Jan. 16, 2013 – Review of Styles of Historical Writing

In a promising way, I found some more material that seems to support my original theory about style and message in historical writing.  I found three more articles in the Provincial Freeman, in 1854 and 1855, that demonstrate the Romantic and/or Realist style of writing.  This evidence supports the notion that, by the mid-19th century, the Enlightenment style had petered out, and been replaced by the Romantic style, and that the Realist style was emerging.

To get clearer in my mind about what these styles mean, I spent some time reading a book I recently acquired: Simon Gunn’s History and Cultural Theory.  A characteristic of Realism is the absence of the historian in the story. (Gunn: p. 27) Roland Barthes wrote about this later in the 20th century, saying “history seems to tell itself” and asking about “what really happened.” Realism was belatedly influenced by what Leopold Ranke said in the early 19th century about empiricism, but his ideas did not emerge as such until the late 19th and early 20th century and were taught in schools of history at that later time as one basis for Realism. (Gunn p. 8)

But these Realist schools of history that taught about Ranke seemed to forget that Ranke was also influenced by the Romantic style with ideas of “German idealism… romanticism, … nationalism, conservatism and reverence for the state.”  And in keeping with the various religious movements that emerged in the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, Ranke also argued that “in certain instances it was possible to discern the ‘finger of God’ at work.” (Gunn p. 6) Also through this period, the concepts of “sex, gender, [and] class” emerged, as a part of the emergence of self and personal identity.  Charles Taylor speaks of these concepts as “culminating in Romantic ‘expressivism’, the urgent voicing of an inner truth.” (Gunn p. 150)

The Enlightenment, in the 17th and 18th centuries, is characterized by a throwing off of mysticism and the church, a turn towards secularism, an emergence of the public sphere and examination of egalitarianism. However, Jürgen Habermas argues that the influence of the public sphere was beginning to decline, in the late 19th century, just as the influence of gender and race were taking root, and “challeng[ing] the authority of propertied masculine whites.” (Gunn p. 87-88)

So as I go about trying to categorize the historical writing I find, I conclude that Enlightenment writing speaks in a scientific and egalitarian tone, and neglects or even criticizes the church.  Romantic writing is idealistic, involves the historian as ‘self’, and may include the influence of God.  And Realist writing is empirical, and omits the ‘self’ or the historical writer.

With regard to my online exhibit, I found and made note of about eight more images that, assuming I can find copies of them, I could post in my online exhibit.  I have not actually posted them because I am still considering how I want to go about restructuring my exhibit and don’t want to have to re-do any more work than necessary.  As well, I will take this opportunity to note that, ever since I agreed to present my exhibit at the year-end HUgS event, I have been struggling to separate the best way to build a good exhibit for online consumption, with how it will appear at the HUgS as a presentation.

This week I will continue to review historical writing and classify it according to style and message.  Also, while I normally post to my blog on Wednesdays, next week I will not post until Thursday.


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