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Writing Histories: Imagination and Narration



Kate McCarthy


The following works consider the theory of writing, or explore literary devices and strategies which are used in historical writing. This guide also lists some introductory guides to various ‘difficult’ theorists such as Foucault and de Certeau.

Abelove, H. et al. (eds), Visions of History: Interviews with E.P. Thompson et al., Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1983.

Ankersmit, F.R., ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, History and Theory, vol. 28, no. 2, 1989, pp. 137–53.

Ankersmit, F.R., History and Tropology: The Rise and Fall of Metaphor, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1994.

Ankersmit, F.R. and Kellner, H. (eds), A New Philosophy of History, Reaktion Books, London, 1995.

Arac, J. (ed.), After Foucault: Humanistic Knowledge, Postmodern Challenges, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1988.

Arendt, H., ‘Introduction’, in W. Benjamin, Illuminations (1955), Schocken Books, New York, 1985, pp. 38–51.

Ashplant, T.G., ‘Fantasy, Narrative, Event: Psychoanalysis and History’, History Workshop Journal, no. 23, 1987, pp. 165–73.

Barthes, R., ‘Historical Discourse’, in M. Lane (ed.), Introduction to Structuralism, Basic Books, New York, 1970, pp. 145–55.

Barthes, R., ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image, Music, Text, essays selected and trans. by S. Heath, Hill and Wang, New York, 1977, pp. 142–48.

Berkhofer, R.F., Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Bloch, M., The Historian’s Craft, trans. P. Putnam, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1967.

Braudel, F., On History, Weidenfield and Nicolson, London, 1980.

Brennan, T., ‘The Public Face of the “Third World” Writer’, in his At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism Now, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1997, pp. 36–44.

Burke, P., (ed.), New Perspectives on Historical Writing, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1991.

Chartier, R., Cultural History, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1988.

Clendinnen, I., ‘Fellow Sufferers: History and Imagination’, Australian Humanities Review, 1997–98, electronic journal at

Clendinnen, I., The History Question: Who Owns the Past?, Black Inc, Melbourne, 2006.

Clendinnen, I., Reading the Holocaust, Text, Melbourne, 1998.

Clendinnen, I., True Stories (The 1999 Boyer Lectures), ABC Books, Sydney, 1999.

Clifford J. and Marcus, G., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986.

Curthoys, A. and Docker, J., Is History Fiction?, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, and Michigan University Press, Ann Arbor, 2005.

Curthoys, A. and Docker, J., ‘Is History Fiction?’, UTS Review, vol. 2, no. 1, 1996, pp. 12–37.

Curthoys, A. and Docker, J., ‘The Two Histories’, Rethinking History, vol. 1, no. 3, 1997, pp. 259–73.

Curthoys, A., and Docker, J., ‘Time, Eternity, Truth, and Death: History as Allegory’, Humanities Research, no. 1, 1999, pp. 5–26.

de Certeau, M., The Certeau Reader, edited by G. Ward, Blackwell, Oxford, 2000.

de Certeau, M., Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1986.

de Certeau, M., The Writing of History, Columbia University Press, New York, 1988.

Dening, G., Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power, and Theatre on the Bounty, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992.

Dening, G., ‘A Poetic for Histories’, in his Performances, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1996, pp. 35–63.

Dening, G., ‘The Theatricality of History Making and the Paradoxes of Acting’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 8, no. 1, 1993, pp. 73–95.

Dening, G., ‘Writing, Rewriting the Beach’, Rethinking History, vol. 2, no. 2, 1998, pp. 143–72.

Derrida, J., Of Grammatology, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1980.

Derrida, J., ‘White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy’, in J. Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1982, pp. 207–71.

Derrida, J., Writing and Difference, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978.

Easthope, A., ‘Romancing the Stone: History-Writing and Rhetoric’, Social History, vol. 18, no. 2, 1993, pp. 235–49.

Fabian, J., Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object, Columbia University Press, New York, 1983.

Foucault, M., The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith, Tavistock Publications, London, 1972.

Foucault, M., Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan, Allen Lane, London, 1977.

Foucault, M., The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. R. Hurley, Vintage Books, New York, 1980.

Foucault, M., ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in D.F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1977, pp. 139–64.

Foucault, M., The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Tavistock Publications, London, 1970.

Foucault, M., ‘Truth and Power’, interview published in C. Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, Pantheon Books, New York, 1980, pp. 109–33.

Foucault, M., ‘What is an Author?’, in D.F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1977, pp. 113–38.

Frow, J., Time and Commodity Culture: Essays in Cultural Theory and Postmodernity, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997.

Gay, P., Style in History, Basic Books, New York, 1974.

Geertz, C., ‘History and Anthropology’, New Literary History, vol. 21, no. 2, 1990, pp. 321–35.

Geertz, C., ‘Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture’, in his The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, New York, 1973, pp. 3–30.

Gossman, L., ‘History and Literature: Reproduction or Signification’, in R.H. Canary and H. Kozicki (eds), The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1978, pp. 233–48.

Grenville, K., Searching for the Secret River, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2006.

Grenville, K., ‘History and Fiction’, in Australian Quarterly Essay, no. 25, also available at TSR/history_and_fiction.html.

Gross, E., ‘Philosophy, Subjectivity and the Body: Kristeva and Irigaray’, in C. Pateman and E. Gross (eds), Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory, Allen, & Unwin, Sydney, 1986, pp. 125–43.

Halttunen, K., ‘Cultural History and the Challenge of Narrativity’, in V.E. Bonnell and L. Hunt (eds), Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998, pp. 165–81.

Harvey, D., ‘Postmodernism’, in his The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989, pp. 39–65.

Hoy, D.C. (ed.), Foucault: A Critical Reader, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1986.

Hunt, L. (ed.), The New Cultural History, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989.

Hutcheon, L., A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction, Routledge, New York, 1988.

Jay, P., Being in the Text: Self-Representation from Wordsworth to Roland Barthes, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1984.

Jenkins, K., On ‘What is History?’: From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White, Routledge, London, 1995.

Jenkins, K., Re-Thinking History, Routledge, London, 1991.

Jenkins, K. (ed.), The Postmodern History Reader, Routledge, London, 1997.

La Capra, D., Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1983.

La Capra, D., Soundings in Critical Theory, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1988.

Limerick, P., ‘Making the Most of Words: Verbal Activity and Western America’, in W. Cronon et al. (eds), Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, W.W. Norton, New York, 1992, pp. 167–84.

Lloyd, G., Being in Time: Selves and Narrators in Philosophy and Literature, Routledge, London, 1993.

Lyotard, J., The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1984.

McGrath, A., ‘The Female Eunuch in the Suburbs: Reflections on Adolescence, Autobiography and History-Writing’, Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 33, no. 1, 1999, pp. 177–90.

McKenna, M., ‘Writing the Past’, in Drusilla Modjeska (ed.), Best Australian Essays 2006, Black Inc, Melbourne, 2006, pp. 96–110.

Merwick, D., ‘Postmodernism and the Possibilities of Representation’, Australasian Journal of American Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, 1991, pp. 1–10.

Nietzsche, F.W., Untimely Meditations, trans R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1983.

Philipp, J., ‘Traditional Historical Narrative and Action Oriented (or Ethnographic) History’, Historical Studies, vol. 20, no. 80, 1983, pp. 339–52.

Reekie, G., ‘Michel de Certeau and the Poststructuralist Critique of History’, Social Semiotics, vol. 6, no. 1, 1996, pp. 45–49.

Ricoeur, P., Time and Narrative, vol. 1, trans. K. McLaughlin and D. Pellauer, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984.

Rigney, A., The Rhetoric of Historical Representation: Three Narrative Histories of the French Revolution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990.

Said, E.W., Beginnings: Intention and Method, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1975.

Said, E.W., Orientalism, Random House, New York, 1978.

Said, E.W., The World, the Text, and the Critic, Faber and Faber, London, 1984.

Siebenschuh, W.R., Fictional Techniques and Factual Works, University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, 1983.

Somekawa, E. and Smith E., ‘Theorizing the Writing of History or “I Can’t Think Why It Should Be So Dull, For a Great Deal Of It Must Be Invention”’, Journal of Social History, vol. 22, no. 1, 1988, pp. 149–61.

Spivak, G., ‘Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography’, in Ranajit Guha (ed.), Subaltern Studies, IV: Writings on South Asian History, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1985, pp. 330–63.

Stock, B., ‘Literary Discourse and the Social Historian’, in his Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1990, pp. 75–94.

White, H., ‘The Burden of History’, History and Theory, vol. 5, no. 2, 1966, pp. 111–34.

White, H., The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1987.

White, H., Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1973.

White, H., ‘The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 7, no. 4, 1981, pp. 5–27.

Windschuttle, K., The Killing of History: How a Discipline is Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists, Macleay Press, Sydney, 1994.

Young, R., White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, Routledge, London, 1990.

For theoretical considerations when writing history, see also a number of journals including: History and Theory, Rethinking History, and History Workshop Journal.


Macintyre, S., with Clark, A., The History Wars, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2003.

Attwood, B., Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005.


Anderson, J. and Poole, M., Thesis and Assignment Writing, 2nd edition, John Wiley and Sons, Brisbane, 1994.

Bates, D., The New Writer’s Survival Guide: An Introduction to the Craft of Writing, Penguin, Ringwood, 1989.

Cameron, J., The Right To Write: An Invitation and Initiation to the Writing Life, Macmillan, London, 2000.

Dillard, A., The Writing Life, Pan Books, London, 1990.

Dunn, I., The Writer’s Guide: A Companion to Writing for Pleasure or Publication, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1999.

Evans, D.G., How to Write a Better Thesis or Report, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1995.

Germano, W., Getting it Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2001.

Grenville, K., The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1990.

Harman, E. et al., The Thesis and the Book: A Guide for First-Time Academic Authors, 2nd edn, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2003.

Orwell, G., ‘Politics and the English Language’, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, vol. 4, Penguin, London, 1970, pp. 156–70.

Oxford Australian Writers’ Dictionary, S. Purchase (ed.), Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1997.

Preece, R.A., Starting Research: An Introduction to Academic Research and Dissertation Writing, Printer Publishers, London, 1994.

Miller, P., Writing Your Life: A Journey of Discovery, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994.

Murray-Smith, S., Right Words: A Guide to English Usage in Australia, Penguin, Ringwood, 2nd edition, 1990.

Strunk, W. and White, E.B., The Elements of Style, Macmillan, New York, 1979.

Tredinnick, M., The Little Green Grammar Book, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2008.

Tredinnick, M., The Little Red Writing Book, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2006.

Watson, G., Writing a Thesis: A Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations (1987), Longman, London, 1996.


The following include some disparate examples of writing that are valuable in a number of ways. They offer a guide to the various styles and methodologies which can characterise historical writing, as well as presenting examples of clear, precise and powerful writing. Included are works cited by the various historians who participated in the Visiting Scholars Program as examples of good historical writing, and books they wished they had written.

Agnew, J., Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought 1550–1750, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988.

Clark, C.M.H., The Puzzles of Childhood, Viking, Ringwood, 1989.

Clark, C.M.H., The Quest for Grace, Viking, Ringwood, 1990.

Clenndinnen, I., ‘Agamemnon’s Kiss’, in P. Craven (ed.), The Best Australian Essays 1998, Bookman Press, Melbourne, 1998, pp. 206–16.

Clenndinnen, I., Dancing with Strangers, Text, Melbourne, 2003.

Cochrane, P., Colonial Ambition: Foundations of Australian Democracy, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2006.

Darian-Smith, K. and Hamilton, P. (eds), Memory and History in Twentieth Century Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1994.

Darnton, R., ‘Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Severin’, in his The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Allen Lane, London, 1984, pp. 75–104.

Fussell, P., ‘Theater of War’, in his The Great War and Modern Memory, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, pp. 191–230.

Haraway, D., ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, 1988, pp. 575–99.

Michaels, A., Fugitive Pieces, Bloomsbury, London, 1997.

Modjeska, D., Stravinsky’s Lunch, Picador, Sydney, 1999.

Orwell, G., ‘Shooting an Elephant’, in his Inside the Whale and Other Essays, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1962, pp. 91–99.

Price, R., Alabi’s World, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1990.

Price, R., The Convict and the Colonel, Beacon Press, Boston, 1998.

Schama, S., Landscape and Memory, HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1995.

Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class (1963), Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1980.

Thompson, E.P., ‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’, Past and Present, no. 38, 1967, pp. 56–97.

Watson, D., Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders on the Frontier of Australia, Collins, Sydney, 1984.

Cite this chapter as: McCarthy, Kate. 2009. ‘Writing histories: a reading guide and bibliography’. Writing Histories: Imagination and Narration, edited by Curthoys, Ann; McGrath, Ann. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 12.1–12.8.

© Copyright 2009 Kate McCarthy
All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission of the copyright owners. The fact that this book is published online does not mean that any part of it can be reproduced without first obtaining written permission: copyright laws do still apply. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University ePress:

Writing Histories: Imagination and Narration

   by Ann Curthoys and Ann Mcgrath