Het verleden dichterbij brengen : literatuur als bron van historische kennis? // [Bringing the past closeby: literarture as a source of historical knowledge?]

The question to what extent historiography makes use of literary techniques and conventions has given serious food for thought during the last three decades. In this article we want to address another question: can literature be a valuable means to gain historical knowledge? It is often assumed that a literary text can readily give access to an ‘experience’ of the past. We want to ask how this works and whether the textual mechanisms that underlie this experience function differently in so-called non-literary texts. In an attempt to answer these questions we bring together a variety of texts – a newspaper article, two memoirs, a historiographical work and a fairy tale - all of which cover a particular episode from the French Revolution. We want to move away from traditional distinctions between these texts as literary versus non-literary or fictional versus non-fictional and instead analyse how each of them makes use of narratological effects, such as focalization strategies and narrative voices, in order to reconstruct the past. With this contribution we want to demonstrate that the text’s engagement with the past, regardless of their form and the associated expectations, consists of a complicated dialectics between distantiation and proximity. The theoretical inspiration behind the article is the historian Mark Salber Phillips’ recent work on textual constructions of historical distance. In writing this article, we want to elaborate on Phillips’ work by bringing literature into the methodological field that his work on historiography proper has opened.