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New Historicism

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Gretchen Kelly

on 16 January 2014

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Transcript of New Historicism

New Historicism
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/09/
-New historicists do not believe that we can look at history objectively, but rather that we interpret events as products of our time and culture and that "...we don't have clear access to any but the most basic facts of history...our understanding of what such facts mean...is...strictly a matter of interpretation, not fact" (279). Moreover, New Historicism holds that we are hopelessly subjective interpreters of what we observe.
-traditional historians ask, 'What happened?' and 'What does the event tell us about history?' In contrast, new historicists ask, 'How has the event been interpreted?' and 'What do the interpretations tell us about the interpreters?'"
-Typical questions:
•What language/characters/events present in the work reflect the current events of the author’s day?
•Are there words in the text that have changed their meaning from the time of the writing?
•How are such events interpreted and presented?
•How are events' interpretation and presentation a product of the culture of the author?
•Does the work's presentation support or condemn the event?
•Can it be seen to do both?
•How does this portrayal criticize the leading political figures or movements of the day?
•How does the literary text function as part of a continuum with other historical/cultural texts from the same period...?
•How can we use a literary work to "map" the interplay of both traditional and subversive discourses circulating in the culture in which that work emerged and/or the cultures in which the work has been interpreted?
• How does the work consider traditionally marginalized populations?

A New Historicist looks at literature in a wider historical context, examining both how the writer's times affected the work and how the work reflects the writer's times, in turn recognizing that current cultural contexts color that critic's conclusions.
New Historicism is a literary theory based on the idea that literature should be studied and intrepreted within the context of both the history of the author and the history of the critic.
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/cliffsnotes/literature/what-is-new-historicism

http://www.english.uga.edu/~eberle/2002033K/spring03/materials/new_crit_new_hist.htm
-New Historicists argue that literary texts are “embedded” within their historical context, that is, they not only are produced by their historical moment but contribute to ideological production
-According to New Historicists, there is no “universal” quality to literature but it emerges out of a specific and complex historical moment. The literary text is not seen as unified but rather as characterized by the complex negotiation between the dominant and resisting ideologies of its historical moment.
-New Historicism sees the author as subject to the forces of culture that he or she works within. It also sees readers, like authors, as subject to dominant ideology who tend to read texts in ways that confirm their own (culturally mediated) experience.

New Historicism seeks to find meaning in a text by considering the work within the framework of the prevailing ideas and assumptions of its historical era. New Historicists concern themselves with the political function of literature and with the concept of power, the intricate means by which cultures produce and reproduce themselves. These critics focus on revealing the historically specific model of truth and authority (not a "truth" but a "cultural construct") reflected in a given work.
HEART OF DARKNESS
The new historicism developed during the 1980s, largely in reaction to the text-only approach pursued by formalist New Critics and the critics who challenged the New Criticism in the 1970s. New historicists, like formalists and their critics, acknowledge the importance of the literary text, but they also analyze the text with an eye to history. In this respect, the new historicism is not "new"; the majority of critics between 1920 and 1950 focused on a work’s historical content and based their interpretations on the interplay between the text and historical contexts (such as the author’s life or intentions in writing the work).
What is New Historicism?
New Historicism is a literary theory that emphasizes understanding the history of a text by relating it to powers, events, ideologists and movements of the given time frame.
Basically, it is viewing a piece of literature and analyzing it through the perspective of the author during the time it was written and then how it transcended time to influence one's perspective as a person living in the 21st century.
Presentation By:
Gretchen Kelly, Elise Nadeau, & Stephanie Shantz
Origin
developed during the 1980's and gained popularity in the mid 90's
was formulated as almost a rebuttal to the New Criticism theory
Actually rooted in Marxism and shares some connections with Postmodernism
was not exactly a new branch of literary theory, it was simply critics taking old literary theories and applying the analysis of historical content to their interpretations
http://www.slideshare.net/mehdi_hassanian/new-historicism-1066718
Heart of Darkness
Stephen Greenblatt
Since New Historicism is a relatively new literary theory that is still evolving , "any definition is bound to be somewhat fuzzy"
Born
: November 7, 1943 (age 70) in Boston
Education
: Pembroke College and Yale University
http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/new.hist.html
history here is not a mere chronicle of facts and events, but rather a complex description of human reality and evolution of preconceived notions. Literary works may or may not tell us about various factual aspects of the world from which they emerge, but they will tell us about prevailing ways of thinking at the time. is more "sociohistorical" than it is a delving into factoids: concerned with ideological products or cultural constructs which are formations of any era
"Traditional historians will ask, 'What happened?' and 'What does the event tell us about history?' Whereas new historicists ask, 'How has the event been interpreted?' and 'What do the interpretations tell us about the interpreters?'"
The New Historicism theory does not believe that we as readers can look at history objectively, but rather that we interpret events as products of our time and culture.
How to Apply the Theory
What language/characters/events present in the work reflect the current events of the author’s day?
•Are there words in the text that have changed their meaning from the time of the writing?
•How are such events interpreted and presented?
•How are events' interpretation and presentation a product of the culture of the author?
•Does the work's presentation support or condemn the event?
•Can it be seen to do both?
•How does this portrayal criticize the leading political figures or movements of the day?
•How does the literary text function as part of a continuum with other historical/cultural texts from the same period...?
•How can we use a literary work to "map" the interplay of both traditional and subversive discourses circulating in the culture in which that work emerged and/or the cultures in which the work has been interpreted?
• How does the work consider traditionally marginalized populations?
look at a work and consider other writings that may have inspired it or were inspired by it, as well as the life of the author and how it relates to the text.
New Historicism evaluates how the work is influenced by the time in which the author wrote it. It also examines the social sphere in which the author moved, the psychological background of the writer, and the books and theories that may have influenced him or her. Beyond that, many critics also look at the impact a work had and consider how it influenced others.
because its main focus is to look at many elements outside of the work, instead of reading the text in isolation.
The critic in New Historicism might then evaluate why Austen would display this prejudice, giving information about books she had read, events in her life that may have influenced her, and her own choices in regards to marriage.
The first step is doing some research. With this theory it isn't enough to simply read the text you're analyzing because it focuses so much on elements outside of the piece and how they influence the work.
Good things to get some information on would be:
Looking into the historical setting of the text; focus on movements or overarching ideas of the time frame.
The author's background; ideas they supported, political views, events in their life that would shape their opinions.
The time in which the author them self lived through; look for the same things as you would for the setting.
How successful the piece was; examine also the effects of the work and how it was received by critics.
http://www.questia.com/library/literature/literary-theory/new-historicism
To apply this literary criticism one must understand the work not only in its historical context but also the historical factors that influenced the writer and ideas of the piece.
"A key figure in the shift from literary to cultural poetics and from textual to contextual interpretation in U.S. English departments in the 1980s and 1990s."
Author
: has written numerous books on Shakespeare, the Renaissance, culture and New Historicism
Elements to Look for Within the Text
Greenblatt created the term “new historicism” in his book written in 1982 called
The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance
Pay attention to power
New Historicists tend to see power as not exclusively class-related but extending throughout society.
Also, they believe that ultimately all human actions can be boiled down to power, whether it be wanting it, fighting for it, ect.
Awarded:
The Pulitzer prize for his non-fiction book
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.
New Historicism focuses strongly on the effects of a piece and how it influences the culture and ideas of those who read it.
So look for ideas in the piece that are designed to change opinions or cause controversy.
Look for bias
This criticism is quite concerned with bias in the text based on the author's personal history and beliefs.
The pessimistic tone in Heart of Darkness “is largely reflecting the much bleaker and more threatening ideological perspective on human life which followed from new developments in physical science, in evolutionary theory, and in political life, during the last half of the nineteenth century.” -Ian Watt
Most importantly, make connections with your research! This literary theory is founded on connections between the text and history, so it's vital that you too try and make your own associations.
A new Historicist would look at the way in which:

The novel both critiques and celebrates imperialism.
Conrad tries to reshape traditional understandings and narratives of colonialism by showing a new perspective
it also functions as a historical account that of that documents that horrors and ravages of European imperialism in the Congo.
the author’s history shape his narrative. For example, we would look at how Conrad’s own experiences in the Congo region contributed to his understanding of colonialism and his depiction of the Congo natives.
How different characters represent bigger historical apects. For instance, Conrad's character captain Kurtz represents the degeneration of Europe in the nineteenth century
Work Cited

Applying Theory to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness." Saylor.org. The Saylor Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013.
Delahoyde, Michael. "New Historical Criticism." New Historical Criticism. WSU, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.
Eberle, R. "New Criticism and New Historicism." New Criticism and New Historicism. University of Georgia, Spring 2003. Web. 18 Dec. 2013.
Green, Nicole. "Critical Approaches." Critical Approaches. N.p., 25 Feb. 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.
Taman, Hassan. "Educationcing." : The New Historicism and Heart of Darkness. N.p., 10 May 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.
Tompkins, J. Case, and Allen Brizee. "Welcome to the Purdue OWL." Purdue OWL: Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism. Purdue University, 3 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Dec. 2013.
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