PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952)

Sound Bites

Of Plymouth Plantation has been reshaped by the progressive historians' model for the development of American historiography [and we see] the history within a framework which ranges all historical writings between the poles of mythical and critical thought.  In this context, the history becomes a tragic example of the substitution of paradigmatic for objective, scientific, and factual history. (Howard 240)

But to commend presumably bad history as good literature is at least a contradiction in terms, a denial that the historian's task is to communicate as fully and justly as possible his considered account of the past.  It is also to forget that, just as the historian's argument requires language to give it substance, so his language is itself a kind of argument.  To separate literary technique from argument is to reduce history to its paraphrasable content--and to misunderstand it. (Howard 241)

Myth operates with the diagrams of ritual, assuming total, adequate explanations of things as they are and/or were; i.e., it is a sequence of radically unchangeable gestures.  Fictions encompass finding things out, and they change as the needs of sense-making change.  Myths call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent.  Myths make sense in terms of a lost order of time; fictions make sense of the here and now. (Frank Kermode in Sense of an Ending [39], qtd. in Howard 266)

Shall we carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part of the very opposite of those we shall wish them to have when they are grown up?  (Socrates in The Republic)

History decomposes into images, not narratives. (Walter Benjamin, qtd. in Sobchack)

[W]hat proliferates in historical discourse are elements "below which nothing more can be done except display," and through which saying reaches its limits, as near as possible to showing. (Michel de Certau, qtd. in Sobchack)

[W]e need to understand how historical consciousness emerges in a culture in which we are all completely immersed in images (if also surrounded by print), and what this might mean not only to the historical future, but also to the relevance of what is legitimated as "proper" (that is, academic) historiography. (Sobchack)

Surely I am not the only one to wonder if our history--scholarly, scientific, measured--fulfills the need for the larger History, that web of connections to the past that holds a culture together--or to worry if our history really relates to our own cultural sources. (Read 207)

Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation is effectively moving beyond an understanding of history as an examination of a set of relations, many of which do not register in genealogical terms. (Read 207)

[B]y withholding overt commentary, he [William Bradford] hits upon a structural device which supports his other, more explicit assurances that he is a truthful narrator [which] is a more effective way of winning the reader's confidence than the "deductive strategy" that presents history as an illustration of moral truism, abstraction supported by exemplification. (Howard 263)

History, as Bradford practiced it, was the continuing process in which the historian struggled to mediate between an imperfectly understood providential design and the continuing unfolding realm of historical experience. (Howard 266)

There are two meanings to the word "history":  (a) "the events of the past" and (b) "telling a story about events in the past."  History is always "narrated" and therefore the first sense is untenable.  The past can never be available to us in pure form, but always in the form of "representations." (New Historicist Theory)

Historical periods are not unified entities. There is no single "history," only discontinuous and contradictory "histories."  The idea of a uniform and harmonious culture is a myth imposed on history and propagated by the ruling classes in their own interests. (New Historicist Theory)

Filmgoers know that histories are rhetorically constructed narratives, that "events" and "facts" are open to various uses and multiple interpretations.  Filmgoers have not been able to escape the lessons of historiography, and historians have not been able to escape the lessons of the movies and television.  Caught up in the acceleration of visual representation and perpetually confronted with and "overwhelmed" by screen "evidence," even historians have succumbed (often against both their injunction and will) to the seemingly immediate power of the moving image to--at least at the moment--"naturally" persuade one of its cause.  That is, historians are often moved by movies, even historically inaccurate ones. (Sobchack)

Searching for and insisting on the facts in any discourse or representation of history is the responsibility and right of every American citizen; i.e., to question, to protest, to change what we feel is inaccurate, including the distortion of history in films.  Because, in many instances, our patriotism is involved in this issue, the task is particularly difficult.  (Elsie Hamel, Lehigh University)

                                                                        Works Cited

Gay, Peter.  Loss of Mastery: Puritan Historians in Colonial America.  Jefferson Memorial Lectures. Berkeley: U of California, 1966.

Howard, Alan B.  "Art and History in Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation." William  and Mary Quarterly 28(1971): 237-66.

Read, David. "Silent Partners: Historical Representation in William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation." Early American Literature  33(1998):  291-314.

Rosenstone, Robert.  Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to our Idea of History.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995.

Sobchack, Vivian.  The Insistent Fringe: Moving Images and the Palimpsest of Historical Consciousness.  19 April 1999.

http://www.latrobe.edu.au/www/screeningthepast/firstrelease/fr0499.vsfr6b.htm
 
 

Copyright © 2000 by Elsie W. Hamel, Graduate Student at Lehigh University

This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of the U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access.  Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, require the consent of the author.