Reconstructing Contexts: The Aims and Principles of Archaeo-Historicism


This book attempts to justify and theorize old historicism, defining archaeo-historicism as a method by which scholars can reconstruct past context in order to apply it to the interpretation of works and events of that time. If such reconstruction is to be more than wildly impressionistic, it must be grounded in hard evidence handled according to clear rules. In this intriguing and rigorous analysis, Robert Hume identifies legitimate objects for reconstruction and proposes procedures and principles by which such interpretation may be pursued. He then examines the failures of the same method, which works only when adequate evidence can be found. In particular, Hume flatly denies the intellectual legitimacy of literary history as it is commonly practised and attempts to disentangle such history from the practice of historicism. The final chapter is devoted to a cogent discussion of how archaeo-historicism relates to various forms of contemporary theory. Hume offers a profusion of examples of good and bad historicist reconstruction and interpretation, drawing largely on English literature but also on American and other world literatures, theatre history, and music theory. Although addressed primarily to literary critics, this wide-ranging and bold work will be of interest to historians and cultural critics as well.