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Major Tenets
Historicism strives to establish relationships between
1. the historical context in which the work was produced
2. the work as an imaginative artifact
3. the impact of the work on the social and cultural elements of its own
world, and
4. the significance of the work for the reader in a later and different
Historical criticism:
relies on researchers/readers powers of observation, to think both
inductively and
focuses on researchers/readers ability to collect and interpret data
asserts that scientific objectivity and careful observations/comparisons
are valid windows to
the understanding of literary texts
acknowledges that literary works were influenced by the great ideas of
their time
religiously, politically, psychologically, scientifically, etc.
assumes the text itself is insufficient to explain itself
promotes a scientific method for interpreting the impact of historical
acts and artifacts upon
any given literary text

What were the literary influences on this work, and what works did it

influence in turn?

How does this work reflect the world view of its time or the social
milieu of the writer?

How does it reflect its authors personality and opinions?

Historical criticism can include:
Textual analysisexamination of manuscripts and
early editions

Bibliographythe listing and annotation of works available on a given

author or literary
Biographical criticismthe study of someones life to gain insight into a
literary text
Genre studiesexamination of a work of art in light of other works of the
same type to
determine its place in literary history
Source studiesthe search for a works origins in sources available when
the work was

The history of ideasthe influence of beliefs or ideas current when a

literary work was

Psychobiographyuse of modern psychology to examine how an

authors psychology affects,

or is revealed in, a work

Sociological criticismthe influence of class struggles, cultural events,

and social institutions
on an authors work of life
Associated Terms
Primary evidence (information from first-hand experience)
Secondary evidence (using credible resources for groundwork)
Beginning Circumstances
Arose during the European Renaissance, during which time a loss of classical
traditions led to a renewed interest in the ancient (i.e., Greek and Roman)
sources of Western culture. European Catholicism created cultural stability
that kept science, written history, art, music, literature and architecture alive.
This culminated a rebirth of humanism, through which historical criticism

& Advantages

The theory provides an intelligent and informed factual context for study
It does not base all understanding upon the text itself; it seeks
Many other types of criticism use its techniques (especially for purposes
of verification)
Weaknesses & Limitations
We dont have direct access to historical events, but only peoples
accounts of them
May lack genuine objectivity; historical support or evidence may be
relative or subjective
Critics too are enmeshed in history, so any pretension to objectivity us
just that: pretension
Its often criticized as being male-centered, since most history is focused
on and/or written by
males; the female point of view has not been considered nearly as much
Major Players &
Altick, Richard
Literary Research
Altick, Richard
American Literature




Selective Bibliography for the Study of English and

Gage, John
of Reason
Hockett, Homer
The Critical Method in Historical
Research and Writing Sanders, Chauncey
Introduction to Research in English Literary History Slavens,
Sources of Information
for Historical
Turabian, Kate
A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, These,
and Dissertations
Veeser, H. Aram