Theories of History syllabus

By Herman Robertson,2014-04-21 22:09
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Theories of History syllabus


    Dr. Jeffrey Bell (

    Course website:

    A guiding theme of this graduate seminar is the relationship between narrative and history. It is a given that history often reads like a story. In fact, many claim that the best history teachers are the ones who present the material in the form of a story. Students will often remark that when a teacher presents history as an unfolding narrative and story, they make history come “alive.” Such an approach to history, however, is not without its critics. For one, presenting history as an unfolding story presupposes a continuity or even an intentionality that may never have been present when a particular incident occurred. Moreover, the historical record, at least in the form of documentation and evidence, does not always lend itself to the continuous presentation so crucial to many narrative styles. From this perspective, a good historian may indeed need to be a bad teacher (e.g., Ranke). Another presupposition intimately tied to historical narrative is the passage of time. What time-frame does a particular historical narrative involve, and are there different possible time-frames (Braudel will claim there are)? Related again to this theme is the notion of causality. Within a traditional narrative, events in the past, or intentions in the past, are understood to be the cause of later events; therefore, in reconstructing the past, a historian seeks to unearth the intentions and events which caused later events. Once finished, the historian then presents his/her findings in the manner of a story. But is this understanding of causality in historical explanation adequate? Does not the historian have to interpret, to some degree, the significance of events and hence their causal efficacy (e.g., do we prioritize economic factors, psychological factors, or some other event as the primary causal agent)? And to what extend do present circumstances dictate our interpretation of the past in our quest to find the cause of this present circumstance? In this case, then, the present paradoxically causes the past, or our interpretation of the significance of the past. We could go on, and in this seminar we will address these questions and many others.

    Format. Each seminar will be divided into two parts. In the first, I will give a presentation of the themes and problems brought out by the reading for that day. I will also set these

    problems into their more general philosophical, historiographical context. The second half of each seminar will consist of a discussion of the reading(s). This discussion will either be led by one of the seminar participants who have selected something from the readings list (times will be determined at the beginning of the semester) or by myself. Towards the end of the semester, seminar participants will present the arguments and findings of their seminar papers.

    Participants are expected to take an active part in seminar discussions. Each requirement is built into the Seminar schedule. Attendance and participation are mandatory. My Office

    hours are MTWTh 9-11, or by appointment. Telephone, ext. 3918.

Required Readings:

Michel Foucault “Society Must be Defended”

    Georg Iggers Historiography in the Twentieth Century

    Carlo Ginzburg The Cheese and the Worms

    Fernand Braudel On History

online readings:

Jeffrey Bell, “Becoming Civil: History and the Discipline of Institutions”

    Lorraine Daston, “Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence in Early Modern Europe”

    Carlo Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of a Scientific Program”

    J. Paul Hunter, “„News and New Things‟: Contemporaneity and the Early English Novel”

    Paul Ricoeur, "History and Hermeneutics"

    Quentin Skinner, “Hermeneutics and the Role of History”

    Hayden White, "The Metaphysics of Narrativity: Time and Symbol in Ricoeur's

     Philosophy of History"


Reviews of required texts (30%)

    Each participant is required to write a critical review of all of the required books, with the exception of Iggers' book. These reviews are to meet scholarly guidelines for your standard journal book review. Reviews are to be 500-750 words long (2-3 pages).

Discussion Leader (20%)

    Seminar participants are required to lead a discussion on two separate occasions. On the first occasion, discussions will be focused upon the reading of a book from the attached reading list. Discussion leaders are responsible for providing a 4-5 page book review to all the other participants. Each review should outline the general themes and arguments of the book being discussed. The discussion leader will then give a brief presentation of the themes of the argument and lead a discussion of these themes as they apply to other themes of the seminar. On the second occasion, participants are to present an outline of their seminar paper (including thesis, purpose, and findings).

Seminar Paper (50%)

    This paper is to be on a topic related to the themes and topics covered in the seminar. The paper is to be 15 to 20 pages long, and it must incorporate reading material besides what we have discussed in the seminar (you may write on the book you chose for your first discussion). The major requirement of this seminar paper, and of this seminar itself, is to be able to present, write, and defend a solid piece of historical writing and argument.

Theories of History (Hist 698) Calendar:

June 5 Introduction and assignment of discussion leaders

June 10 Iggers, Introduction and Chapters 1-4

     Daston, "Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence in Early Modern


June 12 Foucault, “Society Must be Defended”

    June 17 continue with Foucault.

June 19 finish Foucault.

     Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of a Scientific Paradigm”

June 24 Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms

June 26 finish Ginzburg.

     Discussion leader(s): ________________________

July 1 Iggers, Chs. 5-7

     Braudel, On History

July 3 On History

     Discussion leader(s): ________________________

July 8 Skinner, “Hermeneutics and the Role of History”

     Hunter, “„News and New Things‟: Contemporaneity and the Early English


     Discussion leader(s): ________________________

    July 10 Iggers, Chs. 8-11 and Epilogue

     Ricoeur, “History and Hermeneutics”

     Discussion leader(s): ________________________

    July 15 White, “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory”

     Discussion leader(s): ________________________

    July 17 Bell, “Becoming Civil: History and the Discipline of Institutions”

     Discussion leader(s): ________________________

July 22 Seminar papers due

     Seminar Paper presentations: _______

    July 24 TBA and Conclusion.

     Seminar Paper critiques: _______

Reading List for History 698 (Theories of History)

? = SLU Library has the book.

    1. ? Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles Beard 2. Railroads and American Economic Growth, Robert Fogel and Douglass North

    3. ? Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, Walt Rostow 4. Martin Luther: A Destiny, Lucien Febvre

    5. ? The Historian’s Craft, Marc Bloch

    6. ? Feudal Society, Marc Bloch

    7. ? The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Fernand


    8. The Peasants of Languedoc, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie 9. ? Montaillou, Ladurie

    10. Centuries of Chilhood, Philippe Ariès

    11. ? The Hour of Our Death, Philippe Ariès

    12. The Categories of Medieval Culture, Aaron Gurevich 13. ? The Making of the English Working Class, Edward P. Thompson 14. ? The Affluent Society, John Kenneth Galbraith 15. ? The End of Ideology, Daniel Bell

    16. The Other America, Michael Harrington thth17. Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in 16 and 17

    Century Europe, Keith Thomas

    18. ? Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, Peter Burke 19. ? Society and Culture in Early Modern France, Natalie Davis 20. Inheriting Power: The Story of an Exorcist, Giovanni Levi 21. Europe and the Peoples Without a History, Eric Wolf

    22. Sweetness and Power: Sugar in Modern History, Sidney Mintz 23. ? Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland,

    Christopher Browning

    24. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in the Nineteenth Century in Europe,

    Hayden White

    25. ? The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Darnton

    26. ? Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to

    1848, William Sewell

    27. Gender and the Politics of History, Joan Scott

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