New Historicism

New historicism, a term much more widely used in the United States than in Italy, has developed within different intellectual contexts in the two countries. In the United States new historicism is mostly practised by literary historians who favor the contextualization of texts, the rejection of traditional Eurocentric historicism, and the revision of the existing canon. Its most influential practitioners are Stephen Greenblatt, literary historian, Hayden White, historian of thought, and Clifford Geertz, anthropologist. In Italy, instead, new historicism has developed within the confines of philosophical discourse. It is founded on Antonio Gramsci’s theories of history and language, which are democratic and aware of ethnicity. It also fosters the rewriting of history of science by taking into account the political and historical contexts of scientific evolution. Its best-known exponents are Eugenio Garin, Paolo Rossi, and Sergio Moravia. Italian new feminist historicism, on the other hand, is the domain of historians. Its mainstay is the Societa` italiana delle storiche* and its best-known practitioners are Annarita Buttafuoco, Luisa Passerini,* Gianna Pomata, and Anna Rossi Doria.

Because Italian history, especially positivist historiography, has systematically excluded women and other marginal individuals from the official records, it is the concern of the feminist historians to reconstruct a history of women by establishing a feminist historiographical method and using new forms of historical presentation. Since even women involved in major historical events are excluded from the decision-making process and, eventually, from history, the new feminist historicism includes both illustrious women, who were partly neglected and misunderstood, and invisible, unrepresented women, whose lives were never recorded. In order to find these silenced female voices, new sources of material are used, such as biographies and autobiographies, and new fields are investigated, such as cultural practices and rituals. The method of reporting the findings of investigation is also new. Instead of history, the new feminist historians write ‘‘stories’’ of women, stories that are placed in precise historical contexts with a gender awareness that brings the female subjectivity into light. The same orientation is shared by the new scholars of oral history, whose aim is to trace the burgeoning of female solidarity and of women’s awareness of their own gender and subjectivity. The result of feminist historicism is the rethinking of feminine roles and of the ways in which women have carved their own space inside patriarchal domination, thus managing to survive and, at times, even acquire limited spheres of power.

The concerns and methods of new feminist historicism can be traced in women’s fiction, especially in the historical novel. Both Anna Banti*’s and Maria Bellonci*’s stories of famous women are reinterpretations of official history. More recently, Dacia Maraini,* Toni Maraini, and Maria Rosa Cutrufelli have created stories of women on the margins of history, thus proposing a radically new way of looking at women’s existence. Contemporary women’s autobiographical narrative is also impacted by feminist historicism. Both Fausta Cialente and Clara Sereni* situate their family stories within the context of family history. In mapping matrilineal genealogies, however, they focus on the private rather than on the public. Even though a direct connection between historians and novelists has gone unnoticed up to now, it is clear that both are working toward a new feminist narrative of history.

See also: Societa` Italiana Delle Storiche.

Bibliography: Societa` italiana delle storiche. Discutendo di storia. Soggettiv-ita`, ricerca, biografia. Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1990; Passerini, Luisa. Sto-rie di donne e femministe. Torino: Rosenberg and Sellier, 1991; Capobianco, Laura, ed. Donne tra memoria e storia. Naples: Liguori, 1993; Societa` italiana delle storiche. Generazioni. Trasmissione della storia e tradizione delle donne. Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1993.

MARIA O. MAROTTI




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