Alex Kaufman English 232r Spring 2002
Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe
, Johns Hopkins UP, 1973.
Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism
, Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation
, Johns Hopkins UP, 1987.
Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect
, Johns Hopkins UP, 1999.
Theories of Historiography
In his book
, White suggests that historical discourse is a form of fiction writing that can beclassified and studied on the basis of its structure and its language. To White, modern history texts areanything but objective and accurate representations of the past. Historians and philosophers, Whitebelieves, operate under vague assumptions in arranging, selecting, and interpreting events.
“Historiography is an especially good ground on which to consider the nature of narrationand narrativity because it is here that our desire for the imaginary, the possible, mustcontest with the imperatives of the real, the actual. If we view narration and narrativity asthe instruments with which the conflicting claims of the imaginary and the real aremediated, arbitrated, or resolved in a discourse, we begin to comprehend both the appealof the narrative and the grounds for refusing it” (
The Content of the Form
4).The term “metahistory” has largely been associated with White. In general, Metahistory is the philosophyof history, and it examines the various principles giving rise to the notion of historical progression and thenarratives that describe it. White sees metahistory as a term and as a form of writing that is similar tometafiction and metanarrative, and that objective history is impossible.
The Problem of Historiographical Styles
, pages 5-38, White states that historical discourse can be classified in literary,argumentative, ideological, and language categories:
EMPLOTMENT ARGUMENT IDEOLOGY TROPES
Romantic Formist Anarchist MetaphorTragic Mechanistic Radical MetonomyComic Organicist Conservative SynecdocheSatirical Contextualist Liberal Irony
Historians combine numerous brief stories into the “completed story” and use various plottechniques.
Drama of the triumph of good over evil, virtue over vice, light over dark, andof the ultimate transcendence of man over the world.
No festive occasions. Man is enmeshed in a struggle that ultimately results in theresignation of men to the conditions under which they must labor in the world.
Hope is held out for the temporary triumph of man over his world. Comic historyuses festive occasions to terminate his dramatic accounts of change and transformation.
Man is a captive of the world rather than its master, and that the humanconsciousness is inadequate in overcoming the dark force of death.
Four paradigms that account for the different notions of the nature of historical reality.
A historian who classifies or identifies objects or events.
Believes that objects and events belong to set classes or phenomenon.