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In this theory I treat the historical work as what it most manifestly is: a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse. Histories (and philosophies of history as well) combine a certain amount of "data", theoretical concepts for "explaining" these data, and a narrative structure for their presentation as an icon of sets of events presumed to have occured in times past. In addition, I maintain, they contain a deep structural content which is generally poetic, and specifically linguistic, in nature, and which serves as the precritically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively "historical" explanation should be.

Source: Hayden White: Metahistory, p. ix.

I would like to ask you to tell me what noun the pronoun "they" represents in the bold sentence. The most logic possibility seems to be "historical work" but it is in the preceding sentence in the singular form so I hesitate.

  • Typos and omissions in the quote. Double check. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 1 '16 at 12:50
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    The candidate nouns are histories and philosophies. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 1 '16 at 12:54
  • Now I have just discovered the official translation of this excerpt in my native language. The translator replaced "they" by "historical narratives". Do you find it OK? – bart-leby Mar 1 '16 at 13:07
  • I have no strong opinion since "a deep structural content" makes no sense to me. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 1 '16 at 13:24
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Histories (and philosophies of history as well) combine a certain amount of "data", theoretical concepts for "explaining" these data, and a narrative structure for their presentation as an icon of sets of events presumed to have occured in times past. In addition, I maintain, they contain a deep structural content which is generally poetic, and specifically linguistic, in nature, and which serves as the precritically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively "historical" explanation should be.

I can see where you can be confused. Reducing it down to the base nouns in the first sentence, they may refer to histories, data+concepts+structure, or events.

Your only recourse here is logic. I would say they has to refer to histories because the attributes "poetic" and "linguistic" mentioned in the second sentence make the most sense when applied to histories but not data+concepts+structure or events.

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Let's simplify a bit the text:

Histories [...] combine a certain amount of [...] for their presentation as an icon of sets of events presumed to have occured in times past. In addition, [...] they contain a deep structural content [...]

They seems then a pronoun for histories.

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