History and fiction part ii


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An overview of the debate over history as fiction.

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History and fiction part ii

  1. 1. HISTORY AND FICTION: PART II By M Esterman, 2009
  2. 2. HAYDEN WHITE <ul><li>Hayden White (born 1928) is a historian in the tradition of literary criticism, perhaps most famous for his work Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973). He is currently professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and professor of comparative literature at Stanford University. </li></ul><ul><li>Some key books/essays: </li></ul><ul><li>Metahistory (1973) </li></ul><ul><li>Tropics of Discourse (1978) </li></ul><ul><li>The Content of the Form (1987) </li></ul><ul><li>Figural Realism (1999) </li></ul>Hayden White’s arguments are based in postmodern theory.
  3. 3. THE LAYERS OF HISTORIOGRAPHY – SOME POSTMODERN THOUGHTS The past is gone, we cannot experience the past again. Sources are all created by humans, therefore retain biases, interpretations and thoughts on events. Historians are human & have “baggage” that they do or don’t realise creeps into their writing. No objectivity. Taking a position skews history. There is one past, but is there one truth about the past? There are no rules about the past, no overarching laws, no consistent story
  4. 4. HAYDEN WHITE – HISTORIES ARE FICTION “ ...histories are ‘verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found’...” Partick Finney quoting Hayden White, “Hayden White and the Tragedy of International History”. White writes, &quot;plot is not a structural component of fictional or mythical stories alone; it is crucial to the historical representations of events as well&quot; (Metahistory, 1973, p. 51). The historian is responsible for the idea that people and events are interrelated.
  5. 5. HAYDEN WHITE – KEY ARGUMENTS <ul><li>There are no overarching “metanarratives” or “metahistories” that link all past events together. </li></ul><ul><li>Historians create the relationships and distinctions between events. </li></ul><ul><li>Historians use figuative language, not technical language and are therefore susceptible to changes in context/society. (“tropes”) – historians therefore (unaware) control how history is written. </li></ul><ul><li>Theories that try to ‘explain’ all of history (e.g. Marxism = history is a class war) are false assertions. </li></ul><ul><li>There is no single truth to history as historians try to show. </li></ul><ul><li>Historians are biased towards something , scientific objectivity is impossible. </li></ul>
  6. 6. RESPOND TO THIS STATEMENT <ul><li>“ The frequent opposition in modernity between history and literature has left many historians scarcely able to recognise history’s inescapably literary qualities. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>History cannot escape literature, as Hayden White, one of the writers who has most insisted on the fictive character of history, has famously suggested. History cannot escape literature because it cannot escape itself: history presents the results of its enquiries, its research, as narrative, and so necessarily enters into and partakes of the world of literary forms. We also agree with White that literary qualities and literary forms and genres are not something decorative or merely added to an account or analysis, but help explain what the historian in the present takes to be the meaning of past events and occurrences.” </li></ul></ul>Curthoys and Docker, Is History Fiction? , p 11
  8. 8. RESPONSES TO WHITE’S ARGUMENTS <ul><li>Carroll : questions White’s assumption that anything that is not a perfect likeness of the past must be fictive. </li></ul><ul><li>Golob : White fails to give sufficient attention to the many historiographical writings on understanding human actions from the ‘inside’. </li></ul><ul><li>Mandelbaum : questions whether historical writing is best understood tropically. </li></ul><ul><li>McCullah : unconvinced by White’s claim that because historians use metaphors their accounts cannot be true or false. </li></ul><ul><li>Other (M H-W): does the use (or lack of) technical language distinguish scientific and non-scientific writing? </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Summarised from Marnie Hughes-Warrington’s Fifty Key Thinkers on History . </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 10. CUSHING TROUT – THOUGHTS ON FICTION AND HISTORY <ul><li>“ Fiction...can sometimes enlarge historical understanding.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ There is a border country where history and literature encounter each other.” </li></ul><ul><li>In what ways could fiction help “enlarge” a history? </li></ul>
  11. 11. PAUL HERNADI – HISTORIAN’S METHODOLOGY IS CREATING FICTION <ul><li>“ The historian tends to see his evidence as mainly consisting of original texts. Yet all documents at his disposal, as well as the very work he is engaged in writing, are translations in this enhanced sense of the word: they are verbal accounts of the largely nonverbal fabric of historical events.” </li></ul><ul><li>Thoughts, actions, events, places -> written down as words by somebody -> used by others to create new words -> translate into thoughts, ideas and possibly actions of others. </li></ul>
  12. 12. QUESTIONS <ul><li>What kinds of historical moments could be affected by writing rather than re-enacting, visualising, performing etc. </li></ul><ul><li>List three examples of ways we can experience history without needing to read it. </li></ul><ul><li>What are some benefits to non-verbal/written histories? </li></ul>
  13. 13. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS <ul><li>History that is written based on a scientific method, with fluency and accuracy to the available historical sources and logic should be considered to be “good history” by most people. </li></ul><ul><li>If some elements are not based on historical fact, the historian must admit as such so that the audience can come to an understanding about how much is “fictive” and how much is “historical”. </li></ul><ul><li>In the end, every historian – even “postmodernist” historians – have their own beliefs, assumptions and purposes that must be taken into account.. </li></ul>