books increased significantly. This led to a rise in nonfiction genres such as travelogues, diaries, and scientific writings. The first modern nonfiction book, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” written in the 13th century, became a bestseller and inspired many other explorers to document their journeys.

In the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment sparked a surge in nonfiction literature that focused on reason, logic, and science. The French philosopher Voltaire’s “Candide” and the English philosopher John Locke’s “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” were instrumental in promoting rational thought and critical thinking.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw a proliferation of nonfiction literature with the rise of new genres such as memoirs, biographies, and investigative journalism. The advent of the internet in the late 20th century further expanded the scope of nonfiction with the emergence of blogs, online articles, and e-books. This allowed for a wider distribution and accessibility of nonfiction works, leading to diverse voices and perspectives being represented in literature.

In conclusion, nonfiction literature has evolved tremendously alongside human history. From religious and philosophical texts to memoirs and investigative journalism, nonfiction has continuously adapted to the changing needs and interests of readers. Its impact on society and culture cannot be overlooked, as it provides valuable knowledge and insights into the world we live in. As long as there is a desire for knowledge and understanding, nonfiction will continue to be an essential and integral part of literature.