Monday, January 07, 2008

ASECS 2008 paper notes

Richardson, R. C., "LITERATURE AND HISTORY": THE IDENTITY AND PURPOSE OF THE JOURNAL, Literature and History, 11:1 (1985), 1-?.

Literature and History - started 1975 - is interdisciplinary but mostly (70 %) literary. "too many historians are evidently not deeply interested either in literature as the special and unique kind of source material which it is or in the methods and theories which literary critics have devised for studying it." (6)
Also a discussion of how historians deal with the icky material - as straightforward evidence or illustration ...

Allen, James Smith. "History and the Novel: Mentalité in Modern Popular Fiction"
History and Theory, 22, 3 (1983), 233-252.

"Unfortunately, social historians have expended more effort extracting and verifying information from novels than they have spent considering how this should be done. Compared with quantitative history, the level of theoretical and technical sophistication in the historian's use of literature has been remarkably low.5 Unself-conscious, eclectic, traditional historians tend to shy
away from this kind of theorizing, thus compounding the numerous problems of using a source as unreliable as fiction." (234-5)

Quentin Skinner "Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas." History and Theory, 8 (1969), 3-53.

Talks about why neither the ONLY THE TEXT nor the USE THE CONTEXT to explain the text works. We must understand the text - what it says, the material and intellectual conditions and circumstances that produce the text, AND we must understand the intended force of the text. Was it intended to reinforce an accepted position, or to be subversive and controversial? Was it intended to be challenging and thoughtprovoking or simply to clarify what everyone was thinking anyway?

Anyway, the point of it is that knowing the context is helpful, but the context does not necessarily explain the meaning of the text. "The 'context' mistakenly gets treated as ateh determinant of what is said. It needs rather to be treated as an ultimate framework for helping to decide what conventionally recognizable meanings, in a society of that kind, it might in principle have been possible for someone to have intended to communicate." (49)

We can't say that history is important because it helps us study timeless ideas; there IS no perennial wisdom. There may be perennial questions but, .... "whenever it is claimed that the point of historical study of such questions is that we may learn directly from the answers, it will be found that what counts as an answer will usually look, in a different culture or period, so different in itself that it can hardly be in the least useful even to go on thinking of the relevant question as being 'the same' in the required sense after all." (52)

"The key to the indispensable value of of studying the history of ideas" is instead that the classic texts "help to reveal, if we let them, not the essential sameness, but rather the essential variety of viable moral assumptions and political commitments." (52)

Linda Colley in
Going Native, Telling Tales: Captivity, Collaborations and Empire, by Linda Colley. Past and Present, 2000, 170-193.
says "Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers - and readers - rarely accepted a rigid division between empirical reportage and fiction, and this militates against understanding in several ways" (173)
Defoe's Life ... of the Famous Captain Singleton, published in 1720, was not advertised or necessarily read as fiction - but when an ostensibly factual account by Robert Drury of his captivity was published in 1729, it was described as "such another romance as Robinson Crusoe"


5. In fact, despite a widespread practice, very few historians have considered their use of
literature; most "discussions" are either asides or afterthoughts, for example, Perrot, Les Ouvriers
en greve, 11545. Major exceptions to this general rule, however, are the widely ranging Peter
Laslett, "The Wrong Way through the Telescope: A Note on Literary Evidence in Sociology and in
Historical Sociology," British Journal of Sociology 27 (1976), 319-342, which touches on nearly
every issue of the source's unreliability; the more narrowly focused William 0. Aydelotte, "The
England of Marx and Mill as Reflected in Fiction," Journal of Economic History 8 (1948), Supplement,
42-58; Alexander Gerschenkron, "A Neglected Source of Economic Information on Soviet
Russia," Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 296-317;
George L. Mosse, "Literature and Society in Germany" in Literature and Western Civilization,
Vol. 5: The Modern World, 11, Realities, ed. David Daiches and Anthony Thorlby (London,
1972), 267-299; Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, L'Argent, I'amour et la mort en pays d'oc: PrPcPdPdu roman de I'abbe Fabre "Jean-I'ont-pris" (1756) (Paris, 1980); Bonnie G. Smith, "The Domestic Myth," Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern France in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 1981), 187-213; Jerome Blum, "Fiction and the European Peasantry: The Realist Novel as a Historical Source," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 126 (1982), 2: 122-139; and the more personal Herbert Butterfield, The Historical Novel (Cambridge, 1924), and Richard Cobb, Promenades: A Historian's Appreciation of Modern French Literature (Oxford, 1980).