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Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe Reissue Edition

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801817618
ISBN-10: 0801817617
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Editorial Reviews


Metahistory is something more than a study of philosophies of history (although it is that too, and no doubt the most important work in the field since Collingwood): it is also a methodological manifesto, a more sustained argument for a deep-figural hermeneutic than has been worked out anywhere before now.


This is a daring, ingenious... tour de force. White has produced a profoundly original 'critique of historical reason.'.

(American Historical Review)

A book that will simply have to be reckoned with by all historians who have the slightest interest in the genesis and forms of historical narrative.

(Journal of Modern History)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Reissue edition (August 1, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801817617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801817618
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By C. R. Dillon on June 10, 2008
Verified Purchase
Depending on your familiarity with the study of history this book may be either over- or under-rated. It is fantastic text and highly informative. That said, a few cautionary notes:

This book has diminishing returns. I read the whole thing, but the book is rather formulaic. Spend more time on the Introduction than anything else. Without it you'll be lost.

Also I have little familiarity with the authors White discusses. With the ones I did know, Nietszche, Hegel, and Tocqueville, I found his commentary very interesting. But some familiarity with each author addressed would be worthwhile to enjoy it fully.

Hope it was useful. Whether or not you buy his argument, the work is definitely a modern classic.
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Hayden White (born 1928) is professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, having recently retired from the position of Professor of comparative literature at Stanford University. He has also written The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1973 book, "I treat the historical work as what it most manifestly is: a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse... as an icon of sets of events presumed to have occurred in times past. In addition... they contain a deep structural content which is generally poetic, and specifically linguistic... which serves as the precritically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively 'historical' explanation should be... One of my principal aims... has been to establish the uniquely POETIC elements in historiography and philosophy of history... Thus I have postulated four principal modes of historical consciousness... Metaphor, Synecdoche, Metonymy, and Irony... I contend that the recognized masters of nineteenth-century historical thinking can be understood... by the explanation of the different tropological modes which underlie and inform their work." (Pg. ix-xi)

He explains, "My method, in short, is formalist. I will not try to decide whether a given historian's work is a better, or more correct, account of a specific set of events or segment of the historical process than some other historian's account of them.
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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful By on February 8, 1998
Hayden White's Metahistory takes the reader deeply into the winding roads of history writing. From Hegel to Croce, he reviews and analizes the many different ways history was written in the nineteenth century and it's impact and influence in today's historiography. A must for any historian, but a little too deep - and perhaps boring- for those not familiar with history's theory and philosophy.
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23 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Carter A. Malkasian on June 26, 2002
Hayden White's METAHISTORY is a sophisticated analysis of historical methodology in the nineteenth century.
Without a doubt, the book is brilliant. White analyzes the poetic and linguistic structure behind the writings of historians and philosophers of history. He focuses on the works of Michelet, Ranke, Toqueville, Burckhardt, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Croce. The result is a compelling look at how the methodological structure of historical writing changed through the course of the nineteenth century.
However, there is a major drawback to the work. White frequently uses a number of poetic and linguistic terms that are not standard fare for the average reader. For example, unfamiliar terms such as Metonymy, Synecdoche, Metaphor, Organicist, and Contextualist are used to describe the methodology behind various historical works. I frequently found myself lost and flipping back pages to find the definition of a particular term. This was an un-needed difficulty; the terms only served to obscure White's otherwise clear and logical arguments.
In conclusion, this highly sophisticated work is a brilliant piece of historical analysis. However, it would have been much more readable without the difficult language.
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