Narrative Truth

In this article I explore Hayden White’s constructivist approach to historical representation through the lens of “narrative truth”. My aim is to show that – in addition to helping historians make peace with constructivist premises – openness to a notion of narrative truth could support a useful rethinking of the commitments of disciplinary history. In elaborating the notion, I discuss common misunderstandings concerning the relation of representation to reality, the nature of history as a discursive practice and the more specific epistemological claims made by narrative constructivists. Particular attention is on intuitions that the past is storied in itself, assumptions that historical representation is somehow a “natural” or essential aspect of cognition (hence I also rehearse some arguments regarding “narrative form as a cognitive instrument”) as well as on beliefs regarding the role played by facts in historical representation. Also, and in light of my discussion of these other biases, I tackle the currently popular focus on the relation of experience and history.