An Analysis of the Historical Approaches to Literature

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Literary works did not start being researched in classes until the 1920s. The very first strategy to appear was the conventional strategy. This might be seen as the “old” historicism, as opposed to the post-modern “new” historicism. Historical criticism is prevalent in the conventional technique, and it is usually biographical in nature. These historical methods test mimetic accuracy and demonstrate the limitations of historical analysis. Another common element of the conventional approach is analyzing allusions from one work to another, often referred to as a source study.

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Literary research became less about the author and history as works began to stand on their own merit and critical study moved towards textual analysis, referred to as “new” criticism or formalism. Regardless, textual and source research remained constant. Later methods, however, would return to historical research. The conventional approach presented literature as a web of symbols and tropes that resurface time and again. There are some limitations associated with the conventional approach though. The historical studies are often seen as archaic and out of reach. The philosophical approach is criticized for focusing too much on morality and not appreciating the writing as art.

Textual Scholarship

Textual scholarship focuses on the genuine text or the writer’s original intent. Many readers incorrectly assume that the version of a work they read is the original, unaware of the prevalent textual variances rich with emendations. Textual criticism is responsible for the purest iterations of published works, one of the most significant contributions of the traditional approach. It also traces how a piece of literature evolves over time. Concerns of textual critics extend beyond punctuation, spelling, capitalization, italicization, and paragraphing, to areas like literary history, bibliography, paleography, and typography. These critics also turn to substantives to evaluate the text. The scientific contribution of textual critics remains a topic of discussion. Keywords may include language, dialect, prose, and diction, among other literary terms.


It was once presumed that viewers could gain considerable insight into a work by recognizing its genre. Labels such as novel, short story, drama, and other such terms provide readers with an understanding of the concepts they will encounter in the text. Different genres have varying techniques that must be identified. For instance, in dramas and epics, concepts of catharsis, tragedy, and hubris are commonly conveyed. Although this study subsided during the 19th century, romantic and lyrical works continued to be classified, and genre criticism has resurfaced in recent critical reviews. This critique was developed not to categorize works, but rather to investigate the traditions of the era. Keywords could include mood, tragic hero, focal character, or any genre name.

Resource Research

Though the technique for resource study does not actually have a widely accepted name attached, it is connected with the beginnings of a job. Apart from textual scholarship, source research examines where the references and ideas in a piece of writing come from, as well as the allusions to other works that appear. Manuscripts are evaluated in this approach and can link one author to another, tracing the genesis of ideas and influences. Keywords might be reference, manuscript, or allusion.


Historic and biographical methods continue to exist in the study of literature. This method investigates the life of the author and the social and political environment surrounding the author when the work was composed. The context that a historical or biographical approach provides to a work gives the reader a better understanding of the purpose of the writing, as well as the mindset of the author, because all authors write with an inherent bias. This approach applies to characters in novels and even poems. For example, any war occurring at the time of writing, political transition, publicized legal case, and even the experiences of the author should be considered when studying a piece of writing. The insight this research provides to a critic is crucial to a holistic understanding. The keywords might be representation, imagery, and antagonist.


The moral and philosophical approach dates back to a time as far back as Plato, who himself used this technique. A moral and philosophical approach considers a work as having a deeper meaning than what is specifically written on the page. Discourses of moral superiority and aesthetic evaluations often occur in a moral or philosophical analysis. Critics who utilize this method concern themselves with what the piece imparts to readers and the author’s intentions behind sharing their work with others. Keywords may include theme, moral, figurative language, symbolic, and allegory.

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An Analysis of the Historical Approaches to Literature. (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from