What is Cultural History?

History 283.001

Fall 2005
2227 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
M 12-3

Critics and practitioners speak confidently (if not always approvingly) of a turn in recent decades toward cultural history, but it remains unclear what exactly the term designates. Is cultural history a field, a subject matter, a scholarly methodology, a theory about the world, an interpretive stance toward texts and images, a rhetorical posture, a set of aesthetic preferences? Is it comparable to and neatly distinguishable from social history and intellectual history? This reading seminar explores some of the antecedents, foundations, and varieties of what is labeled cultural in contemporary historical scholarship in North America and Western Europe. Assigned readings include an eclectic array of classic works from earlier periods (Herodotus, Vico, Tocqueville, Pater, Burckhardt) and from the twentieth century (E.P. Thompson, M. Foucault, N. Elias, C. Geertz, M. de Certeau), and will focus on leading figures identified with different branches or models of cultural history (P. Burke, R. Chartier, P. Gay, C. Ginzburg, J. Agnew, and others). We will also attend to the work of current and former members of the Berkeley History Department (M.E. Berry, P. Brown, N.Z. Davis, P. Fass, L. Hunt, T. Laqueur, L. Levine, M. Ryan, P. Sahlins, J. Vernon, and several others).