Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage



The term “emplotment” was coined by theorist Hayden White in his 1973 Metahistory book to refer to the way in which historians give a specific attribution of meaning to the past through specific narrative structures. For Hayden, historians, faced with a chaos of facts, first arrange events in chronological order (a simple form of narrative), after which they assign a beginning, middle, and end to the story, thereby constructing a plot. According to White, there exist only four “archetypal” narrative patterns. For him, then, historical representations are ultimately based on a dramatization of historical event describing historical narratives as “verbal fictions,”“whose content was invented as well as found” (White, 1978, p. 82). “Providing the ‘meaning’ of a story by identifying the kind of story that had been told is called explanation by emplotment. If, in the course of narrating his story, the historian provides it with the plot structure of a Tragedy, he has ‘explained’ it in one way; if he has structured it as a Comedy, he has ‘explained’ it in another way. Emplotment is the way which a sequence of events fashioned into a story is gradually revealed to be a story of a particular kind”Acoording to John Palliveettil , historians emplot history when they place events in a particular order (...) In this process, the historian uses our culture’s main forms of emplotment – romance, tragedy, comedy and satire.A romantic emplotment, gives prominence to the power of the historical agent or hero as ultimately superior to circumstances. Satire emplotment is the opposite in that the agent or hero is a subject of their context, destined to a history of difficulty and rejection. In tragedy emplotments the hero struggles to beat the difficulties and fails, eventually being dissatisfied by fate or their own personality defects. The end result is usually death. In a comedic emplotment there is progress and hope of at least a temporary victory over circumstance through settlement.”

︎︎︎Cf. Hayden White, Metahistory. The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 3rd printing 1980  

︎︎︎ Vanessa Agnew, Jonathan Lamb, and Juliane Tomane, The Routledge Handbook of Reenactment Studies: Key Terms in the Field (Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2021).

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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