Narrative vs Description in Historiography

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is Laurent Stern’s belief it seems that the most successful method of accounting how ‘non-natural’ events is brought about is through a narrative of a purposeful agent’s beliefs, intentions and goals. In a larger affair, historians interpretation in historiography are in two contexts, that is, evaluative claims and descriptive claims. According to Stern, descriptions account for the circumstances surrounding participants in historical events, whereas, narratives relate to what these participants did or brought about.

Assuming that the Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy is what you would call a ‘non-natural’ event, then the ‘participants’ are inclusively the ‘dangerous animals’ and the soldiers carrying out this policy etc. So in the evaluative context of this history, it’s significance was marked as a suggested propaganda movement to enforce a total state of war across Japan. In the descriptive context, the dangerous animals were systematically disposed out, mostly through the method of poison.

Stern focuses on narratives about human actions as “…human actions are narrated…their circumstances and settings are described.” Such narratives must have assigned cause and effects. The historian as a narrator establishes a viewpoint within the parameters of the beginning, middle and end of a narrative. The beginning presents an initial situation. The middle shows agents bringing about a change in the initial situation in response to a need. The end presents an altered situation brought about by the agents. This structure seems logical to me but perhaps to rigid to be considered a narrative, even for a historical one.


Stern, L. 1990, ‘Narrative versus Description in Historiography’, New Literary History, vol. 21, no. 3, New Historicisms, New Histories, and Others, pp. pp. 555-568.



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