Connie Willis’ multiple-Hugo winning Oxford Historians series began with the short story Fire Watch in the early 1980s, a good ten years before the first novel in the series (Doomsday Book).
The central conceit was scaffolded in this first story: graduate students in 2050 time travel to do their original research. Some aspects are not as well-developed in Fire Watch as in the novels — the formidable Professor Dunworthy insists on sending student Bartholomew to London during the Blitz rather than the Middle East in the 1st Century because of a misplaced possessive (St. Paul’s vs. St. Paul). The Professor we know from the novels would not be so capricious.
Or perhaps he would — because there is a chance that Dunworthy feels Bartholomew will learn something from serving in the Fire Watch, laboring to keep the symbol of London’s soul from burning, that he will not learn in traveling with the Saint.
And learning that about humanity is the heart that runs through this series. In Fire Watch and Doomsday Book it takes the form of poignancy. The students in both stories are first hand witnesses to death, and although everyone they encounter has already been dead for a long, long time they learn that they are not the faceless mass of the long past, but precious and brave individuals.
Time travel novels can do this magic, combining science and history into a unique alchemy. While Willis is a favorite, there are many more time travel novels to be savored in our collection. Check out the Time Travel Gems list for more.