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White, Hayden V. 1928-

WHITE, Hayden V. 1928-

PERSONAL: Born July 12, 1928, in Martin, TN; married, 1952. Education: Wayne State University, B.A., 1951; University of Michigan, M.A., 1952, Ph.D., 1956.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford University, Pigott Hall, Stanford, CA 94305-2031. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, instructor in history, 1955-58; University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, 1958-68, began as assistant professor, became professor of history, chairman of department, 1962-64; University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, professor of history, 1968-73; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, director of Center for the Humanities, 1973-77, Kenan Professor, 1976-78; University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, professor of history of consciousness, beginning 1978, became Presidential Professor of Historical Studies, currently professor emeritus; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, professor of comparative literature, 2000—.

MEMBER: American History Association, Modern Language Association.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowships from Social Science Research Council, 1961-62, and Cornell University Society for Humanities, 1970-72; Guggenheim fellowship, 1981.


(With Willson H. Coates and J. Selwyn Schapiro) The Emergence of Liberal Humanism: An Intellectual History of Western Europe, McGraw (New York, NY), Volume I: From the Italian Renaissance to the French Revolution, 1966, Volume II: Since the French Revolution, 1970.

(Editor and contributor) The Uses of History: Essays in Intellectual and Social History, foreword by Alfred H. Kelly, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1968.

(Editor, with Giorgio Tagliacozzo) Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1969.

The Greco-Roman Tradition, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.

Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1973.

(Translator from the Italian) Carlo Antoni, From History to Sociology: The Transition in German Historical Thinking, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1976.

Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1978.

(Editor, with Margaret Brose) Representing Kenneth Burke, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1982.

The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1987.

Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1999.

Contributor to books, including The Concept of Style, edited by Berel Lang, University Of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1979; Relativism in the Arts, edited by Betty Jean Craige, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1983; and The New Historicism, edited by H. Aram Veeser, Routledge (New York, NY), 1989. Contributor of numerous articles to scholarly journals, including CLIO, Journal of Popular Culture, New Literary History, and Diacritics.

SIDELIGHTS: Hayden V. White has made contributions to the philosophy of history and literary theory. His books and essays analyze the narratives of nineteenth-and twentieth-century historians and philosophers, suggesting that historical discourse is a form of fiction that can be classified and studied on the basis of its structure and its use of language. White ultimately attacks the notion that modern history texts present objective, accurate explanations of the past; instead, he argues that historians and philosophers operate under unarticulated assumptions in arranging, selecting, and interpreting events. These assumptions, White asserts, can be identified by examining the form and structure of texts themselves, providing valuable information about the attitudes of the author and the context in which he or she has written. Furthermore, as White postulates in Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, historical discourse can be classified into the literary patterns of tragedy, comedy, romance, and irony.

In a review in the Journal of Modern History, Allan Megill wrote: "Taken together, White's books and essays have done much to alter the theory of history. Although his focus on trope and narrative is far from what most historians are interested in, they are all aware of his work." The critic added that White "is able to speak fluently and interestingly on an astonishingly wide variety of matters."

Most scholars agree that White's most important work is Metahistory. The book grew out of its author's interest in the reasons why people study—and write—history. Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Frank Day observed that in Metahistory White "adapted ideas from Giambattista Vico and other students of rhetoric and literary history to produce an intricate analysis of nineteenth-century historians in terms of their methods of emplotment. . . . White's broad purpose in Metahistory is to trace how the nineteenth-century historians escaped from the Irony that dominated Enlightenment historiography and from the 'irresponsible faith' of the Romantics, only to lapse back into Irony at the end of the century." The implications for historians and literary theoreticians lay in the "application of rhetorical tropes to narrative discourse," to quote Day.

Metahistory defies easy analysis, but its influence over subsequent generations of historians has been seminal. A great number of scholarly essays have been devoted either to confronting White's thesis or supporting it. As Jon Erickson noted in the Modern Language Quarterly, "Ever since the publication of Metahistory in 1973, Hayden White's important analysis and categorization of the rhetorical styles of historical writing have challenged the fantasy of a value-free historiography. While it is doubtful that historians themselves succumb to this fantasy—R. C. Collingwood precedes White in pointing out such problems—it has been of great interest to literary scholars, for whom stylistic analysis is key to understanding authors' motives and using them in the service of ideological critique."

White is also highly respected for his Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, which he coedited. The book resulted from a symposium held on the writings of Giambattista Vico, the eighteenth-century Italian scholar whose work in many disciplines, including history, philosophy, literature, and law, anticipated much contemporary thinking, particularly with regard to the relations of these fields to one another and to society generally. The volume examines Vico's influence on Western thought and his relationship to modern social history and philosophy.

Day maintained that in his essay collections published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, White "has always been concerned to distinguish the truths of science from those of literature and the historical imagination and to demonstrate the content that inevitably occupies the form of a work. A motto for White's approach might well be Robert Penn Warren's remark that 'History is not truth. History is in the telling.'"



Ankersmit, Franklin R., History and Tropology: The Rise and Fall of Metaphor, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.

Carrad, Philippe, Poetics of the New History: French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1992.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 246: Twentieth-Century American Cultural Theorists, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 380-394.

Ewa Domanska, Encounters: Philosophy of History after Postmodernism, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 1998.

Kellner, Hans, Historical Representation: Getting the Story Crooked, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1989.

LaCapra, Dominick, Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1983.

Mellard, James M., Doing Tropology: Analysis of Narrative Discourse, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1987.


American Historical Review, October, 1988, Dominick Lacapra, review of The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, p. 1007.

Diacritics, Volume 6, 1976, David Carroll, "On Tropology: The Forms of History," pp. 58-64; Fredric Jameson, "Figural Relativism, or the Poetics of Historiography," pp. 2-9.

History and Theory, May, 1989, Steven Crowell, "Mixed Messages: The Heterogeneity of Historical Discourse," pp. 220-244; May, 1998, Franklin R. Ankersmit, "Hayden White's Appeal to the Historian," pp. 182-193.

Journal of Modern History, September, 2000, Allan Megill, review of Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect, p. 777.
Modern Fiction Studies, autumn, 1987, Suresh Raval, review of The Content of the Form, p. 561.

Modern Language Quarterly, June, 1988, Jeremy Tambling, review of The Content of the Form, p. 192; September, 2002, Jon Erickson, review of Figural Realism, p. 405.

Saturday Review, April 18, 1970.

Times Literary Supplement, November 12, 1987.

World Literature Today, summer, 1979.

Yale Review, winter, 1988, Giles Gunn, review of The Content of the Form, p. 207.*

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