Hayden White's Appeal to the Historians
Article first published online: 17 DEC 2002
History and Theory
Volume 37, Issue 2, pages 182–193, May 1998
How to Cite
Ankersmit, F. R. (1998), Hayden White's Appeal to the Historians. History and Theory, 37: 182–193. doi: 10.1111/0018-2656.00048
- Issue published online: 17 DEC 2002
- Article first published online: 17 DEC 2002
- Cited By
Historians rarely agree with Hayden White's account of theirdiscipline. To a certain extent their dissatisfaction can be explained by the fact that historianscustomarily distrust historical theory and always tend to look at the historical theorist with thegreatest suspicion. But historians find an extra argument for their dislike of White's ideasin his alleged cavalier disregard of how historical facts limit what the historian might wish to sayabout the past. And, admittedly, this criticism is not wholly unfounded.
Nevertheless, this essay attempts to show how misguided this traditional criticism ofWhite actually is. For it is historians who too easily take the truth of their accounts of the past forgranted, whereas White's theoretical writings can be shown to express a full awareness ofthe kind of problem encountered in the effort to tell the truth about historical reality. Hence,White's writing—rather than those by historians criticizing White—testify to therespect that we owe to historical reality itself.
That this is how we should read White becomes clear if we consider his intellectualevolution as a whole rather than the individual books or essays that he wrote.