Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Historiography is to Poetics

David Greenberg has an interesting take on popular histories in Slate this week. In the second part of the article he questions how historians can write “serious scholarship for a general audience.” It’s a good question, and one that should be addressed to poetry as well. Greenberg on history versus historiography:
The major failing of much popular history is that it betrays no interest in making intellectual contributions to our understanding of an issue. The Barnes & Noble historian seems to treat history as a pageant of larger-than-life events and people to be marveled at, rather than a set of social, political, and cultural problems to engage. Unless you wrestle with the ways in which the problems of the past have been defined, interpreted, ignored, or mischaracterized by other historians—the historiography—your writing will seem unsophisticated. You won't know which of your ideas are novel or trite, simple or complex, suspiciously trendy or embarrassingly out of date, or what avenues of research have already been pursued. Historians have to try to build upon what's been written, while keeping in mind that the goal is broader than just revising or applying other scholars' findings.

Good history, then, is written in awareness of the historiography but addressed to it only indirectly.
I wonder if it works the same way if you compare poetry versus poetics.

1 comment:

David Koehn said...

2 Quick Thoughts:

Every poem written lives on almost solely because of its historical situation to past and present.

Poetics that ignore the contributions of the past illustrate their own lack of depth.