On a very basic level, cultural materialism has been equated with new historicism because both practices interpret literary texts as historical and cultural artefacts. Cultural materialism, as Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield described it in Political Shakespeare in 1985, ‘studies the implication of literary texts in history’ (Dollimore and Sinfield 1985, viii), and it is therefore an historical or historicist approach to literature. As I argued in Chapter 1, cultural materialism owes much to British Marxism, particularly to the Welsh critic Raymond Williams, but it is also related to the ‘Sociology of Literature’ conferences held at Essex University from 1976 to 1984, and to the journal Literature andHistory, founded in 1975, and edited at Thames Polytechnic from 1975 to 1988. Both the Essex conferences and Literature and History were significant developments in formulating and fashioning new historical approaches to literature in Britain, and made way for cultural materialism primarily by emphasising the importance of history as a shaping force of literary texts, and the importance of literary texts in shaping history. The Essex conferences historicised the discipline of English literature, and questioned its various self-images, its theoretical commonplaces and its disciplinary boundaries, whereas Literatureand History extended Williams’s historical and materialist approaches to culture, ‘popular’ as well as ‘high’ culture.
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