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What is a classic in history?

ISSN: 1872-261X
Volumen: 16
Número: 1
Páginas: 54 - 91
Fecha de publicación: 2022
What is the classic in history? What is a classic in historical writing? Very few historians and critics have addressed these questions, and when they have done so, it has been only in a cursory manner. These are queries that require some explanation regarding historical texts because of their peculiar ambivalence between science and art, content and form, sources and imagination, scientific and narrative language. Based on some examples of the Western historiographical tradition, I discuss in this article to what extent historians should engage the concept of the classic - as has been done for literary texts. If one assumes that the historical text is not only a referential account but also a narrative analogous to literary texts, then the concept of the classic becomes one of the keys for understanding the historical text - and may improve our understanding not only of historiography, but of history itself. I will argue in this article that it is possible to identify a category of the classic text in some historical writings, precisely because of the literarity they possess without losing their specific historical condition. Because of their narrative condition, historical texts share some of the features assigned to literary texts - that is, endurance, timelessness, universal meaningfulness, resistance to historical criticism, susceptibility to multiple interpretations, and ability to function as models. Yet, since historical texts do not construct imaginary worlds but reflect external realities, they also have to achieve some specific features according to this referential content - that is, surplus of meaning, historical use of metaphors, effect of contemporaneity without damaging the pastness of the past, and a certain appropriation of literariness. Without seeking to be normative or systematic, this article focuses on some specific features of the historical classic, offering a series of reflections to open rather than try to close a debate on this complex topic.