Hayden White (born 1928) is professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, having recently retired from the position of Professor of comparative literature at Stanford University. He has also written The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect, etc.
He wrote in the Preface to this 1973 book, "I treat the historical work as what it most manifestly is: a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse... as an icon of sets of events presumed to have occurred in times past. In addition... they contain a deep structural content which is generally poetic, and specifically linguistic... which serves as the precritically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively 'historical' explanation should be... One of my principal aims... has been to establish the uniquely POETIC elements in historiography and philosophy of history... Thus I have postulated four principal modes of historical consciousness... Metaphor, Synecdoche, Metonymy, and Irony... I contend that the recognized masters of nineteenth-century historical thinking can be understood... by the explanation of the different tropological modes which underlie and inform their work." (Pg. ix-xi)
He explains, "My method, in short, is formalist. I will not try to decide whether a given historian's work is a better, or more correct, account of a specific set of events or segment of the historical process than some other historian's account of them. Rather, I will seek to identify the structural components of those accounts." (Pg. 3-4)
The philosphers/historians he examines are Hegel, Michelet, Ranke, Tocqueville, Burckhardt, Marx, Nietzsche, and Croce.
He observes, "Thus, in The Birth of Tragedy (Dover Thrift Editions), Nietzsche opposed two kinds of false Tragic sensibility: that which interprets the Tragic vision in the Ironic mode, and that which interprets it in the Romantic mode. His demolition of these two false conceptions of Tragic consciousness provided him with the means of reinterpreting Tragedy as a COMBINATION of Dionysiac and Apollonian insights, as Tragic apprehensions of the world being discharged in Comic comprehensions of it---AND the reverse." (Pg. 334) He adds, "Nietzsche's purpose as a philosopher of history was to destroy the notion that the historical process has to be explained or emplotted in any particular way." (Pg. 371)
He says, "Croce's critics failed to register adequately the qualification he had placed on philosophy's capacity to know reality and history's power to represent it truthfully. At the conclusion of his Theory & History Of Historiography, Croce denied that men could judge with any certitude the nature of their own age." (Pg. 398)
White's book will be of interest to students of the philosophy of history in the modern age.