Claudia Stokes, “Irving’s Literary Historiography” (pp. 195–222)

This essay examines the importance of Washington Irving to modern disciplinary standards of historiography. Today, history and literature are distinct genres requiring different skills, but for centuries history was a recognized form of rhetoric readily available to writers, even those without special qualifications or training. This tradition of history writing proved important to Irving’s early career, and he found great success with his parodic A History of New York (1809). Decades later, he attempted to replicate that success with A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829), a history of Spain’s campaign to control Granada. However, in the intervening years, historiographical standards had begun to change: historians were now expected to conduct original research and adhere as closely as possible to recorded facts. In accord with these expectations, Irving conducted significant archival research, but he blended this research with literary forms and devices, which included a fictitious narrator and an invented manuscript source. Decades earlier, these devices had rendered A History of New York a success, but critics of Conquest of Granada took issue with Irving’s literariness and accused him of perpetrating a hoax. To nineteenth-century observers, this controversy demonstrated the dangers that literariness posed to history and affirmed the need to separate these two modes. The public response to Irving’s A History of the Conquest of Granada contributed to the modern professionalization of history and modern historiographical standards.

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