Stephen Greenblatt, new historicism, and cultural history, or, what we talk about when we talk about interdisciplinarity

Modern Intellectual History 1 (2):249-265 (2004)
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Michael Warner, a literary critic with a keen sense of history, wrote in 1987 that “New Historicism is a label that historians don't like very much because they understand something different by historicism. But nobody's asking historians….” This essay is an answer to questions nobody asked me, questions about interdisciplinarity and the differences between literary critical and historical practices. A return to historically informed literary criticism, which many critics still consider a dominant trend in the profession, emerged in the early 1980s following the publication of Stephen Greenblatt's acclaimed Renaissance Self-Fashioning . Reacting as it did against the decontextualized abstractions of New Criticism and Deconstruction, the movement soon labeled New Historicism sought to breathe new life into canonical texts by relating them to non-literary texts and social practices of their day. This historicist inclination should have formed the basis for a coming together of the movement's practitioners with historians interested in literary representations. But no such merger has occurred: New Historicists evince little interest in the systematic, archivally based study of history, and historians have at best shown indifference to the work of Greenblatt and his followers



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