The historical and biographical approach
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The Historical and Biographical Approach. By Mitchell King, Tori Gilliland, & Taylor Rioux. Definition: Historical.

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The Historical and Biographical Approach

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The Historical and Biographical Approach

By Mitchell King, Tori Gilliland, & Taylor Rioux

Definition: Historical

  • seeks to understand a literary work by investigating the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it: a context that necessarily includes the artist’s biography and milieu.

  • A key goal for historical critics is to understand the effect of a literary work upon its original readers.

  • When, where, and why?

Definition: Biographical

  • literature is written by actual people and understanding an author’s life can help readers more thoroughly comprehend the work

  • focuses on explicating the literary work by using the insight provided by knowledge of the author’s life

QuestionsTypes of Questions These Types of Thinkers Would Ask

  • What time period was the piece written in?

  • How does that time period influence the work?

  • What cultural impact does the time period have on the piece?

  • What is the author’s background?

  • Does the author’s personal history influence the piece? If so, how?

  • Are any significant historical events described in the work?

  • Was there a political and or religious message in the work?

  • Does the author’s political or religious bias influence the piece?


  • Time period clarifies purpose

  • A window into a different time

  • Insight into author’s personal life

  • Taste of previous culture’s language and society

  • Comparisons between past and present


  • Author’s political bias

  • Religious and political influences from society

  • Content may be inaccurate

  • Censorship

  • Limits reader’s creativity

  • Accuracy of timeline

Use in Past ClassesHow have these techniques been used in past classes, and with what materials

  • English Class-

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns- Historical Context (Turmoil in Afghanistan in the late 20th Century). By Khaled Hosseini

  • Tweak – Biography of a struggling drug addict. By Nic Sheff

  • History Class-

  • The Jungle- Historical Context (Chicago Meatpacking plants in 1906) By Upton Sinclair. Read a 4 page section of the book.

  • “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln- Lincoln’s speech delivered to the nation after the bloody battle of Gettysburg. Reflected the nation’s chaos at the time, and was short and concise, just over two minutes. (1863)

  • Math-

  • The Pythagorean Theorem- In every math book that deals with this type of arithmetic there is a short piece on the origination of the method. Pythagoras of Samos published the method in the late 6th century B.C.

ExamplesIn Literature and The Real World

  • The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger

  • My Pet Virus by Shawn Decker

  • Boardwalk Empire HBO Television Series

  • Enemy at the Gates – Movie, The Battle of Stalingrad

  • Saving Private Ryan Academy Award Winning Movie, Based on a platoon in WWII

  • American Gangster- Movie, Famous drug dealer Frank Lucas

  • Gladiator­- Move, Graphic depiction of the late Roman Empire

  • Night by Elie Wiesel

  • Columbine by Dave Cullen

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

ApplicationHow or where would one apply the Historical Approach

  • When reading

  • When studying history

  • During research

  • Determining author’s purpose

  • Relating text to time period

  • During critical analysis

Works Cited








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