The Poetics of Historical Narrative

 1750-1900 Research and Training Program of the CIERA 2012-14

I. Project Coordinators

  • Élisabeth Décultot (Directrice de recherches at the Centre Georg Simmel — EHESS/CNRS)

In collaboration with:

  • Daniel Fulda (Professor in  German Literature  at the University of Halle)
  • Christian Helmreich (Maître de conférences at the Department of German Studies, the University of Paris 8)
  • Jacques le Rider (Directeur d’études at the École Pratique des Hautes Études)
  • Johannes Süßmann (Professor of History at the University of Paderborn)

Contacts :

II.  Presentation

It is the subject of a broad consensus that the modern meaning of History in Western Europe emerges during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. This period also happens to be one of intense reflection on the style of writing and manner of presenting history, the fruit of which can be seen in the emergence of new forms of historical narrative. These narratives obey varied rules of composition ; yet all raise the core issue of the link between the exigencies of historiography over the rigorous handling and verification of sources and the laws of narration, borrowed in part from the domain of literary production – that is to say, from fiction.

This double movement, characterized by a questioning into how history should be written and the emergence of new forms of historical narrative, concerns all domains of history, however diverse in terms of scale or object : universal and national history, history of nature, history of art, history of science, history of literature, history of philosophy  and so on. For each of these forms of history, the production of historical narrative imposes on the historian a series of operations : the foregrounding of historical epochs, episodes, characters not to say ‘heros’, a selection of a certain number of facts within a temporal continuum ; the rhythmic structuring of narrative through the introduction of caesuras, division into chapters, choice of titles and so on.

These phenomena have not escaped analysis. Hayden White and Paul Riceour, for example, have highlighted the process of the framing of the narrative and plot (emplotment) of History through which historians seek to impose certain perspectives on their subject and orientate the reception of their audience. If the writing of History often appeals to the laws of narrative, we must also note that, in a symmetrical and complementary movement, novel writing and theatrical art, during the same period concerned, frequently appeal likewise to History.

The goal of this project is to refine our understanding of the way in which these narrative forms coexist, bringing together the multiple competencies and disciplinary fields necessary for this operation : history, philosophy, literary studies, narratology, the history of science, the history of art and archaeology.

III. Program of Events

— 18th and 25th March, 8th and 15th April, 2-4 pm. 

 Cycle of 4 conferences of Daniel Fulda (invited professor at the EPHE).

Place: Paris, INHA, 2, Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, salle de l’EPHE)

History and Narrative in 1700, 1800, 1900, 2000


— 23th-24th May 2013

Day Workshop at the University of Halle

The Diversity of Historical Narratives: the Poetics and Epistemology of the History of France and Germany from the End of the 18th century to the Beginning of the 19th Century


— 14th-15th February 2014

Conference at the University of Paderborn

Representation of History: Between Putting on Stage and Bringing into Question. The Confronting of Historical Incommensurability in the Historiography and Literature of 19th century France, Spain and Germany.


— 22nd-24th October 2014

Conference in Paris, Deutsches Historisches Institut

The Poetics and Politics of Historical Narrative 1750-1900