HIST 301
Approaching the Past: History, Theory, Practice Fall 2019
Division II

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This course will explore how the discipline of “History” has come to assume its present form and how a number of historians since the 1830s have understood their craft. We will begin by discussing the work of three great nineteenth-century historians (Macaulay, Marx, and Ranke) who believed that historical “truth” existed and could, with skill, be deciphered. Next we will explore the philosophy and practice of the cultural and social historians of the 1960s-1980s, comparing and contrasting their work with that of their nineteenth-century predecessors. We will then consider the writing of those recent theorists who have tried to refute historians’ claims to be able to capture the “truth” of the past, focusing on the state of the field in the wake of challenges posed to its epistemological foundations by postmodernism. Finally, we will conclude with an assessment of the state of the discipline today. In general, we will be less concerned with “the past” than with what historians do with “the past.” Consequently, we will focus primarily on those abstract, philosophical assumptions that have informed the various practices of history from the 1830s to the present.
The Class: Type: discussion
Limit: 19
Expected: 15-19
Class#: 1223
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: evaluation will be based on class participation, a 250-word position statement ("What is History?"), two 9- to 11-page interpretive essays, and a take-home final exam
Prerequisites: restricted to HIST majors and sophomores planning to major in HIST
Enrollment Preferences: senior, then junior, History majors
Distributions: Division II

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