Poetry for historians

Or, W. H. Auden and history

By Carolyn Steedman

Poetry for historians


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2523-1
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £16.99
  • Published Date: April 2018
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Social & cultural history, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: poetry & poets, Humanities / Historiography, History: Theory & Methods, Modern History, History, LITERARY CRITICISM / Poetry, HISTORY / Historiography


This is a book about the conflict between history and poetry - and historians and poets - in Atlantic World society from the end of the seventeenth century to the present day. Blending historiography and theory, it proceeds by asking: what is the point of poetry as far as historians are concerned? The focus is on W. H. Auden's Cold War-era history poems, but the book also looks at other poets from the seventeenth century onwards, providing original accounts of their poetic and historical educations. An important resource for those teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in historiography and history and theory, Poetry for historians will also be of relevance to courses on literature in society and the history of education. General readers will relate it to Steedman's Landscape for a Good Woman (1987) and Dust (2001), on account of its biographical and autobiographical insights into the way history operates in modern society.


'[This book] will be a must-read as much for literary critics of W. H. Auden as historians of the twentieth century, for eighteenth centuryists of any discipline, and for anyone who wants to think about what constitutes history writing, or, indeed, to think about the journey of the Left over the past few decades and where it might end up.'
Jon Mee, Professor of Eighteenth-century Studies, University of York

'Witty, acute, eloquent, ruthlessly confessional and riveting, Poetry for historians refuses to leave poetry to poets. It also proves Steedman to be the poet of history par excellence.'
Roger Cooter, Emeritus Professor of History, UCL

'It's very hard to think of other historians who move so creatively in quite the same way across various kinds of borders, where the latter are not so much the boundaries between academic disciplines as the differences between familiar and more imaginative forms of knowledge and thought. With an exceptional eye for the unexpected insights and meanings, Carolyn Steedman roams brilliantly among a wide variety of genres and practices of writing and public performance, while pushing carefully on how we can understand them.'
Geoff Eley, Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History, University of Michigan

'Steedman's reflection on W. H. Auden's use of the idea of Clio in his poetry is wonderful, a love letter to poetry and historiography, and to the intersections of the two, as well as a passionate personal explanation of what is social history. [...] It is a book I enjoyed enormously.'
Christopher Fauske, Anglican and Episcopal History


PART I: History
1 Servant poets: an ode on a dishclout
2 W. H. Auden and the servants
3 The uses of Clio
4 An education
5 W. H. Auden and me
6 Caesura: a worker reads history and a historian writes poetry
PART II: Historiography
7 Makers of history
8 Homage to Clio
9 The ridiculous historian's hopes


Carolyn Steedman is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Warwick

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