Introduction to Literature
Michael Delahoyde

New Historicism

Historical Criticism insisted that to understand a literary piece, we need to understand the author's biography and social background, ideas circulating at the time, and the cultural milieu. This school of criticism fell into disfavor as the New Critics emerged.

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.

In other words, 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: ideas of social organization, prejudices, taboos, etc. They raise questions of interest to anthropologists and sociologists.

New Historicism is more "sociohistorical" than it is a delving into factoids: concerned with ideological products or cultural constructs which are formations of any era. (It's not just where would Keats have seen a Grecian urn in England, but from where he may have absorbed the definitions of art and beauty.)

So, New Historicists, insisting that ideology manifests itself in literary productions and discourse, interest themselves in the interpretive constructions which the members of a society or culture apply to their experience.

Works Consulted

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

Biddle, Arthur W., and Toby Fulwiler. Reading, Writing, and the Study of Literature. NY: Random House, 1989.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. NY: Longman, 1998.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Critical Theory
Introduction to Literature