Historical AU

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Tropes and genres
Related tropes/genresHistorical Fanworks, Historical RPF, Alternate Universe, Barbarians, Modern AU
See alsoSteampunk, Noir Detective AU, Regency AU, Slave AU, Western AU, Victorian AU
Related articles on Fanlore.
I Met You On LJ featured an overview of the Historical AU for Fic Trope Friday.
Bodie and Doyle from the crime show The Professionals as medieval knights from the zine Foxhole in a Graveyard. Artist is TACS

An historical AU is a fanwork that moves characters into a different historical period from their canon setting. Typically this involves taking "contemporary" characters (from the late 20th Century or 21st Century) and putting them in an earlier historical period (such as the 19th Century or before). It can also refer to setting characters from a historical fandom such as Jane Austen in a different period, such as the First World War[1].

The AU may be a completely original setting for the characters or it may be more of a fusion where a canon setting from another fandom is used for the chosen characters. A story might be about Sherlock and Watson as two knights in a fantasy medieval world or they might be in the recognizable canon setting of a show that is set in a different time in history, like Merlin.

The popularity of a given historical setting might ebb and flow depending on which fandom or piece of media is popular at any one time (i.e., there might be a rise in the number of WWII AUs in the wake of a popular movie or tv show set at that time, etc.)

In The Professionals fandom, historical AU fanfics are referred to as "hystericals," especially, but not only, those by Meg Lewtan.

Popular Historical AU Settings

Popular settings for historical AUs include:

Historical Accuracy

Many historical AUs make no effort towards actual historical accuracy, but rather reflect the pop culture versions of the period the same way canon sources do. Historical settings are popular in romance novels and films, and those same sorts of unreal past worlds are often used in fanworks. Some fans refer to this as costume porn, where the point is more to dress your favorite characters up in period costumes than it is to really write about a historical setting.

For some fans - those who are historians, students of history or veterans of fandoms where the source text is concerned with historical realism - the more fantastical histories hold little attraction. They are more interested in the realistic history and placing modern characters into that very different setting to see how it would affect them. However, this kind of realism isn't mutually exclusive with the costume porn thing.

Some of the historical periods that are popular with filmmakers, authors and fan creators bring with them issues of race, cultural appropriation, misogyny, colonialism and imperialism. These issues are sometimes recognized, sometimes ignored and sometimes magnified in fanworks (intentionally or not). The issue of casting white male characters in historical settings or places where they are assuming another race or ethnicity is particularly controversial with fans.{Some cites for the J2 Samurai story might go here}

Slash fans are often fond of setting their modern characters—often men portrayed in the source in stereotypical hyper-masculine ways—in historical periods where physical affection between men was more common or where men dressed in less drab clothing, wore makeup and wigs, etc. Many of these popular settings have a more gender-segregated society as well, which forces the male characters together in close proximity, but also greatly restricts the roles for female characters.

Historical AUs may be made intentionally inaccurate to allow women or non-white characters to do things they may never have been able to do in the real historical period.


Examples of Fanworks


Story illustration for the uber Xena novel Josie and Rebecca: The Western Chronicles, showing UberXena and UberGabrielle in a Western AU. Art by Angelique
Jim and Blair from the cop show The Sentinel on the high seas in the zine Warriors #12, artist Lorraine Brevig


  • Really Stretching UNIT Dating is a collection of Doctor Who stories in which the Third Doctor's adventures with UNIT take place in different historical periods: the 1790s, the 1920s, the 2020s and ancient Greece.

Roman AUs

Vikings AUs

Renaissance AUs

  • Renaissance is a popular Blake's 7 zine by Diane Holland. Editor Judith Proctor recommends it: "Renaissance places [Vila] as Vito Ricotti, a youn[g] shep[h]erd boy with a gift for sketching, who becomes apprenticed to Cervello D'Avonci (a blend of Avon and Leonard da Vinci). Blake is incarnated as the patriot Machiavelli and the stage is set for a replaying of the eternal story between the three of them."[3] (1999)

Historical England(ish)

Pirate AUs

Old West AUs



The 1950s



  • Epoch, a zine for The Old Guard, flips the Historical AU concept because of the characters' long immortal lives, and features "Historical Canon-Compliant" stories set in any eras other than the ones that canon stories exist for (ie, no Crusades, no Ancient Steppe, and no Napoleonic France). The zine was organized by Ashley Guillory.
  • Pattern of Infinity, an anthology zine of Blake's 7 historical AUs.

Communities and Fests




  1. ^ For additional information on historical characters in a different period, see the Modern AU page.)
  2. ^ Nightdog Barks, (2006). The Annals: Part 1. Retrieved 11 December, 2010. Webcite.
  3. ^ Hermit.org: Recommended Fanzines for Vila (accessed 5 October 2011)