2012 New History
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Theories of Reading and Historical Understanding

Chin-shing Huang

Institute of History and Phiology, Academia Sinica

The “theory of reading,” broadly speaking, is concerns with the discourse of understanding texts. In historiography, it deals with the decoding of documents and the history they represent. But currently it usually refers to the specific ways of reading raised by postmodernists. Among these, Barthes and Derrida, whose doctrines have already exerted tremendous impact upon literary criticism and cultural studies in the West, stand out the most important. Recently, their influence has extended to historical studies as well and provoked a number of heated debates between modern and postmodern historians.  This essay begins by providing a perspective from which we can see the emergence of historical hermeneutics. This perspective also provides a contrast with postmodernists' reading theory. Finally, the essay assesses  the merits and demerits of postmodernist ways of reading when applied to the field of history.


Keywords: reading theory, post-structuralism, Ranke, Barthes, Derrida