Hayden White in Philosophical Perspective: Review Essay of Herman Paul’s Hayden White: The Historical Imagination [Book Review]

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 44 (1):102-111 (2014)
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For almost half a century, the person most responsible for fomenting brouhahas regarding degrees of plasticity in the writing of histories has been Hayden White. Yet, despite the voluminous responses provoked by White’s work, almost no effort has been made to treat White’s writings in a systematic yet sympathetic way as a philosophy of history. Herman Paul’s book begins to remedy that lack and does so in a carefully considered and extremely scholarly fashion. In his relatively brief six chapters (plus an introduction), Paul packs a wealth of information. He convincingly demonstrates that a guiding theme of White’s work from earliest times has been that historians have no choice but to impose a structure on historical data and thus bear responsibility for structures so imposed. As such, a key philosophical question concerns on what bases White contends that a freedom of choice exists regarding forms given to recorded histories. This essay focuses on how Paul argues for a unified vision that answers this question, as well as how he offers an original and comprehensive conception of White’s writings.

Author's Profile

Paul A. Roth
University of California, Santa Cruz


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