The Voices of History: theorising the interpersonal semantics of historical discourses

Coffin, Caroline (2002). The Voices of History: theorising the interpersonal semantics of historical discourses. Text, 22(4) pp. 503–528.




‘The individual consumer, the learner of history, is offered an impressive array of discursive products geared to catch his or her attention, to persuade him or her of the truth of whatever message is transmitted’ (Blanco and
Rosa 1997: 197. In this article I examine these discursive products from the perspective of ‘voice’. I do this as a way of bringing to conscious attention the strategies that historians use in order to persuade and position the ‘consumer’. ‘Voice’ in recent systemic linguistic theorizing refers to distinctive configurations of APPRAISAL choices. Within the domain of history, research to date has identified three main configurations or
voices—‘recorder’, ‘interpreter’, and ‘adjudicator’.
Central to the research reported on in this article is Martin’s APPRAISAL framework (Martin 1997, 2000). APPRAISAL
1 systems are the semantic resources used to negotiate emotions, judgments, and valuations. In this article I will examine how choices from these systems vary in ways that are systematic — different history texts speak with different ‘voices’. These voices, I argue, are a key rhetorical strategy in history discourse. Different combinations of APPRAISAL resources are drawn on to negotiate the heteroglossic positions of their audiences. As such they are a key resource for both the professional and apprentice historian in their assessment of
interpretations of the past.

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