History and meanings HI1002-05

The course examines the development of historical writing and the associated debates around the creation of meaning via the study of the past.


15 Credits

Topics covered

  • Overall, the course framework is broadly chronological, from Herodotus to the Postmodernist debates and after. The first half of the course examines changing expectations about historical truth, style and content, with reference to classical, Christian, Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment approaches. Other non-western history-writing traditions are discussed for comparative purposes at various points in the exposition.
  • The second half of the course is organised thematically, within the context of the global professionalisation of historical research and writing as a discipline from the nineteenth century onwards. Specific case-histories include the impact of (variously) Marxism; anthropology; gender studies; Foucault; and Postmodernism.
  • The course ends with a reconsideration of History’s response to Postmodernist theory and the state of historical studies post-Postmodernism. A philosophy of total doubt is rejected, as making it impossible for historians to oppose (say) Holocaust deniers.

Learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will gain:

  • A reflective understanding of the evolution of history-writing from the earliest times to the present;
  • A critical awareness of repertoire of the key concepts that have been deployed by historians in analysing the human past; and
  • An ability to discuss and write (in the classes) student reports upon a sequence of debates about historical truth and representation which necessarily accompany the production of meanings via the study of the past.
  • The ability to search and use critically a range of library, web and other resources;
  • The capacity to plan and write reasoned essays in response to a specific question or instruction; and
  • A readiness to contribute to debates about the practical, ethical, and conceptual problems that arise in the generation of meanings via the study of the past.


  • Exam (80%)
  • Essay (10%)
  • Reflective journal and forum posts (10%)

Essential reading

  • W. Storey Writing History (2003)
  • J. Tosh The Pursuit of History (1984; and many later edns)
  • P. Burke History and Social Theory (1992)
  • P. Burke What is Cultural History? (2004)
  • E.H. Carr What is History? (revised edn., 1987)
  • R.J. Evans In Defence of History (1997)
  • S. Gunn History and Cultural Theory (2006)
  • K. Jenkins Re-Thinking History (1991)
  • D. Kelley Faces of History (1998)
  • D. Kelley The Variety of History from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (1995)
  • S. Morgan (ed.) The Feminist History Reader (2006)
  • E.P. Thompson The Poverty of Theory (1978)