A hastily-erected shrine to historiography in Hyouka

Hyouka 4: Synthesis.

As promised. Predictably, I’m behind on this one, so there won’t be any spoilers past episode five or so.

I’ll start with my biases, if you don’t mind. I collect old books. Not rare books — monetary value isn’t that interesting to me. I collect utilitarian books. I have a set of old Dickens, for example, printed on paper so cheap that you wonder whether they were pirate copies (that sort of thing happened with some regularity). They’re worth nothing at all, but it’s precisely that kind of volume that would’ve introduced thrifty American readers to Dickens in the first place, and that fascinates me.

I also have a history of symphonic music. Now, I don’t know a damn thing about symphonic music, and I’m not even much of a fan (I prefer fewer instruments, rather than more) — what’s interesting about this book is the collection of random things stuck throughout.

Click through; it's a big picture.

There’s a March 1981 notice from the vet informing us that “your kitty” has been vaccinated against rabies. An invitation to a job interview from the same year. And a newspaper clipping that’s almost sixty years older than those other things, nearly as old as the book itself. (A review of a sci-fi movie that might be Soviet propaganda! Reports about Japan’s military!) How and why did all these things end up together? I can’t get enough of this stuff. This was someone’s life. Or lives.

Now here’s something I experienced when I decided that my MA thesis should be a history project: all history is someone’s interpretation of many leftovers like those above. That’s called historiography. The contrivance of history. You don’t necessarily intend to “contrive” things — you try for an accurate record — but there are always gaps, and filling those gaps with really good guesses is the art of the historian.

I’m personally interested in the lives of “small” people — the owner(s) of The Development of Symphonic Music, for example. They probably weren’t presidents or anything. This is why, as the cast of Hyouka dug into the life of Chitanda’s uncle through old documents, I was practically salivating (reference to that other show I’ve been watching not intentional).

Hyouka 4: It's more fun with more people, too.

This isn’t a “mystery” in the whodunit sense. I’d argue, at risk of splitting hairs, that Hyouka isn’t even a mystery show. It’s a slice of life show, and the thing that brought these characters together — well, the thing that keeps them together after Chitanda brought them together is a shared love of thinking. If you buy that, Hyouka is one of the more pro-intellectual shows around.

I buy it because I buy the characters’ attempt at doing history. It requires several skills: a hunger to know something (Chitanda); familiarity with libraries and their contents (Ibara); data collection, retention, and sorting (Fukube); the ability to fill information gaps with plausible hypotheses and make a big picture (Oreki). You gather what evidence you can, review it thoroughly, consider it at length, and reason through it until it resembles a narrative. Then you write it down (hence historiography). If it’s something you like to do, the breakthroughs are quite satisfying — this show has a way of catching me up in the enthusiasm of the characters, especially when they find that things aren’t what they seem, perhaps because I’ve been there, I’ve made those discoveries. It is exciting.

And it’s possible to make mistakes, as the fifth episode teaches our heroes. The worst thing you can do is believe wholly in your conclusions. Once you’ve seen every extant bit of historical evidence, you’re still missing whatever was lost in intervening years, and something was always, always lost.

In light of all this, consider the first arc’s episode-ending text:

Hyouka 4: Didn't catch the reference myself, to be honest.

… [T]he niece of time is based off the novel called “The Daughter of time”. The Daughter of time is a title inspired by Sir Francis Bacon, whom once stated that “Truth is the daughter of time, not authority”. The idea here is that truth is something that authority can try to hide away, but will lose the battle to time and history. …

Tsuki, “Hyouka — 04″

But if time frees the truth by toppling authority, time also obscures the truth by erasing its tracks. This is why we need historians, or people like the cast of Hyouka.

Oh, and the beautifully-animated streams of consciousness are nice, too.

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11 Comments

  1. Seems we share almost the same passion. It might have gone unnoticed from you, so I’ll share, if you allow me http://animediet.net/reviews/anime-reviews/a-history-lesson-from-hyouka

    The excerpt you mention at the end and your analysis of the characters are things that I kinda missed and shed a new light. Love these details~ I was really wondering why ‘niece of time’.

    Hyouka is simply love with all this beautifully detailed thinking :)

    Reply
    • That’s just fantastic. Usually I’m pretty good at research (that’s normally how I operate; I read anime blogs topically rather than chronologically), but that I missed a post like that, and on one of the bigger blogs, is a failure on my part. So thanks for pointing it out.

      I was a student/fan of literature longer and earlier than I got into history, so it’s things like character traits and references that draw my attention first. Having come into it with a “new history” mindset, I never experienced the tension between new/old history; for me it was about macro- vs. microhistory. I’m firmly on the side of the latter, which I think can be especially useful now that we have the internet. A portrait of a single person may not tell us much; portraits of thousands of people, all linked to one another by careful historians, is a society.

      Reply
      • Glad you liked it! I studied teacher for primary school and one of the main courses was History. Since this subject is taught almost always traditionally, it really surprises me happily that you got into it from ‘new history’s’ perspective. I like any kind of history, if presented in an interesting way (which means I usually like documentaries a lot). But I do need to work on it more, reading more books and doing more serious ‘researches’.

  2. A Day Without Me

     /  13 July 2012

    I don’t really have anything to add, but just wanted to note that I enjoyed reading your post. It was the “uncle” arc of Hyouka which made me sit up and truly take notice of this show, particularly after the rather mundane first couple of episodes.

    I agree that Hyouka isn’t really a mystery show, but a show that happens to have mysteries; I contend that, ultimately, its a show about a young man gaining confidence in himself and slowly coming out of his shell. The mysteries just happen to be the catalyst here (although the real driver of his change are the women and girls around him, which in its own way fascinates me).

    I also like the stuff I find in old books, used books, even library books as well.

    Reply
    • I get what you’re saying about the unremarkable first few episodes. The real mystery in each arc is figuring out what’ll happen to make that particular bit of plot extraordinary. There’s usually something.

      My estimation of what the show’s about is more general. I think it’s just about a group of friends (who are friends because they all like intellectual or creative pursuits) and their effects upon one another. I suppose it may turn out to be about siblings, too, when (if) Oreki’s sister’s machinations are revealed.

      Reply
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