he linguistic turn is a phrase popularized about the turn towards language by historians of the 1970s and 1980s. In an article entitled “Feminist History after the Linguistic Turn”1 German historian Kathleen Canning explored the ways in which the linguistic turn represented a new interdisciplinarity for historical studies.
In many respects, the linguistic turn represents the shift to cultural sources as opposed to touchable, tangible sources. For Canning, this meant a turn towards representation as a valid source. The Linguistic Turn is used in this class beginning with the work of Gareth Stedman Jones (his article was first published in 1974) and how his work is a linchpin of sorts for social historians interested in exploring the role of language, values, and ideals in identity and community formation. We will discuss the linguistic turn in far more detail in our sections on poststructuralism and cultural history. For now, please keep in mind that historians engaging in the methods attributed to the linguistic turn do not deny material evidence, but rather see it as part of a variety of ways of explaining the past, and not necessarily as something more substantive than the less tangible pieces of evidence.