chapter  1
9 Pages

The texts and methods of film history(ies)

There has long been a need for film historians to stand back and consider their aims and methods, a need made all the more urgent since postmodern critiques of the relationship between ‘the past’ (something which did occur) and ‘history’ (an interpretative construct created by historians) have raised key questions concerning the very nature of those aims and methods.1 W hile contemporary historians encourage an on-going re-evaluation of their craft, and agree that their accounts of the past are mediated by their personal standpoints and selection of the evidence, most would be reluctant to accept W hite’s now infamous view o f ‘history’ as a total fiction (W hite 197 3).2 It is not difficult to see why: accepting that ‘the past’ and ‘history’ are not the same thing implies a logic which denies the possibility of recovering any accurate sense of the context or specificity of a ‘past event’, collapsing history and literature into a common fictional pursuit. On the other hand, these debates have offered a welcome corrective to nineteenth-century conceptions of history as an empirical science, which had already been chal­ lenged by earlier twentieth-century historians including the Annales School and social historians (see Iggers 1997). The result is a much more tentative approach which places an even greater responsibility on the historian to scrutinize methodologies, to be explicit about the range of approaches being used in any given interpretation of the past, and to embrace a broad, intertextual conception of the interaction between politics, economics and culture. As Iggers has argued:

What is needed ... is a broad historical approach that takes both cultural and institutional aspects into consideration. The postmodern critique of traditional science and traditional historiography has offered important correctives to historical thought and practice. It has not destroyed the historian’s commitment to recapturing reality or his or her belief in a logic of inquiry, but has demonstrated the complexity of both.