Book Review: Narrative and History

Munslow, Alun. Narrative and History. Theory and History, edited by Donald MacRaild. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Annotation

British historian, Alun Munslow is best known for his deconstructionist and post-modern epistemological approach to historiography. He was born in 1947 and is professor emeritus at Straffordshire University. He describes his approach to history in the book, Narrative and History, “my approach is holistic because I address the theory and practice of historical authorship and historical representation within which the empirical, the analytical and other aspects of historical study are encompassed.”[1]Traditionally, historians use an empirical and/or analytical approach, however, Munslow seeks to expand this methodology and compares and contrasts reconstructionist, constructionist and deconstructionist approaches to “historiographical narratology.”[2] As the author notes, historians cannot recreate the past, however, they do use story/content, narrative/narration, and modes of expression to create a narrative which allows the reader to enter into the past, a concept he calls, “the-past-as-history.”[3]

Application

In the concluding chapter, Munslow wrote that historians make decisions about narrative functions including “aesthetic/figurative, emplotment, mode of argument/explanation, ethnic/political/ideological strategies of explanation, etc.”[4]As a student of history, I question whether these are conscience choices or simply just ‘how I write.’ Through an examination of the epistemological categories that he defines; reconstructionist, constructionist, or deconstructionist, I believe that my style of historical writing falls into the constructionist category although I am not certain. Which leads me to another question – does the education one receives influence the epistemology choices that they make? Can a person who has been taught, say by constructionist historians, reject that approach and become a deconstructionist? I suppose so. This leads to questions of agency – how much agency does a history student have in regard to their writing when they are writing “for a grade?” Does a professor recognize a students’ style and try to shift their approach?

Munslow stated that “all historians start with the text of other historians.”[5]This simple statement resonated with me because it is exactly through the work of other historians that I become inspired to explore a topic, person, or subject from a new angle or approach. I found that the diagrams that the author included on pages 20-21 were beneficial when reflecting on my own work through how I’ve been formed as a historian and have intuitively approached writing. Thinking about narrative in terms ofstory(the what) and discourse(the how) with all the required decisions surrounding voice, plot, mood, modes of expression, character intentionality and tense/time is instructive and will serve to enlighten and improve how I write.[6]

[1]Alun Munslow, Narrative and History, Theory and History, ed. Donald MacRaild (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)2.

[2]Munslow,Narrative and History, 6.

[3]Ibid., 123.

[4]Alun Munslow, Narrative and History, Theory and History, ed. Donald MacRaild (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)125.

[5]Munslow, Narrative and History, 24.

[6]Ibid., 21.