Historical Method and Theory

History 283.001

Fall 2008
2227 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Wed 12-2

Consider the following:

The past is a foreign country, irretrievably lost to us.
The past is not dead. It's not even past.
The function of history is to assist us in honoring our dead.
History is what historians write. It does not exist independently.
History is the child of narrative. History is defined by its type of discourse rather than its object of study.
The historian's task is ";to participate positively in the liberation of the present from the burden of history.";

What does, and what can, history as an academic discipline claim to do? The seminar will examine this question by considering both the claims made by historians (epistemological, philosophical) and the practices of historians (historiographical, methodological). In doing so, we will not go back to Herodotus and Thucydides, or even to Burckhardt and Ranke, but will focus primarily on movements within history of the past fifty years.

Core readings will include:

Allan Megill, Historical Knowledge, Historical Error. A Contemporary Guide to Practice (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

Anthony Molho and Gordon S. Wood, eds., Imagined Histories. American Historians Interpret the Past (Princeton University Press, 1998).

Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources. An Introduction to Historical Methods (Cornell University Press, 2001).

Penelope J. Corfield, Time and the Shape of History (Yale University Press, 2007).

In addition, the course will explore a number of historical movements and methods, including: The Annales school, social science and counterfactual history, Marxian history, cultural history.

Students will prepare two papers.

Short paper (5-7 pages) Analysis of a controversy concerning the adequacy of an historian's work. The instructor will provide a list of possibilities; students may add to the list.
Long paper (20 pages) Historiographical study of the work of an historian, or a group of historians, to be selected in consultation with the instructor.

Issues and Problems in the Study of History.


Counterfactual History

Niall Ferguson, ed., Virtual History. Alternatives and Counterfactuals (Macmillan, 1997).

Philip E. Tetlock, Richard Ned Lebow, and Geoffrey Parker, eds., Unmaking the West. 'What If' Scenarios That Rewrite World History (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

";New Economic History";

The Annales School

Peter Burke, The French Historical Revolution. The Annales School 1929-89 (Stanford University Press, 1990).

Marxian History

Karl Marx, Selected Writings
E. P. Thompson,
Eric Hobsbawm

Postmodern History

Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History (New York, 1988)

Jonathan Clark, Our Shadowed Present. Modernism, Postmodernism, and History (Stanford University Press, 2003).

Time, Periods, and Direction in History.

Did Martin Guerre Really Return?

Natalie Z. Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre

Robert Finley, ";The Refashioning of Martin Guerre,"; American Historical Review 93 (1988), 553-71; Natalie Z. Davis, ";On the Lame,"; American Historical Review 93 (1988), 572-603.