Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe

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JHU Press, Dec 4, 2014 - Literary Criticism - 480 pages

Since its initial publication in 1973, Hayden White’s Metahistory has remained an essential book for understanding the nature of historical writing. In this classic work, White argues that a deep structural content lies beyond the surface level of historical texts. This latent poetic and linguistic content—which White dubs the "metahistorical element"—essentially serves as a paradigm for what an "appropriate" historical explanation should be.

To support his thesis, White analyzes the complex writing styles of historians like Michelet, Ranke, Tocqueville, and Burckhardt, and philosophers of history such as Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Croce. The first work in the history of historiography to concentrate on historical writing as writing, Metahistory sets out to deprive history of its status as a bedrock of factual truth, to redeem narrative as the substance of historicality, and to identify the extent to which any distinction between history and ideology on the basis of the presumed scientificity of the former is spurious.

This fortieth-anniversary edition includes a new preface in which White explains his motivation for writing Metahistory and discusses how reactions to the book informed his later writing. In a new foreword, Michael S. Roth, a former student of White’s and the current president of Wesleyan University, reflects on the significance of the book across a broad range of fields, including history, literary theory, and philosophy. This book will be of interest to anyone—in any discipline—who takes the past as a serious object of study.

 

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User Review  - humdog - LibraryThing

this book is a knockout if you are interested in history and literature. it suggests that we can write history to be true to events, or as a story, and shows how that is done. Read full review

Contents

Introduction The Poetics of History
The Poetics of History and the Way beyond Irony
Historical Realism as Romance
Historical Realism as Tragedy
Historical Consciousness and the Rebirth of Philosophy of History
The Poetic Defense of History in the Metaphorical Mode
The Philosophical Defense of History in the Ironic Mode
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index
Copyright

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About the author (2014)

Hayden White is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, professor emeritus of comparative literature at Stanford University, and professor emeritus of the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of a number of books published by Johns Hopkins, including Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, and Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect.

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