In the wake of the post-structuralist skepticism of language and language's ability to represent reality, the philosophy of history has likewise been questioned, since we gain our knowledge and understanding of the past primarily through language—through written and spoken testimony, and through subsequent historiography. Various post-structuralist critics have pointed out that history is never entirely recoverable, but accessible only indirectly through what is written and documented about it. What is written and documented is in turn determined by the contents and the nature of the archive. What we know about history is largely mediated and limited by the problems inherent in the archive. In my thesis, I point out and examine three separate problems that collectively comprise the overall problem of the archive: the problem of linguistic representation, the problem of memory, and the problem of narrative. I examine these problems as they relate to literature. Much postmodern literature dealing with history is self-consciously aware of itself and history as human constructs, and it uses this ironical self-awareness as a means of exploring the nature of historiography. In my thesis, I examine two works in particular: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Libra by Don DeLillo. I use my examination of these two novels as a means of analyzing the relationship between fiction and the epistemology of history. In my analysis, I point out the tendency of much postmodern fiction to paradoxically question supposedly veridical accounts of history while simultaneously asserting the truthfulness of certain aspects of their own historical accounts. Ultimately, I examine the role of fiction in creating our collective memory of the past.



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


Document Type





history, historiography, fiction, postmodernism