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History Notes > Disciplines of History - Making Historical Arguments Notes

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Literature questions o

Is historical writing best analysed as a form of literature?

o

Have works of fiction created narratives about the past which have shaped and sometimes distorted academic understanding?

o

Fictive invention and suppression and distortion are normal properties of textual exposition' (STROHM). Should historians handle literary texts differently from other kinds of written evidence?

"In answering questions from this section candidates should discuss specific examples of historical writing. They should consider the ways in which historians select and use sources, the methodologies they have employed, and the historiographical context within which they write."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Introductory considerations Is there a difference and should they be handled in the same way?'There is nothing outside the text'. Jacques Derrida's iconic statement is perhaps the most enduring claim laid by the postmodernists to date. o Consequences for how we understand hist writing: if everything is understood and represented in terms of language, and the lack of any absolute truths gives rise to a multiplicity of meanings --------> failure of historians to penetrate veil of language and represent an externalised reality condemns the discipline to the production not of truth, but of rhetoric. o Derrida: sources only 'pretending to be a likeness of it, a parade of signifiers masquerading as a collection of facts.' o Are all texts defined by their textuality, rather than the nature of the source itself?Should we see historical writing in binary terms anyway? Need to break out of the facile assumption that the study of History should be defined either in terms of a rigorous scientific discipline or a genuine art. Does the former require we prioritise non-literary texts?
Can we really gain value from them?
o All contributes to our understanding of the past. o But ultimately, it seems more constructive to use postmodernist thought and literary analysis in a manner which allows us to

scrutinises notions of objectivity and a single 'Truth' in historical writing, rather than to conclude that we should approach works of literature and historical documents in the same manner.Shared characteristics: need literary frameworks and narratives to make sense of complex and chaotic events. o Roberts has contested this: 'At the very last, the reduction of all narrative to the status of fiction seems a desperate and inevitably self-defeating way in which to grant the literary dimensions of historiography its due.' o Postmodernists have succeeded in contesting common-sense empiricism, breaking down hegemonic, fictitious discourses and opening up new possibilities for the historical field. o History still politicised? Will that ever change? Historians pursue their interests. Nineteenth-century: nationalist dogma, Romantic myths. Maybe we should accept that everyone will have their own agenda when they write. Imbuing meaning in a narrative means you will impose your own understanding of events. o But ultimately, it seems more constructive to use postmodernist thought and literary analysis in a manner which allows us to scrutinises notions of objectivity and a single 'Truth' in historical writing, rather than to conclude that the barriers between works of literature and those of history no longer exist.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Power nexusesFoucault: 'Normal history orders the past for the sake of authority and therefore power.' o prevalence within western historiography of white, masculine, socially-elite discourses could certainly be analysed as works of fiction. o They employ falsehoods in order to privilege particular conceptions of history at the expense of the marginalised 'Other'. o Hayden Whit: historical consciousness, and by extension the discipline itself, could be seen as 'a specifically Western prejudice by which the presumed superiority of modern, industrial society can be retroactively substantiated.' o Barthes - does hist. writing create a 'reality effect?' o Footnotes and sources are used to prove that the structure of interpretation is actually a structure of factuality, rather than merely a subjective representation of factuality. By analysing

historical writing as a form of literature, Berkhofer has concluded on the basis of these arguments, we undermine the former discipline by 'denying the factuality that grounds the authority of history itself' and thus open up new areas of possibility.Derrida - meaning of a text is necessarily uncertain, self-referential and unable to depict an externalised series of 'signified' concepts. As such, the facts we assume constitute the evidential base of historical writing are perhaps non-existent. Leads us to a multiplicity of voices, a consequence of each text's lack of closure and of an external referent. But again, we can say (ARGUMENT) that this augments historical study rather than detracts from it - provides the means for additional narratives to enter the corpus of acknowledged works, without necessitating an acceptance of the absolute fictionality of historical writing. o 'For historians researching those marginalised due to their class, race, gender, sexuality, age, the structuralist idea that a sign is distinguished by its difference, by what it is not, by what is "other", has been helpful. The other, while often implicit, is exposed by the inconsistencies in a set of meanings within a text, so that another meaning is produced by this difference, a term referring to absence and difference.'Problem with such criticisms is that they tend to assume that historians are unable to transcend these limitations in order to better understand and illuminate the past. o Fabricated narratives are contested. Ongoing historiog. argument, seek to represent reality rather than distorted fictions. o late-20th cent: integration with social sciences, multidisciplinary: literary criticism and analysis bolster our understanding and production of historical writing, rather than affirm its essentially literary, and by extension fictitious nature o Richard Evans: 'nowadays, a huge amount of imaginative, pathbreaking and first-rate scholarship' is being devoted to recognising the multiplicity of historical experiences. o Structuralist notions of the sign, defined against what it is not, have been particularly useful in the case of gender studies. Proposals for a more inter-relational study of history, a study in which women and men were defined in terms of one another, offers the possibility of assessing history as a more comprehensive 'whole'. Furthermore, the fundamental considerations of the 'otherness' and divisions between men and women's history logically leads to a consciousness of the 'otherness' amongst women themselves o y refining the modes of analysis needed to establish these connections, gender. studies has augmented a vital aspect of historical inquiry, a development that could not have occurred without greater awareness of the literary and fictitious dimensions to hegemonic historical narratives.

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An acceptance of the fragmented, contradictory and heterogeneous nature does not have to lead to the conclusion that we can derive no truths from it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Nothing outside text? Source differentiation

Historian 'finds' his stories', the author 'invents' his. Is this true?
Strohm: 'Fictive invention and suppression and distortion are normal properties of textual exposition'. Is this true of non-literary texts?Raphael Samuel: 'the deconstructive turn in contemporary thought' invited everyone to 'see history not as a record of the past, more or less faithful to the facts', but as 'an invention, or fiction, of historians themselves.' (7) o Others noted that postmodernist theories suggesting 'that historians are in the business of creating - not discovering or interpreting - historical meaning' served only to 'undermine our authority, the mystique of our enterprise, the very purpose of our work.' o Indirect, arbitrary or even non-existent correspondence of words to reality. o Authors may impose explicit moral condemnations of their characters in works of literature. Conversely, they may shape the protagonist in a 'cult of the antihero', or leave the reader to determine the moral framework within which the novel should be understood. For historians, explicit or implicit moral judgements are often perceived as detracting from the nature of historical study, though a purely 'objective' analysis of any given period is impossible. (Carr - Hanging judge) While a novelist may describe a character as 'evil' or 'wicked', it seems facile for a historian to do the same. To undermine seemingly immoral policies, or actions, we must undermine their historical validity - which often means the necessary reference to consequences, facts, statistics, etc. o Thus to condemn the semi-capitalist NEP during the 1920s, we must demonstrate that the 'liquidation' of the kulaks was carried out in accordance with 'arbitrary quotas imposed from Moscow, which bore no relation at all to the nature or scale of the task of collectivisation carried out in the localities.' (Richard Evans)

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