Level 2

New Historicism

  • You must PASS the New Historicism paper BEFORE being able to turn in the next papers.
  • If you do not pass, follow the Re-write criteria for redoing a paper.
  • See the rubric for Theory papers
  • See a Writing Consultant for further help.
  • Be careful of Plagiarism; there is NOT ever an excuse for plagiarizing.

What is New Historicism

  • New Historicism is a theory that suggests films (literature, video games, and art) are products of a particularly stressful Weltanschauung, and we, as audience members, seek films that help us cope with that particular stress without having that exact stress displayed blatantly on film.
  • Or, to say the same in a more colloquial way: We use films to help us work out the issues we can't face.
  • One of the aims of using New Historicism is not to announce a truth with proof but to suggest a possibility of how popular culture and history interact.

Example 1

  • What could account for the explosion of monster movies in the 1950s?

  • One suggestion is that the monsters in those films represent Nuclear bombs, such as the atom bombs dropped on Japan. In the 1950s the Cold War was excalating; this period was a time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union (which is now Russia) were increasingly posturing hostily toward each other with ever increasing numbers of nuclear missles. The Doomsday Clock, which has been a measure of how close humans are to planet-wide annihilation, was at 2 minutes to midnight in 1953.
  • No one wanted to see movies about nuclear bombs; that was too "in your face"; that brought real world fears up close and personal. Rather, we could go see monster movies and play out the fears OF nuclear bombs through massive monsters on screen.
  • If you go look at the changes to the Doomsday clock setting over the last 70 years, you can see where only one other time period was as dangerous as 1953.

Example 2

  • Vampires
  • From 1973 to 1982: 10 vampire movies
  • From 1983 to 1992: 35 vampire movies
  • From 1993 to 2002: 13 vampire movies

  • Public became aware of AIDs in 1983.
  • Vampires are creatures who have sex, drink blood, and live forever.
  • In the 80s, people only know that AIDs was transmitted through sex and blood and then YOU DIE!
  • Using New Historicism, we could suggest how people started making and watching more vampire films in the 1980s as a way of coping with the ever growing AIDs crisis.

New Historicism, in others' words

  • "New Historicism assumes that every work is a product of the historic moment that created it. Specifically, New Historicism is '...a practice that has developed out of contemporary theory, particularly the structuralist realization that all human systems are symbolic and subject to the rules of language, and the deconstructive realization that there is no way of positioning oneself as an observer outside the closed circle of textuality'" ("Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism")
  • "New historicists do not believe that we can look at history objectively, but rather that we interpret events as products of our time and culture and that '...we don't have clear access to any but the most basic facts of history...our understanding of what such facts mean...is...strictly a matter of interpretation, not fact'" ( "New Historicism")

Writing About New Historicism

  • You'll need to discern what world events/worldviews were happening during the years surrounding your film's release date.
  • If your film is older than your adult life, you'll need to talk with someone who is older to find out what crisis or stressors to people's worldview occurred during your film's release date.
  • If you are writing about a film derived frm a comic or a novel, you can choose either date to write this paper.


  • Do NOT use the above cited source: Purdue.
  • Do not use encyclopedias or dictionaries.
  • Find a human named full article that discusses the concept of New Historicism.