History:Polyphonic history

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Short description: Sub-genre of cultural history

Polyphonic history is a sub-genre of cultural history that is also related to microhistory. As an historiographical technique, it was developed especially by Princeton historian Yair Mintzker in his 2017 book The Many Deaths of Jew Süss.[1]


In The Many Deaths of Jew Süss, Mintzker tells the story of the trial and execution of the famous German court Jew Joseph Süß Oppenheimer in the eighteenth century. He presents polyphonic history in it as a way of handling a situation in which sources on a particular topic do exist, but none of them is completely reliable. Mintzker's solution to this conundrum is to treat the sources critically, but also to let them tell their stories in such a way that their disagreements and internal contradictions are highlighted rather than smoothed over. A particular emphasis of the technique of polyphonic history is on what past authors did (the speech act involved) in crafting their different narratives about the same event.

Sources, Influence, and Reception

Polyphonic history was inspired by theoretical works by Peter Burke and especially Mikhail Bakhtin, as well as by previous historiographical experiments such as James Goodman's book Stories of Scottsboro (1994).[2] Both the concept and the technique continue to engender much debate among historians,[3] though they have generally been received favorably by specialists and the wider public alike.


  1. Mintzker, Yair (2017). The Many Deaths of Jew Süss : The Notorious Trial and Execution of an Eighteenth-Century Court Jew. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400887804. 
  2. Goodman, James (1994). Stories of Scottsboro. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0679407790. 
  3. Meng, Michael (2020). "History, Self Interest, and Polyphony". Central European History 53 (1): 200-234. doi:10.1017/S0008938919001158.