Historiography Between Scholarship and History Reflections on Hayden White'

Historiography Between Scholarship and History Reflections on Hayden White's Approach to Historiography

Georg G.

University of Buffalo, EEUU.

The paper addresses the question how one might write an history of modern historiography more analytical than the standard informative accounts from Eduard Fueter to Ernst Breisach. My own work in recent years has been located between two orientations, one particularly strong in Germany, which concentrates on history as a scholarly discipline, the second well represented in France, North America and Great Britain, which approaches history as a form of literature Both tend to emphasize one aspect of historical writing at the expense of another. The first, which has lost strength in the course of this century, works with concepts of scientification, the succession of paradigms which introduce greater scientific and conceptual rigor into historical studies seen as a professional endeavor, the second stresses the non-scientific literary qualities of historical production. I want to define for myself a position which recognizes the strength of both approaches by critically examining Hayden White's historiographical thought which represents broad segments of contemporary opinion today in the English-speaking world but also elsewhere.

White's Metahistory. The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973) offers an alternative approach to a history of historical writing White stresses that historical works should not be understood primarily as scholarship, but rather as the title suggests, as forms of historical imagination. He then compares four major historians of the nineteenth century, Ranke, Burckhardt, Michelet, and Tocqueville, with four philosophers of history, Hegel, Marx, NietzSche, and Croce. to show that the former as well as the latter contain important imaginative aspects so that "proper" history, philosophy of history, and literary forms of history all have the same explanatory validity and constitute works of imagination rather than objective reconstructions of past reality. While White has distanced himself in the 1980s and 1990s from his structuralist attempt of 1973 to categorize toe limited number of forms which historical writing could take in the nineteenth century be has clung to the epistemological positions he outlined in Metahistory White is undoubtedly right in pointing at the literary qualities which enter every historical account, but is on questionable ground when he concludes that all historical knowledge is relative to an extent that no dear dividing tine remains between a work of history and one of literary fiction. Thus in his examination of the four historians he is concerned only with their literary strategies and intentionally ignores the role wich research plays in historical study- History is thus reduced to ideology. He thus argues that all historical interpretations are equally valid or invalid as long as they do not distort the basic facts, that they cannot be "disconfirmed" or "refuted" by appeal to new data, fad must be understood primarily as products of the poetic imagination. Tins in his works moots the question of a text's "honesty" and "objectivity." ^w