2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

‘History as Literature’ Reconsidered:

Hayden White and a Poetics of History

Chin-shing Huang

Institute of History and Phiology, Academia Sinica

Postmodernism has dominated the intellectual world since the 1980’s, but reached its peak at the turn of the century. One of the impacts of postmodernism upon Western historiography is “the narrative turn,” or as its adherents like to proclaim, “the revenge of literature.” The key figure in this trend is Hayden White whose Metahistory is regarded as the most important classic for historical thinking since Croce. White promotes a poetics of history that not only undermines the myth of “scientific history” but also revitalize the ethos of “history as literature.” No less significant, White is among the very few historians whose contributions extend to a wide range of the humanities, from cultural studies to literary criticism. White is known for his erudition and tends to draw upon diverse intellectual sources that make his writing a challenge to read. By providing an introductory context based on related perspectives, I hope to facilitate the understanding of White’s major arguments. That contextual foundation will serve as a basis for my effort to offer not only a balanced and sophisticated assessment of White’s contribution but also my own critical comments about his theory.


Keywords: postmodernism, metahistory, poetics, Hayden White, Ranke