Microreview: Hayden White: The Historical Imagination by Herman Paul

Herman Paul’s book provides an overview of Hayden White’s thinking about historiography over the years. The book begins with White’s trip to Italy to write his thesis on the papal schism of 1130 and follows his publications and lectures chronologically, including plenty of details about who White was working with and likely inspired by.

Paul’s thesis seems to be that White was a liberation historiographer motivated by humanist and existential ideals more than the postmodern and structuralist movements he is often associated with. The author suggests that White’s central, enduring question is “how to live a morally responsible life in a thoroughly historical world?”

It’s a very interesting thing to read a history about someone who spent his life exploring how the ways an author shares historical information shapes the information. Paul does a good job proving his point but White has made me hypersensitive. There is no substitute for reading White’s work and this book helped me identify the things I want to read first.

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