Hayden White

Hayden White
Born (1928-07-12)July 12, 1928
Martin, Tennessee, U.S.[1]
Died March 5, 2018(2018-03-05) (aged 89)
Academic background
Alma mater University of Michigan
Influences Aristotle, Max Weber, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Roland Barthes, William J. Bossenbrook,[2] Erich Auerbach, Northrop Frye
Academic work
Main interests Theory of history
Notable works Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe
Influenced Sharon Traweek, Norman J. Wilson

Hayden White (July 12, 1928 – March 5, 2018) was an American historian in the tradition of literary criticism, perhaps most famous for his work Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973/2014). He claimed that the manifest historical text is marked by strategies of explanation, which include explanation by argument, explanation by emplotment, and explanation by ideological implication.[3] He argued that historical writing was influenced by literary writing in many ways, sharing the strong reliance on narrative for meaning, therefore eliminating the possibility of objective or truly scientific history.[4] White also argued, however, that history is most successful when it uses this "narrativity", since it is what allows history to be meaningful.[5] He ended his career as University Professor Emeritus[6] at the history of consciousness department of the University of California, Santa Cruz, having previously retired from the comparative literature department of Stanford University.


White received his B.A. from Wayne State University (1951) and his M.A. (1952) and Ph.D. (1955) degrees from the University of Michigan. While an undergraduate at Wayne State, White studied history under William J. Bossenbrook alongside then-classmate Arthur Danto.[2]

In 1998, White directed a seminar ("The Theory of the Text") at the School of Criticism and Theory.[7]

Lawsuit against the LAPD

White figured prominently in a landmark California Supreme Court case regarding covert intelligence gathering on college campuses by police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. White v. Davis, 13 Cal.3d 757, 533 P.2d 222, 120 Cal. Rptr. 94 (1975). During 1972, while a professor of history at UCLA and acting as sole plaintiff, White sued Chief of Police Edward M. Davis, alleging the illegal expenditure of public funds in connection with covert intelligence gathering by police at UCLA. The covert activities included police officers registering as students, taking notes of discussions occurring in classes, and making police reports on these discussions. White v. Davis, at 762. The Supreme Court found for White in a unanimous decision. This case set the standard that determines the limits of legal police surveillance of political activity in California; police cannot engage in such surveillance in the absence of reasonable suspicion of a crime ("Lockyer Manual").


  • 40th Anniversary Edition: Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014. 
  • The Practical Past. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. 2014. 
  • The Fiction of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature, and Theory, 1957-2007. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2010.  Ed. Robert Doran
  • Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1999. 
  • "Historiography and Historiophoty", The American Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 5 (Dec., 1988), pp. 1193–1199.
  • The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1987. 
  • "Historical Pluralism", Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Spring, 1986), pp. 480–493.
  • "The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory", History and Theory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Feb., 1984), pp. 1–33.
  • "The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and De-Sublimation", Critical Inquiry, Vol. 9, No. 1, The Politics of Interpretation (Sep., 1982), pp. 113–137.
  • as editor (1982) with Margaret Brose Representing Kenneth Burke. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  • "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality", Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 1, On Narrative (Autumn, 1980), pp. 5–27.
  • Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1978. 
  • "Interpretation in History", New Literary History, Vol. 4, No. 2, On Interpretation: II (Winter, 1973), pp. 281–314.
  • "Foucault Decoded: Notes from Underground", History and Theory, Vol. 12, No. 1 (1973), pp. 23–54.
  • Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1973. 
  • The Greco-Roman Tradition. New York: Harper & Row. 1973. 
  • as co-author (1970) with Willson Coates, The Ordeal of Liberal Humanism: An Intellectual History of Western Europe, vol. II: Since the French Revolution. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
  • as co-editor (1969) with Giorgio Tagliacozzo, Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • as editor The Uses of History: Essays in Intellectual and Social History. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 1968. 
  • "The burden of history", History and Theory, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1966), pp. 111–134.
  • as co-author (1966) with Willson Coates and J. Salwin Schapiro, The Emergence of Liberal Humanism. An Intellectual History of Western Europe, vol. I: From the Italian Renaissance to the French Revolution. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.


  1. Paul Hansom, Twentieth-century American Cultural Theorists, Gale Group, 2001, p. 381.
  2. 1 2 Rogne, Erlend (February 2009). "The Aim of Interpretation is to Create Perplexity in the Face of the Real: Hayden White in Conversation with Erlend Rogne". History and Theory. 48 (1): 63–75. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2303.2009.00485.x.
  3. White, Hayden (1975). Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 7. ISBN 9780801817618.
  4. White, Hayden (Winter 1973). "Interpretation in History". New Literary History. 4: 281–314.
  5. White, Hayden (Autumn 1980). "The value of narrativity in the representation of reality". Critical Inquiry. 1: 5–27.
  6. https://histcon.ucsc.edu/faculty/singleton.php?&singleton=true&cruz_id=hayden
  7. Jones, William B. (2003). Robert Louis Stevenson Reconsidered: New Critical Perspectives. McFarland. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-7864-1399-7. Retrieved 8 February 2012.

Further reading

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