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Assumptions underlying the New Historical critical approach (taken from Judith Newton, "History as Usual?: Feminism and the 'New Historicism,'" Cultural Critique 9 [1988]: 87-121):

  1. "that there is no transhistorical or universal human essence and that human subjectivity is constructed by cultural codes which position and limit all of us in various and divided ways" (88).
  2. "that there is no 'objectivity,' that we experience the 'world' in language, and that all our representations of the world, our readings of texts and of the past, are informed by our own historical position, by the values and politics that are rooted in them" (88).
  3. "that representation 'makes things happen' by 'shaping human consciousness' and that, as forces acting in history, various forms of representation ought to be read in relation to each other and in relation to non-discursive 'texts' like 'events'" (88-89).

New Historicism shares the above assumptions with what is often called Cultural Studies, but cultural critics are even more likely to emphasize the present implications of their study and to position themselves in opposition to current power structures, working to empower traditionally disadvantaged groups. Cultural critics also downplay the distinction between "high" and "low" culture and often focus particularly on the productions of "popular culture."

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Barbara F. McManus
Readings and Assignments
October 1998