Reading Hayden White's Metahistory Today: An AHA Book Forum Sponsored by History and Theory

AHA Session 52
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Ethan Kleinberg, Wesleyan University
Rebecca L. Spang, Indiana University

Following the success of the two book club sessions at the AHA’s 130th annual meeting in Atlanta, this session features not speakers, but a text. Those attending will be expected to be familiar with White’s Metahistory and prepared to discuss at least the following chapters: Introduction, Five, Seven.

Space is limited, so please sign up in advance by e-mailing one of the chairs ( or

Receive 30% off this book from Johns Hopkins University Press. Visit and use code HMTA. Valid from October 1, 2016 to February 1, 2017.

Reception to follow

The Audience

Session Abstract

This experimental session will take the form of a book discussion to explore the impact of reading Hayden White’s Metahistory today.  Hayden White has been the most important theorist of history over the last half-century and Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe is the work that has stimulated the most conversation and consternation among historians.  But what does it mean to read Metahistory today given the shift in approaches, geographical configurations, attitudes, and narrative strategies among historians?  White’s analysis is certainly beholden its own historical moment with its emphasis on rhetorical structures but is it worth asking if such schematic characterizations are useful in our own day and age?  And what should we make of White’s current popularity and influence in regions that lie well beyond the geographic confines of Metahistory such as China, India, and South America?  We will also explore the possibility that White’s work may have come “too soon” in the sense that his call for new narrative forms was restricted by constraints in analog publishing that no longer hold sway in our own moment of digital experimentation.  Most important, the “book club” format will allow attendees to bring in their own thoughts, concerns, and engagements with Metahistory thus ideally opening the discussion to participants from many different fields and at many different stages in their careers.
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