Hayden White's Critique of the Writing of History

This essay analyzes the development of Hayden White's work from Metahistory to the present. It compares his approach to Roland Barthes's study of narrative and historical discourse in order to illustrate the differences between White's structuralist methods and poststructuralist forms of textual analysis. The author puts particular emphasis on the interdependence between the development of White's work and the criticism it has received during the last twenty years. Whereas historians have dismissed White's relativism, literary theorists and intellectual historians have criticized his formalist methods. White's attempts to counter these critiques have gone mostly unnoticed and have been unsuccessful in that they destabilized his original position without proposing a coherent alternative. The question about adequate representations of Nazism, which White has recently addressed, highlights the theoretical problems which have not received enough attention by White or his critics.