Historical Traditions Commentary

The Assignment


The overarching question to the Historical Traditions category of required commentaries might be stated broadly as follows: What role do historical conditions play in literary production, reception, or criticism? When literary critics address issues of historical context, how do they do it? What are the possible methodological ways of relating history to literature and vice versa?

More specifically, you may choose to write a historicity commentary if you have completed a course project that raises questions like these:

  • How did conditions of historical context influence the production/reception/criticism of the literary work treated in your artifact?
  • What are the literary characteristics of a particular period? What does “literary period” mean?
  • How would a New Historicist—or other critic adopting an historical critical approach—interpret the literary work treated in your artifact?
  • How have critical methods for dealing with historical context evolved?
  • How does your artifact not address issues of historical context, but possibly might (or should)?

The Commentary Assignment

Your commentary should not attempt to be a comprehensive study of issues of historicity. Rather, it should identify a relevant issue or issues of historicity that are present in—or implied by—your artifact. The artifact may or may not use the term “historicity,” but your commentary should use it, or related terms, and use that term or terms with accuracy and appropriateness for students of literature.

Your commentary should contain at least two sections: a section of 300-600 words with the bolded subhead “On Historicity in General,” and a section of 300-600 words with the bolded subhead, “On Historicity in [Your Artifact].” These sections may be presented in either order—i.e., the general exploration first, followed by the specific treatment of your artifact, or vice versa. Whatever the order, the general part should provide your understanding of some aspect of the role of history in literary studies. The artifact commentary should provide a brief description of your artifact and then some analysis of that artifact in terms relevant to the material in the general section. In other words, the two sections should have some connection.

The object, once again, is not to be comprehensive in your analysis of historicity, but rather to be authentic in using/defining terms, making references, and identifying ideas and traditions, as you choose to raise them in your general statement about historicity and your specific application of those ideas to your artifact.


  • Before writing your commentary, you should consult the evaluation rubric for this assignment.
  • Structurally, your commentary may contain just two sections (i.e., the general disciplinary category section and the specific artifact section)—or, as you wish, may contain additional sections, like an introduction and conclusion. Please note: The goal of the project is to provide a working definition of the general category (or at least part of it) and an illustration of that definition by way of your artifact. The commentary as a whole may not have the traditional “beginning-middle-end” structure of typical critical or course essays, but some of those features may be embedded in the two main sections. Also, the two main sections should mutually set up and refer to one another. That is, each section should not be filled with random, unconnected observations, but rather they should share a common context to some degree.
  • The artifact section of your commentary requires a summary of the artifact. But instead of composing a full, detailed summary of the artifact (which itself could take pages), you should compose a purposeful summary—i.e., a summary that sets up the definitions and illustrations in the two main sections.
  • Your commentary should be 2-4 pages, double-spaced, in length.
  • You should follow your instructor’s requirements for submission procedures and due dates of commentaries in your course.