HIST420: How Historians Understand and Explain

Available 2017/18

Course ConvenorDr Deborah Sutton

This module provides students with an introduction to the diverse approaches historians and others have taken to understand both historical change and the historical narrative. We will explore different schools of history writing and the various critiques that have been made of the claims of history writing as a modern discipline to be a representation of ‘what happened’ based on the collection and objective evaluation of evidence. The module will consider the ideological implications of writing history. Can history ever be ‘non-ideological’? Are we always writing through and about our own socio-political assumptions?

We will also consider the means by which particular ways of understanding the past have validated claims about the present. How has History as a discipline been implicated in patterns of social and structural inequality? How have challenges within and from outwith our discipline changed the nature of historical enquiry and argument over the last few decades?

On successful completion of the module, you will be able to draw out the similarities between accounts of different historical developments, and to recognise different modes of explaining historical change. You will also be able to compare, contrast and assess the relative merits of different modes of explaining historical change.

Finally, you will be able to apply the knowledge acquired in the development of your dissertation.


Suggested reading:

R. G. Collingwood, ‘The Historical Imagination’ and ‘Historical Evidence’, The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon. 1993. pp.231-282.

Michel Foucault, ‘Introduction’, The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge. 2002.

Romila Thapar, Time as a Metaphor of History: Early India. Delhi: OUP. 1996.

Hayden White, ‘The Historical Text as Literary Artifact’, Tropics of discourse: essays in cultural criticism. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press. 1978.  



Taught: Lent term