Hayden white's appeal to the historians

History and Theory 37 (2):182–193 (1998)
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Historians rarely agree with Hayden White's account of their discipline. To a certain extent their dissatisfaction can be explained by the fact that historians customarily distrust historical theory and always tend to look at the historical theorist with the greatest suspicion. But historians find an extra argument for their dislike of White's ideas in his alleged cavalier disregard of how historical facts limit what the historian might wish to say about the past. And, admittedly, this criticism is not wholly unfounded.Nevertheless, this essay attempts to show how misguided this traditional criticism of White actually is. For it is historians who too easily take the truth of their accounts of the past for granted, whereas White's theoretical writings can be shown to express a full awareness of the kind of problem encountered in the effort to tell the truth about historical reality. Hence, White's writings-rather than those by historians criticizing White-testify to the respect that we owe to historical reality itself. That this is how we should read White becomes clear if we consider his intellectual evolution as a whole rather than the individual books or essays that he wrote



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