Charles Explorer logo

History and Literature, History as Literature

Class at Faculty of Arts |

This text is not available in the current language. Showing version "cs".Syllabus

1st week

Introductory class

In this first class, we will examine the changing relations between history and literature in the past and set up the ground for the semester.   2nd week

History, Figure, Myth

We will begin our discussions with the famous article by Roland Barthes, The Discourse of History. On its pages, Barthes drew a direct link between history and language (or fiction). He also offered a distinction between different historical genres, based entirely on their literary qualities.

Canadian scholar Northrop Frye offered different approach towards history, as his starting point was neither structuralism nor linguistics, but the “poetic mythology”. However, he also offered his own catalog of historical genres, based on various literary genres.


Roland Barthes, The Discourse of History, in The Rustle of Language, 127-140.

Northrop Frye, New Directions from Old, in Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology, 52-66.   3rd week

History and Tropology

Second and third lessons were just a warm-up for the major figure of the debate, Hayden White, and his Metahistory. The book caused controversy in its time, as White’s systematic approach divided 19th<span style=

This text is not available in the current language. Showing version "cs".Annotation

According to the classical saying, history (as a discipline) is as much an art as it is a science. Historians have been both boasted and loathed for being too narrative, too ornamental, too skillful a storytellers. After all, history even has its own muse: Clio. Historians themselves often found this heritage troubling, and the discipline always laboriously negotiated its relationship with other sciences.

The class will explore links between literature and history, narration and telling the truth, a bond that is as inspiring as it is troublesome. In doing so, it will address some of the landmark texts of both literary theory and historical thinking that contributed to this debate. During our lectures, we will also ask broader questions: Does narrating necessarily turns history into fiction? Could it not be that the truth benefits from being told with the help of fiction? And what role does the notion of time play here? Is it not that history is, in the first place, our way of narrating past, present and future?

The class will be held in seminar form and requires reading of texts on weekly basis and active participation of enrolled students. All texts will be distributed in the class. Two courses will be held as workshops and invite everyone to share their various cultural, ethnic, or language experience.