I. Genealogy of American Studies
II. Myth and Symbol
III. Interpretive Social Science Theory
V. Poststructuralist & Postmodern Theories
VI. Gender, Race, Sexuality & Dis/ability
VII. Historical Theories & Methods
VIII. Literary Theories & Methods
IX. (British) Cultural Studies
X. Postcolonial & Transnational Theories
XI. Theorizing Interdisciplinarity (forthcoming)
Comments? Corrections? Suggestions?
VII. Historical Theories & Methods
While the problem of historical
theory and method is obviously of great interest to professional historians,
this category is an interdisciplinary one in that the problem of "historicizing"
one's subjects and objects of analyis is faced by virtually all fields and
is certainly central to the interdisciplinary field of AS. With specific
regard to AS, one of the most important contributing fields of professional
history writing has been social history, and social history has itself been
largely an interdisciplinary project drawing at points heavily from the
social sciences as well as from the interpretive humanities. I've included
here work that combines empirical methods drawn from the social sciences
with those favored by historians, as well as innovative work in historiographic
theory that challenges the empiricist tradition. The "new social history"
that emerges in the late 1960s and early 70s, work recovering/creating the
history of American "minorities," women, gays, workers, and others
marginalized historically and historiographically, carried with it an implicit
and sometimes explicit critique of historical method as it claimed to work
"from the bottom up" rather than downward from elite figures and
groups. In addition to retheorizing what counts as history, this approach
has been extremely inventive at the level of method, using quantitative
and qualitative techniques drawn from sociology, anthropology and other
Most US social historians have preferred to place their theoretical and
methodological reflections within their texts rather than publishing them
separately. Thus some theoretical reflections and observations on method
in social history can be found in the major works of social history by practitioners
such as Eugene Genovese, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Sean Wilentz, Cathy Davidson,
and Herbert Gutman. Here I've grouped a few reflective pieces, as well as
pieces by major European social historians like E.P. Thompson and Fernand
Braudel. Similarly, important reflections on theory and method in the related
field of "new cultural history" can be found in the works of Alan
Trachtenberg, Warren Susman, and T.J. Jackson Lears.
In addition I've included what one might call the "textualist"
school of historiography, those critics who reflect on the fact that whatever
else historical writing is it is a form of writing and as such subject to
various generic conventions and other putatively "literary" determinations
that shape what can be said about the past. More recently a trend of combining
forms of textual analysis drawn from literary studies with traditional kinds
of social history has produced some exciting work (cf. Cathy Davidson's
work cited in section VIII).
That Noble Dream.Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990. A richly
thorough analysis of various ideas and ideals of "objectivity"
as they have been theorized and as they have structured the actual practice
of historians; it serves also as a history of the history profession in
the US. Offers an excellent, one might almost say "objective,"
sense of the contending views of what historians do and various competing
paradigms of historical truth and method. See also the forum on That Noble
Dream in the American Historical Review96.3 (1991):675-708.
In Pursuit of History.New York: Longman, 1984. A good basic
survey of empirical methods in history that also discusses challenges to
traditional empiricism from both theory and social science.
American Historical Explanations.Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press,
1973 Examines major paradigm shifts in 20th century US historiography.
Abelove, Henry et al. eds.,
Visions of History.New York: Radical History, 1984.
A number of Anglo-America's most prominent social and intellectual historians
reflect on their craft and the politics of writing the past.
On History.Trans. by Sara Mathews. Chicago: Univ. of
Chicago Press, 1980. Braudel is a key fingure in the annales school of social
history. This collection includes some of most important essays on the theory
and method of the school's longue duree approach to history with its emphasis
upon those elements of everyday life that outlast the vicissitudes of political
Gordon, Linda. "What's New in Women's History" in Teresa deLauretis, ed., Feminist Studies/Critical
Studies. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana Univ., 1986. Thoughtful essay offering
a brief history of changes in the writing of American women's history over
last 20 years, and relating questions of theory and method to mainstream
Scott, Joan W.
Gender and the Politics of History.New York: Columbia Univ. Press,
1988. See especially, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,"
a brilliant essay using postmodern theory to reconceptualize the centrality
of gender in historical writing, and providing a method for using the concept
to illuminate not just traditionally defined "women's spheres"
but the whole panoply of political, cultural and social life.
---. "The Evidence of Experience." Critical Inquiry17.4 (1991):
773-97. A lucid, extremely important critique of untheorized notions of
"experience" as they have limited the writing of social history.
Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. "The Body Politic" in Elizabeth Weed, ed.,Coming to Terms.
New York and London: Routledge, 1989. An intriguing essay on the use and limits
of a post-structuralist notions in analyzing the body politics of the New
Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America.New York: Knopf,
1985. See espcially Part I which imaginatively theorizes routes to lost
elements in the history of American women's culture.
---. "Writing History: Language, Class and Gender" in Teresa deLauretis, ed.,Feminist
Studies/Critical Studies.Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana Univ., 1986. Rethinks
the emergence of a new middle class in 19th century America with help from
Bakhtin's notion of cultural dialogism and polyphony.
Henretta, James. "Social History as Lived and Written," American
Historical Review84.5 (1979): 1293-1322. Reflects on theory and method in
the writing of social history via a survey of Foucault, Geertz, the annalles
school, and neo-Marxism in relation to the writing of US historians.
Explanation in Social History.Oxford: Basil Blackwell,
1986. Lloyd analyzes the theories, methods and in particular the notions
of causality peculiar to social history.
Raab, Theodore, and Robert I. Roberg eds.
The New History: The 1980s and
Beyond: Studies in Interdisciplinary History.Princeton, NJ: Princeton
Univ. Press, 1982. Useful collection of essays from the Journal of Interdisciplinary
History; see especially the sections on anthropology, and intellectual history.
DeBolla, Peter. "Disfiguring History," Diacritics16 (1986):
49-60. Thoughtful review of the literary-historical theories of Hayden White
and Dominick LaCapra (see below).
Toews, John. "Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn"
American Historical Review92 (1987) 879-907. Mediates interestingly
between the rhetorical turn in recent intellectual history influenced by
White and LaCapra and more traditional notions of historical writing.
The Content of the Form.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ Press,
Tropics of Discourse.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1978. White has
been the most consistently provocative theorist of historiography in the
last two decades. These two collections contain most of his important essays
on the writing of history as inevitably subject to "literary"
conventions and linguistic determinations.
Gearheart, Suzanne. "History as Criticism: The Dialogue of History
and Literature," Diacritics17 (1987): 56-65. A review of Dominick
LaCapra's work that provides a good introduction to the issues he raises
in intellectual history.
Jacoby, Russell. "A New Intellectual History?" American Historical
Review97.2 (1992): 405-24. A harshly critical but appreciative survey of
the work of White, LaCapra and others, immediately followed by a reply from
Criticism and History.Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press,
1985. LaCapra has continued and extended the critical work of Hayden White
on the writing of history, particularly with regard to questions raised
by post-structuralism. See especially the chapters, "Rhetoric and History,"
and "History and the Novel."
---. "Intellectual History and Its Ways." American Historical
Review97.2 (1992): 425-39. Written partly in reply to Jacoby (see above),
this essays eloquently defends the linguistic turn in recent historical
theory and discusses recent work in cultural history influenced by new theoretical
Rethinking Intellectual History.Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1983.
A collection of essays on a variety of 20th century theories and theorists
(including Sartre, Habermas, Foucault, Derrida, Jameson) as they challenge
the fields of intellectual and cultural history.
Soundings in Critical Theory.Ithaca, NY: Cornel Univ. Press, 1990.
LaCapra attempts to define a "dialogical" concept of historiography
that rejects both the extremes of objectivism and relativism, that acknowledges
both the otherness of the past and the inevitable intrusion of contemporary
theory and politics into the process of historical reconstruction. The first
and last chapters are of most general interest.
Bennington, Geoff and Robert Young eds.
Post-structuralism and the Question
Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987. See especially
the essays by Bennett, Wordsworth, and Spivak.
Texts in Contexts: Revisionist Methods for Studying the
History of Ideas.
Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1985. Compares traditional
and revisionist theories and methods in intellectual history.
Hunt, Lynn, ed.,
The New Cultural History.
Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1989. Fine collection of essays on recent theoretical trends in cultural/intellectual
history as influenced by Foucault, Geertz, White, LaCapra, the annales school
Best, Steven.The Politics of Historical Vision: Marx, Foucault, Habermas. New York: Guilford, 1995. Searching examination of relations and tensions among three profound historical thinkers.
Jenkins, Keith, ed.The Postmodern History Reader.
London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Includes a variety of essays for and against "postmodern" approaches to historiography. Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Lynn Hunt, Jean Francois Lyotard, Bryan Palmer, Hayden White, Lawrence Stone and Robert Young are among the essayists featured.
Berkoffer, Robert. Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse.
Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1995. Draws on
literary, rhetorical, multiculturalist, and feminist theories, and addresses the essential practical concerns of
contemporary historians confronting post-structuralism, the New Historicism, the New Anthropology, and the New
Philosophy of History. Calls for more wide-raging modes of historical writing that both honor and question more traditional types of hi/story-telling. See also the American Quarterly50.2 (1998): 340-375 for a lively forum on The Great Story.
Brown, Jennifer S. H., and Elizabeth Vibert, eds., Reading Beyond Words: Native History.Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1995. Interesting collection of essays that try to capture indigenous modes of passing on "history" that differ with and challenge Western modes of history writing.
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