In this video, we will explore Historical Criticism,
a school of theory that can be applied to
almost anything you read or view.
First, take a look at this painting titled "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso.
Pause the video, so that you can look at the painting in more detail.
At first glance you may notice a misshapen horse with a candle,
a bull with off-center horns,
and an abstract version of a woman and child.
The shapes may look cartoonish.
You may think, like one initial response, that it looks like
"a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted."
Historical criticism asks us to consider the piece in a different light.
The basic premise guiding historical criticism
is that events and cultural elements from the time a text was written
—or in this case, painted—must influence the text.
In order to determine this, historical critics ask the question:
How does the historical context affect the meaning of the text?
Let's take a look at the historical inspiration for the painting.
Guernica is a town in the Basque region of northern Spain.
On April 27, 1937, Guernica was bombed.
This was during the Spanish civil war, and Franco
—leader of the Nationalists—had made alliances with
the growing powers in Nazi Germany.
German planes practiced a new technique on Guernica:
The attack was on a busy market day,
and 1600 civilians were killed or wounded.
Now, let's look back at the mural.
Knowing that this is a response to a bombing
shifts the meaning of the images.
We may see a mother mourning her infant child.
A frightened horse caught in the crossfire and hysteria.
Injured people fleeing.
Instead of a hodgepodge of body parts, we see a response to pointless
violence perpetrated against innocent people.
The same strategies can be applied to literature.
After reading a piece, look up historical information
from the time in which the piece was written or occurs.
Then pay close attention to details like style, diction, and symbolism
that can shed light on subtle historical elements.
Also, look for parallels between the themes, conflicts, and events in the text
and in the historical time period.