New Journalism and New Historicism

In Interdisciplinarity, Joe Moran discusses the importance of literature to history as a discipline and its development as science.  New Historicism is a shift in the way historians look at history.  Marxism is a prime example.  Marxism states that history shapes the production of art, culture and ideas.  On these grounds, we are able to study history by looking critically at the art, culture and ideas that existed during a certain time period.  Marxist schools of thought and the emergence of new historicism have strongly influenced the way historians think, not only in regards to socio-political structure, but also in the way history relates to art, culture and the social sciences.

Traditionally, history was studied primarily through empirical evidence, much like the natural sciences.  The major concern was with proving events to be factually true, and analyzing cause-and-effect chronologically.  However, new historians are primarily focused on theory, especially examining the relationship between history, culture, and disciplinary knowledge.

This style of thinking incoorperates a link between philosophy and some of the new social sciences by aiming to produce a critical theory.   In this way, we can view any literary works considered to be cultural critiques as necessities to the study of history.  For example, Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem would be an extremely useful text to a historian analyzing Californian culture in the 1960s, just as D’agata’s About a Mountain and  would provide a wealth of information for someone studying Las Vegas Culture.  Interestingly enough, it is the personal manner that these works are written in which add to our knowledge of history, because we can see through the perspective of someone who was there at the time.

By mixing history with literary criticism, we are able to more accurately identify with the culture that existed within a certain place and time, and in that was we can better understand the ideology of the time.  New historicism appeals across the humanities disciplines because of this desire to find connections between the empirical aspects of history and their effects on people through their culture by paying closer attention to things such as art and literature.


2 Replies to “New Journalism and New Historicism”

  1. I completely agree that we often approach a study of history through literary texts. Speeches, letters, and diaries hold places of great importance in the study of history, because they provide unique perspectives of the events occurring at a certain point in time, while simultaneously providing the reader a very specific view of someone experiencing that event first-hand. And example of this could be Anne Frank’s diary, where we are given a very vivid account of events and thoughts from a specific event in history.

  2. When discussing New Historicism and, by extension, the various ways in which history is inextricably linked with literature and literary studies in general, I cannot help but think back to Derrida’s belief that “there is no outside-the-text” and how we are condemned to textual analysis when examining past occurrences. Empirical investigation, for obvious reasons, dating from ancient history to recent times where documentation has become more advance, is wholly insufficient for historical analysis. We are condemned the symbolic ideas, language, and things of the like, which is why history cannot be an objectively precise science.

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