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Historical Methods . Literature and History. Starting Questions. What did we do last week? History—what, why, how? History is not always progressive, nor developing in a linear fashion. History : public vs. private; facts vs. interpretation; history vs. literature/fiction Why? 

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Historical methods

Historical Methods

Literature and History

Starting questions
Starting Questions

  • What did we do last week?

  • History—what, why, how?

  • History is not always progressive, nor developing in a linear fashion.

  • History: public vs. private; facts vs. interpretation; history vs. literature/fiction

  • Why? 

  • Historical methods and Time travel

    (-- location – a hotel

    -- erase the traces of the present

    -- hypnotize one’s mind//realism)

Why history
Why History?

– a memento to keep (and past to immortalize), and to be fixated by;

-- to learn from the past and broaden our horizons;

-- identity-construction, sense-making (for individuals), legitimating (for a group of people, or disciplines), textbook p. 92

-- re-interpretation/re-vision

relating it to our present world

and selves.

(Ref. http://www2.tntech.edu/history/whystudy.html )


  • History and Literature/Fiction

  • Historical methods in historiography and in ‘traditional’ historical films and lit.

  • New Criticism and History

History vs literature
history vs. literature

  • 在十九世紀前﹐歷史與文學同屬Literature.二者向來就有糾葛﹐也有許多比較二者異同.

  • 如亞里斯多德《詩學》(Poetics)︰

"...the difference lies in the fact that the historian speaks of what has happened, the poet of the kind of thing that can happen.  Hence also poetry is a more philosophical

and serious business than history; for poetry speaks more of universals, history of particulars." (ref. textbook 96 Sidney)

History vs literature 2
history vs. literature (2)

  • Overlapping in Realism, or traditional History of ideas critics (e.g. Wordsworth as an example of Romanticism)

  • “Non-essential relation” --New Criticism 

3. Both are ‘narratives,’ or ‘fictions’ (constructions) embedded in a network of texts (or discourses). (p. 93)

Historical methods starting questions
Historical Methods: Starting Questions

  • Which of the following are facts, or more factual than fictional, or apparently realistic but actually fictitious?

1. Dates (e.g. Rep.O.China’s National Birthday 10/10 ),

2. Documents (e.g.台湾地名沿革表source), records, reminiscences, (e.g. Making Sense of the 60’s--later)

3. artifacts, buildings, (e.g. Romeo’s and Juliet’s houses )

4. The Rep. of China was born in 10/10, 1911.

Historical methods1
Historical methods

  • History as a broad field: Ref. WWW-VL: HISTORY: METHODOLOGIES http://vlib.iue.it/history/methods/methodologies.html

  • Studying history as ‘text’: (Textbook: pp. 94-)

  • Generalization;

  • Authoritative/neutral tone

  • Tense –Simple past

  • Collection and Interpretation of

    “facts.”  how? (Ref. textbook 3-4)

Historical methods 2 selection of facts
Historical methods (2)—SELECTION OF “FACTS”

1. The solid lines indicate supposed empirical methods, and the dotted lines shows inference according normal historical practice. (Berkhofer 141)

Historical methods 3 from life to history
Historical methods (3)—from life to history”

(Berkhofer 145)

Historical methods 3 grand narrative s or history
Historical methods (3)—> Grand Narrative(s) or History

(Berkhofer 146)

Historical methods 3 grand narrative s or history e g
Historical methods (3)—> Grand Narrative(s) or History e.g.

  • E.g. 1 Textbook p. 94 denial of the Holocaust

    • Great Past (the Germans during the wartime)

    • Great Story (how “they” reject the past. . . )

  • 2 Textbook p. 97Mid-Victorian Britain

    • Great Past (the Victorian Age)  Great Story (of economic growth and progress)

    • Underlying assumption,

      or philosophy?

  • 3. Textbook p. 98 Tyllyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture a homologous view of “the order”

Historical methods 4 history as narrative
Historical methods (4)—> History as Narrative

  • life with plentiful events  evidence  fact

     synthesized into ‘Story’

    or, according to Hayden White,

     organized into a chronicle

Story within beginning, middle and end;

Or motifs (inaugural, terminating, transitional)

Historical novel and film
Historical” Novel and Film

  • Definition: A historical novel is a novel in which the story is set among historical events or, more generally, where the time the action takes place in predates the time of the first publication. It is a genre popularized in the 19th century by artists classified as Romantics, and must be distinguished from the genre of alternate history. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_novel )

  • e.g. Walter Scott IVANHOE劫後英雄傳

  • Reflects the movement and

    totality of an age with characters

    as ‘types.’

  • Showing, personalizing, and

    emotionalizing the past.

Components of a historical novel and film
Components of a “Historical” Novel and Film

  • Frames: at the beginning, the end, or the turning points;

    • narrative comments and mentioning of Facts, numbers, historical figures

  • Credibility:

    • Documents -- Photograph, diary,


    • Witness -- First-person narrator,

  • Embodiment & Dramatization:

    • Themes

    • Description

    • Plot & characterization

Components of a historical novel and film e g
Components of a Historical Novel and Film e.g.

Making Sense of the 60’s- 4. In a Dark Time: one clip

-- Is there a frame to this segment?

-- How does it establish its credibility?

-- Motifs? Plot? Narrative perspective?

Components of a historical novel and film e g 2
Components of a Historical Novel and Film e.g. (2)

Textbook p. 101 -- Middlemarch

  • Historical references?

  • Total view?

A postmodern historical film
A Postmodern Historical Film

  • 妹妹看MTV

  • 1. How are the TV screen and its audience presented in this video? 

  • 2. How is history presented? Is it credible?

Stop and think
Stop and think:

  • What do you think about the different kinds of histories (the official, the personal, with evidence, historical novel, historical romance, biographies, etc. ) now? Are they trustworthy? Or in what ways can we learn from them?

  • What is wrong with having a total view of history?

New criticism major views
New Criticism: Major Views

  • A poem is autonomous, with an ontological status.

    Intentional Fallacy,

    Affective Fallacy

  • Poetry offers a different kind of truth (poetic truth) than science.

  • Heresy of Paraphrase (詩不可以被翻譯)

Ref. textbook p. 96

New criticism methodology 1 poetry
New Criticism: Methodology (1) Poetry

  • Parts

  • Denotations, connotations

    and etymological roots

  • Allusions

  • Prosody

  • Relationships

    Among the various elements



pattern, tension,




New criticism methodology 1 narrative
New Criticism: Methodology (1) Narrative

  • Parts

  • Point of view,

  • dialogue,

  • setting,

  • Plot

  • Characterization

  • Relationships


    the various elements



pattern, tension,




New criticism history
New Criticism & History

  • Intrinsic approach; the ‘text-and-the-text-alone” approach;

  • the poem as an organic whole

  • Denying history?

“If we see that any item in a poem is to be judged only in terms of the total effect of the poem, we shall readily grant the importance for criticism of the work of the linguistic and the literary historian.” (Brooks qud McGann 6)

New criticism 2 anti historical
New Criticism (2): ‘anti-historical’?

  • Against basing textual interpretation on the author’s intention to. “Intentional Fallacy” (the author as the sun-catalyst in the growth of a plant.)

  • Basic assumption: a good literary text should have a coherent meaning which can be universally felt by the writers and readers alike and which should not be changed by time.

Quote: “If we insist on relating the text primarily to the context of its composition, we are cutting it off from that relation to life which is the relevant one.” (Ellis qtd in McGann 8)

What do you think?

New criticism 3 historicized
New Criticism (3): historicized

  • Necessary for the establishment of literary studies as an independent institute. (Cf. textbook 1: 92-93)

  • Problematic in the assumption of universal and stable meanings unchanged by context.


2.新批評認為詩是衝突心態的微妙平衡﹐是對立衝突的公開調和;對於被冷戰的種種衝突學說搞得無所適從而持懷疑論調的自由派知識份子﹐這種觀點確實深富吸引力…表示你可以無所牽掛;詩所教你的就只是『超然』」(Eagleton 67-68)﹒

Stop and think1
Stop and Think:

  • "What is history but a fable agreed upon?" - Napoleon B. Do you agree?

  • How should we use ‘history’ in our studies of literature? Or how do we define ‘context’?


  • McGann, Jerome, ed. Historical Studies and Literary Criticism. Univ of Wisconsin Pr; Reprint edition: 1986.

  • Berkhofer, Robert. “The Challenge of Poetics.” The Postmodern History Reader. Ed. Keith Jenkins Routledge, 1997.