The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Hayden White, "The Historical Text as Literary Artifact"

(page numbers from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism)

According to White, what is the purpose of metahistory? (1712)

What does he see as a lapse in recent historical and philosophical thinking about history? (1713) --recognition that historical narratives are invented as much as found

Against what trends in social science explanations does he seem to be reacting?

What are Northrup Frye's categories for the types of literary plots? What does White see as Frye's conception of "history" and "myth," and how does White differ with him? (1713-14)

What is R. G. Collingwood's notion of the "constructive imagination," and how does White differ from his application of this concept? (1714-15)

What are some parallels between history and literature? (1715)

What makes a historical event tragic? What role is served by the narrator's point of view? (1715)

What guides historians in their selection of facts? (1715) What causes White to say that the matching of a plot structure with historical events is a "fiction-making" operation? (1716)

What causes the reader to "understand" as opposed to following a story? How is this understanding related to a perception of plot? (1717)

What parallels does White draw between the reading of history and psychotherapy? (1717) In this context, what is the role of the historian? (1718)

What is the historical analogy to the patient's original trauma? (1718) Are there any aspects of history which this assumption would leave out?

What does it mean to say that histories are metaphorical statements? (1718) -- presents complex of symbols and sequences which enables us to find an icon of the structure of those events in our literary tradition

Does this view fit some forms of history more than others?

What naive view of the accessibility of history does White criticize? (1719) What are some reasons why it is difficult to perceive the meaning of past events?

Why cannot past histories be negated, even if specific facts which they adduce are later seen to be questionable? (1720)

By what criteria can we judge the quality of a historial narrative, if not by factual content? (1720)

What according to Claude Levi-Strauss is abstract feature of a historical narrative? (1721) In what sense are explanations determined by what is omitted? (1721)

In what sense is a historical narrative an extended metaphor? (1721) What example does he give to differentiate the symbolic and iconic aspects of metaphor? (1721) How is the historian's work that of changing facts into fiction? (1722)

Do you feel this is an accurate description of a historical narrative?

What is the point of White's diagramming of alternate plot sequences? (1722-23) What are different ways of interpreting the same sequence? (deterministic, apocalytic, naively chronological, sentimental, etc.)

What does White consider to be the characteristic of good or classical histories? (1724)--dialectical tension between two emplotments. Would this characteristic also be a feature of literary plots?

Why should the historian use figurative rather than technical language? By convention, what form of language does s/he in fact use? (1724)

What is meant by the claim that "historians constitute their subjects as possible objects of narrative representation by the very language they use to describe them"? (1725)

By this account, what are some linguistic variations which can characterize historical narratives? (1725)

What observations by Roman Jakobsen does he find useful, and for what purpose? (1725)

Why can histories not be disproved? (1727)

Does White's approach permit judgments of the quality of a history? Which forms of history tend to fit White's pattern? Are there aspects of historical narration or of historiography which he omits?

What distinction does White make between narrative, style and meaning? (1726)

What are some of the different ways accounts of the French Revolution have been constructed? (1726)

Do you agree that "the data that are to be analyzed are not significantly different in the different accounts"? (1726)

Why cannot the great historical works of the past become "disconfirmed"? (1727)

Why does he disagree with Aristotle's distinction between history and poetry? (1727) What subject matter is shared by history and literature? (1727-28) How does history deal with beginnings, middles and ends?

In what sense does historical writing clarify mysteries? (1728)

How does White deal with the criticism that an admission of the literary nature of histories will make them less reliable as sources of knowledge? Will make them into merely another form of propaganda? (1728)

What, according to White, is the advantage of recognizing the fictive element in our discourse? (1728) In what way does he believe the historiography of his time has lost its way? (1729)

Which aspects of White's theories are indebted to structuralism? To psychoanalysis?

Do you find value in White's approach?

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