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Historical context in literature

We cannot fully appreciate or understand a work of literature without context.

Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" cannot be fully understood if the reader is unaware of the Romantic movement in the early 19th century. The lives of Europeans were transformed by the technological disruptions of the Industrial Age. The Romantics captured the public's sense of isolation and fear that many experienced. Knowing this backdrop changes "Frankenstein" into an allegory for how technology can destroy us.

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The purpose of the historic context

The purpose of the historic context

Historical context deals with the details of the time and place surrounding memories, stories, and characters.

The details enable us to interpret and analyze works of the past or the future, rather than judging them only by contemporary standards.

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Historical context when interpreting gesture and words

Historical context is important when interpreting behavior and speech.

For example: "Sally hid her hands behind her back and crossed her fingers before she answered." It sounds innocent on its own. However, reading it as a statement from a transcript during the 16...

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Uses of historical context

  • Scholars and educators rely on historical context to analyze and interpret art, literature, music, dance, and poetry.
  • Architects and builders refer to it when restoring existing buildings.
  • Judges may use it to interpret the law.

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