Distinguishing New Historicism from Cultural Materialism

Key Difference – New Historicism vs Cultural Materialism

New historicism and cultural materialism are two literary theories that share some similarities. The main distinction between new historicism and cultural materialism lies in their focus; New Historicism emphasizes the societal oppression that must be overcome to achieve change, while Cultural Materialism concentrates on how that change is brought about.

What is New Historicism?

New historicism is a literary theory that involves the parallel reading of non-literary and literary texts from the same time period. These non-literary texts are often used to frame the literary works, but both are treated equally; it does not give priority or privilege to a literary text. This theory is based on the idea that literature should be evaluated and interpreted within the context of the history of the author as well as the critic. This is because the critic’s response to a work is always influenced by their beliefs, prejudices, culture, and environment. New historicism acknowledges and is based on the concept that our understanding of literature changes with the passage of time. At the same time, New Historicism is considered to be anti-establishment and favors liberal ideas and personal freedoms. The term New Historicism was coined by Stephen Greenblatt around the 1980s. J.W. Lever and Jonathan Dollimore are two practitioners of this theory.

What is Cultural Materialism?

Cultural materialism can be traced back to the work of left-wing literary critic Raymond Williams, who coined the term. It can be described as a blending of leftist culturalism and Marxist analysis. This theory emerged in the early 1980s along with new historicism. Cultural materialism deals with specific historical documents and attempts to analyze and recreate the dominant set of ideals or beliefs of a particular moment in history. Jonathan Dollimore and Allen Sinfield identify four characteristics of cultural materialism: historical context, theoretical method, close textual analysis, and political commitment.

What is the difference between New Historicism and Cultural Materialism?


  • New Historicism focuses on the oppressive aspects of society people have to overcome to achieve change.
  • Cultural Materialism focuses on how that change is formed.


  • New Historicists claim that they are aware of the difficulties, limitations, contradictions, and problems of trying to establish the truth; nevertheless, they believe in the truth of their work.
  • Cultural Materialists see new historicism as politically ineffective since it does not believe in absolute truth or knowledge. They feel that cultural materialists do not believe in the truth of what they write.

Political Situation:

  • New Historicists situate a text within the political situation of its contemporary society.
  • Cultural Materialists situate a text within the political situation of the critic’s contemporary world.
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles