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History as a Kind of Writing

Textual Strategies in Contemporary French Historiography

In academia, the traditional role of the humanities is being questioned by the “posts”—postmodernism, poststructuralism, and postfeminism—which means that the project of writing history only grows more complex. In History as a Kind of Writing, scholar of French literature and culture Philippe Carrard speaks to this complexity by focusing the lens on the current state of French historiography.

Carrard’s work here is expansive—examining the conventions historians draw on to produce their texts and casting light on views put forward by literary theorists, theorists of history, and historians themselves. Ranging from discussions of lengthy dissertations on 1960s social and economic history to a more contemporary focus on events, actors, memory, and culture, the book digs deep into the how of history. How do historians arrange their data into narratives? What strategies do they employ to justify the validity of their descriptions? Are actors given their own voice? Along the way, Carrard also readdresses questions fundamental to the field, including its necessary membership in the narrative genre, the presumed objectivity of historiographic writing, and the place of history as a science, distinct from the natural and theoretical sciences.

264 pages | 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History: European History, History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


“This is a work by an accomplished literary theorist who has also gone to the trouble of reading, with intense care, representative works in the French tradition of historiography from the time that the academic discipline of history first emerged in France in the nineteenth century up to the very recent past. Carrard aims to offer a poetics of French historiography. He corrects widely shared misapprehensions put forward by previous commentators on French historiography and thus helps us to understand more clearly what is going on in those works. He also makes a significant contribution to the theory and philosophy of history. Perhaps most important, Carrard shows in History as a Kind of Writing that it is a mistake to equate the historiographical project with narrative, for much history is not narrative in any strict sense, but exemplifies other genres.”

Allan Megill, University of Virginia

“Consistently lucid, admirably balanced, remarkably well informed, and based on an impressively broad and diverse corpus, History as a Kind of Writing captures the textual nature and specificity of contemporary French historiography and constitutes a veritable poetics of that historiographic production. In fact, it does more and contains thought provoking pages addressing the differences between plot and emplotment or between construction and invention, factual and fictional discourse, history and fiction; shedding light on narrative and narrativity or on the image of the reader inscribed in the paratext; discussing the problem of received historical categories or received organizational patterns; and pointing to the epistemological and ideological implications of various existing practices. The book will be of interest not only to historians, poeticians, and students of France, but to humanists and humanistic social scientists in general.”

Gerald J. Prince, University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents

A Note about Translations and Documentation
Introduction: French History and Its Manuals
1 Dispositions
Squabbles about Narrative
Linear Narratives
Writing the Event
Synchronic Cross Sections
Stage Narratives
Theory of a Practice
2 Situations
The Discourse of the Absentee
3 Figures
Wordplay and Figures of Speech

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