Traditional historical perspective asserts that there “are ‘facts’ that we can know, with some degree of certainty, and as readers we… need to gather them…, and fit them together…, and cautiously relate them to literary works” (Lynn 145).
“A historical reading of a literary work begins by exploring the possible ways in which the meaning of the text has changed over time” (Kennedy 1474).
Examining other texts of the same time period, such as diaries, records, and institutions helps understand the literary work better
Language influences how we interpret text (the diction of a piece)
Comparing and contrasting “the language of contemporaneous documents and literary works” reveals “hidden assumptions, biases, and cultural attitudes that relate to the two kinds of texts… demonstrating how the literary work shares the cultural assumptions” of the time (DiYanni 1566).
Example: “A Rose for Emily” uses language that is taboo today.
A Checklist of Historical and New Historicist Critical Questions
When was the work written? When was it published? How was it received by the critics and public? Why?
What does the work’s reception reveal about the standards of taste and value during the time period it was published and reviewed?
What social attitudes and cultural practices related to the action of the work were prevalent during the time the work was written and published?
How do the power relations reflected in the literary work manifest themselves in the cultural practices and social institutions prevalent during the timer the work was written and published?
What other types of historical documents, cultural artifacts, or social institutions might be analyzed in conjunction with particular literary works? How might close reading of such nonliterary “text” illuminate those literary works?
To what extent can we understand the past as it is reflected in the literary work? To what extent does the work reflect differences from the ideas and values of its time? (Di Yanni 1567).
DiYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
Guerin, Wilfred L., Labor, Earle, Morgan, Lee, Reesman, Jeanne C., Willingham, John R. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 5th ed. NY: Oxford U P, 2005. Print.