Critical historiography

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Critical historiography approaches the history of art, literature or architecture from a critical theory perspective. Critical historiography is used by various scholars in recent decades to emphasize the ambiguous relationship between the past and the writing of history. Specifically, it is used as a method by which one understands the past and can be applied in various fields of academic work.[1]


While historiography is concerned with the theory and history of historical writing, including the study of the developmental trajectory of history as a discipline, critical historiography addresses how historians or historical authors have been influenced by their own groups and loyalties.[2] Here, there is an assumption that historical sources should not be taken at face value and has to be examined critically according to scholarly criteria.[3]

Some authors trace the origin of this field in nineteenth-century Germany, particularly with Leopold von Ranke, one of the proponents of the concept of Wissenschaft, which means "critical history" or "scientific history", which viewed historiography as a rigorous, critical inquiry.[4] For instance, in the application of Wissenschaft to the study of Judaism, it is maintained that there is an implied criticism of the stand of those advocating Orthodoxy.[3] It is said to reveal the tendency of nationalist historians to favor the pious affirmation of the orthodox in attempts to restore pride in Jewish history.[5]

A type of critical historiography can be seen in the work of Harold Bloom. In Map of Misreading, Bloom argued that poets should not be seen as autonomous agents of creativity, but rather as part of a history that transcends their own production and that to a large degree gives it shape. The historian can try to stabilize poetic production so as to better understand the work of art, but can never completely extract the historical subject from history.

Also among those who argue for the primacy of historiography is the architectural historian Mark Jarzombek. The focus of this work is on disciplinary production rather than poetic production, as was the case with Bloom. Since psychology – which became a more or less official science in the 1880s – is now so pervasive, Jarzombek argued, but yet so difficult to pinpoint, the traditional dualism of subjectivity and objectivity has become not only highly ambiguous, but also the site of a complex negotiation that needs to take place between the historian and the discipline. The issue, for Jarzombek, is particular poignant in the fields of art and architectural history, the principal subject of the book. Pierre Nora's notion of "ego-histories" also moves in the direction of critical historiography. The idea of these histories is to bring into focus the relationship between the personality of historians and their life choices in the process of writing of history.

A critique of critical historiography cites the risk of judging the realities of the past by the yardstick of what is true in the present so that it becomes illusory and can obscure identity.[6]


  1. ^ Bernard-Carreño, Regina (2010). Nuyorganics: Organic Intellectualism, the Search for Racial Identity, and Nuyorican Thought. New York: Peter Lang. p. 146. ISBN 9781433106101.
  2. ^ Gharipour, Mohammad (2015). The Historiography of Persian Architecture. New York: Routledge. p. 1. ISBN 9781138915022.
  3. ^ a b Thulin, Mirjam (2018). Cultures of Wissenschaft des Judentums at 200. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam. pp. 70–71. ISBN 9783869564401.
  4. ^ Woolf, Daniel (1998). A Global Encyclopedia of Historical Writing: A-J. New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 819. ISBN 0815315147.
  5. ^ Biale, David (1982). Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-history. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0674363329.
  6. ^ Tucker, Aviezer (2011-06-28). A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444351521.
  • Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973; 2d ed., 1997. ISBN
  • H. Bloom, A Map of Misreading. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.
  • Mark Jarzombek, "Critical Historiography," in The Psychologizing of Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2002) online chapter
  • Pierre Nora, Essais d'ego-histoire (Gallimard), 1987