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The relationship between literature, art, and history

Summary:

The relationship between literature, art, and history is deeply intertwined. Literature often reflects historical contexts and societal norms, while art visually captures the essence and emotions of different eras. Both literature and art serve as historical documents, offering insights into the cultural, political, and social dynamics of their times, thus enriching our understanding of history.

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What is the relationship between literature, art, and history?

That is a terrific question!

Some people argue that art and literature are themselves historical records.  It's been said that "history is written by the victors" of particular conflicts.  Art and literature, though, are both often created by people who witnessed (whether directly or indirectly) historical happenings and not simply people who were directly involved in historical events.  Because of that, art and literature often serve as records of the social and personal impressessions that follow from historical movements.  In that respect, art and literature can be understood as being records of what particular historical events actually felt like, rather than simple descriptions of what occured during particular historical events. 

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What is the relationship between literature, art, and history?

That's a big question!  Mwestwood raised some great points.

To that, I will add a few thoughts.  First, as noted above, the relationship between art and history is not one-sided.  As Oscar Wilde famously noted, "“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."

In addition to political and social issues, history and art are also linked in terms of form and genre.  Technological developments, for instance, can lead to changes or evolution in the art world.  Film is a modern example of this.  What started as a technological curiosity soon developed into an art form (and of course, a cultural commodity).  With the advent of television, film had to adapt to a changing audience.  Thus, the epics of the mid-twentieth century reflect filmmakers attempt to make movies distinct from the shows on the small-screen.  They thus utilized the large-screen capacity of film to show bigger, longer, and more visually remarkable movies (Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and so forth).

Art as an instrument of social policy has already been noted.  As a specific example, however, I would add the WPA Federal Arts Project.  Funded by the federal government in an attempt to combat the Depression, this is a case where historical/political and economic realtity directly affected art and culture.  Some examples of WPA art can be viewed at American Memory Project at the Library of Congress website.

Sometimes, too, particular artists are "rescued" from anonymity because of changes in the social or political climate.  For example, the feminist movement generated renewed interest in many female artists and writers, and scholars brought to light many forgotten books and works of art.

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What is the relationship between literature, art, and history?

So often there is an interrelationship with history and the fine arts.  In fact, literature is said to be the mirror of the society.

One example of literature in America that reflects its historical setting is the post-World War II novel of Joseph Heller, "Catch-22," which satirizes the bureaucracy of the military and of the U.S. government.  (George W. Bush had this book banned from public school libraries.)  The disillusionment and guilt that many felt after the atomic bombing of Japan, led many authors to write reflective works on the post-war malaise.  Hemingway's short story, "The Soldier's Home" is one such narrative.

Very concerned with the social inequality that existed in his era, John Steinbeck, a socialist author, wrote of the disenfranchised in his Depression-era novel, "The Grapes of Wrath."  His novella "Of Mice and Men" also considers the isolation and futility of "the American Dream."

Other novelists wrote with the express purpose of effecting social change in their time period.  For instance, Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" exposed the horrific conditions of the Chicago stockyard workers, while Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" brought attention to the evils of slavery.

Of course, many of the European writers expressed political or social opinion in their literary works.  In France, Moliere satirizes the aristocracies hypocrisy and affectations in his sixteenth-century plays while others such as Voltaire ridiculed popular theories such as the optimism of the Enlightenment in his work, "Candide."

In a similar fashion, art, too, reflects its time period.  For example, after the invention of the camera, artists, particularly the Impressionists in France began to use a perspective in their paintings that mirrors that of the camera viewfinder.  Edgar Degas's paintings of ballet dancers often have the painting off center, or the painting is foreshortened as a photograph.  That is, the perspective is distorted as in a photo:  perhaps an arm appears shorter than it would if a person were looking at it, or the foreground of the picture is disproportionately larger than it should be.

Earlier art may reflect the influence of war, famine, etc.  Certainly, Michaelangelo's paintings portray the tremendous impact of the power of the Catholic Church in Italy.

In America the drug culture of the sixties had a definite influence upon the beaux arts from abstract and psychedelic art to Andy Warhol's "Campbell Soup Can." Indeed, there is a clear interrelationship among the arts and their historical background. Shirley Dent said, "One of literature's greatest strengths is its ability to take us inside the subjective experience of history."

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

The relationship between history and literature is complex and multifaceted. First, literature often presents historical people, places, and events in story form. Think, for instance, of the historical novels written by Jeff Shaara. In these works, the author captures the events and characters of the Civil War, the American Revolution, the First World War, and the Second World War in vivid detail. He works hard to research the actual history and present it as accurately as possible even as he adds elements of fiction, like conversations between characters, for instance, which are still grounded in historical fact. Readers of these novels learn history as they enjoy the story.

Second, even literature that presents the world of its day can become “historical” over time and give modern readers a sense of the story's original time and place. Charles Dickens's novels offer a prime example here. What was contemporary in Dickens's time, like the dregs of London, for instance, or the sufferings of boys like Oliver Twist, are now historical to us and offer us a view of a world that has long passed into history.

Third, although literature can and does often present accurate history, it can also twist history and present misleading pictures of the past. We might think, for instance, of a novel like Gone with the Wind, which does present some fascinating history of the Civil War era but also offers misleading images of other elements, like African American slaves.

On the other end of the spectrum, history often turns to literature, carefully and with a great deal of discernment, to discover details of the past. The Old English poem Beowulf, for example, weaves history into its storyline. While it is difficult to determine which elements are history and which are fiction, scholars have turned to the poem for information about the relationship between a lord and his thanes, various aspects of ancient Germanic culture (like mound burials), and hints of ancient battles not recorded elsewhere.

History also connects with literature when it delves into the history of literature. Literary history is a fascinating subject in its own right as it examines the growth and development of various literary forms (like the epic or the novel), studies the lives of authors, looks at the literature of various times and places, and even notes how people have read literature differently over time.

Indeed, history and literature are connected in many ways, and these connections can make for an interesting and valuable study.

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

As another answer mentions, nothing exists in a vacuum, including literature. Literature, be it fiction or non-fiction, is often influenced by the time period in which it is produced. The questions of the day, the moral values, the big events, the technologies available, the interpretations of the past, the hopes and fears for the future—all of this is reflected in literature, which is why historical context is often important in appreciating a work.

For example, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a reflection of the period of its creation, the 1980s, in the author's concerns over the religious right's influence over society and politics. In a similar way, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, written in the earliest days of the Cold War, reflects concerns about Soviet communism. Both of these novels were shaped by historical events and circumstances, making an understanding of their historical context beneficial to anyone studying them.

It must also be noted that literature can affect history in its own way. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species caused great debate regarding science and religion in Victorian society and beyond, while Upton Sinclair's The Jungle helped promote better conditions at meat packaging plants. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was a huge bestseller in its day and helped to promote social change by championing abolitionism. Religious texts such as the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita have influenced individuals of many faiths throughout the ages.

So, it would be best to say that both literature and history have a symbiotic relationship, each influencing the other in ways both big and small.

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

No literature exists in a vacuum. It is influenced by history, and it is also influenced by the present. If you are reading a piece of literature written in the past, you need to understand the historical time period in order to fully appreciate and understand that literature.
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What is the relationship between history and literature?

The relationship between literature and history is complicated, with each affecting the other. One main contention of the so-called "new historicist" approach to literary criticism is that history does not simply provide a "context" for literature but many "contexts," and that literature in turn can affect history in numerous and unpredictable ways.

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

History shapes many forms of literature.  We tend to get ideas for literature from things that have happened.  Sometimes this comes in the form of non-fiction literature and sometimes it comes in the form of allegories or allusions.  We cannot fully understand a piece of literature unless we understand its history and the history of those that wrote it.  Thus, history can shape the way we view literature.  Of course, that works both ways.  Literature can also shape the way we view history.  It is said that history is written by the victors.  We don't always get the whole story of what happened in our literary histories.  Often, the history of a place is written down by the conquerors and survivors.  We might not see the whole truth of what happened.

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

This would be an interesting discussion starter on the Literature or History Discussion Forum. I suspect there would be many different interpretations and viewpoints expressed.

From my standpoint, history is all that has happened in the past. History includes natural events, such as movements of tectonic plates leading to the formation of continents, and events involving humanity, such as wars and birthdays.

Literature includes written records of events that are history. Literature allows humanity to have a collective source of memories of events from the past. The hope would be that people would be able to learn by reviewing those records and seeing patterns, making connections and generalizing about events or attitudes and consequences of those occurrences. The writing down of history allows people to progress beyond one stage of thought or development, building on what has gone before.

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

From an academic standpoint, these two subjects are closely interrelated to me.  As a teacher, literature is essential in helping students understand the midset of a society, or a segment of society, in the time period of the novel.  History is also a subject best taught through stories, as its name suggests.  So to put the bare historical facts into a story with real characters, interactions and emotions is a powerful teaching and learning tool in today's education system.

Of Mice and Men, The Jungle, Uncle Tom's Cabin and How the Other Half Lives are all reflections of society in its historical element.

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

I agree that this question is extremely broad. You might want to place it on a discussion board so various people can respond to various aspects of the question.  I'll contribute one aspect to possible answers.

It is important to know first of all that history is literature, too.  Today scholars believe that "true" and completely accurate history does not exist.  History is written by those educated enough to be able to write, as well as by those who have the leisure time to write it.  For most of the western hemisphere, at least, that means the history we have today was written by a few wealthy white men.  That's not at all comprehensive.  Most importantly, history is written by the winners.  Most of what we know concerning the battle of Hastings in 1066, for instance, comes from the victors, the Normans.  Losers aren't usually around to write history.

We do learn about a society from the literature it produces, but the knowledge we learn is always fragmented and incomplete. 

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What is the relationship between history and literature?

This is a pretty broad question, and I wonder if you might want to clarify it a little.

To me, the relationship is that literature can be a reflection of the characteristics and nature of a certain time and place in history.  By reading the literature that is written at a certain time and place, it might be possible to learn something about the concerns and values of that particular moment in history.

An example of this would be "The Great Gatsby."  The novel was written in the 1920s and it reflects some of the concerns that intellectuals (at least) had about the time.  It shows how some people were concerned with the emptiness of American life at the time.  They felt that Americans were concerned only with having a good time.

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