What do we mean by new historicism? Please give a short and comprehensible definition.

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lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Harold Veeser wrote in the introduction of his edited collection New Historicism, this critical approach, which began in the 1980s and fluorished in the 1990s, gave "scholars new opportunities to cross the boundaries separating history, anthropology, arts, politics, literature, and economics". From this definition we can detect one important tenet of New Historicism: a work of art is inseparable from the cultural and historical discourses that crucially contributed to its production. New Historicists thus rejects formalist and new critical readings because these tend to interpret the object under study as a close entity. New Historicism also investigates the relationship between literary and cultural practices and power, thus targeting the separation between high and low cultural products.

While New Historicism is eager to take into account the cultural and historical context in which a text has been produced, it does not claim that we can reconstruct history objectively. On the contrary, history is a partial reconstruction of the past because historians write different accounts according to their own specific cultural, social and ideological contexts. These narratives of history reciprocally challenge their own conclusions and reconstructions. New Historicism is particularly interested in how voices that have so far been marginalized (women, colonial and ethnic subjects, queers) offer alternative approaches to canonical texts and cultural practices.