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2021 Spring


William Eddleston
For information about registration please contact our admissions.

The course begins by examining broad trends in 20th century historiography. Sessions 2 and 3 look at two classic controversies in British historiography: the twin assault on the “Whig” conception of history launched by Herbert Butterfield and Lewis Namier, and the questions of free will and determinism in history arising from Isaiah Berlin’s critique of E. H. Carr, and the further controversy over the purpose and utility of historical study between Carr and Geoffrey Elton. Session 4 looks at the more recent dispute occasioned by Richard Evans’ moderate defence of empirical history against the challenge of postmodernism.

Session 5 and 6 examine two key rival schools of social history: the French Annales scholars and the (predominantly British) school of Marxist historiography. Session 7 looks at A. J. P. Taylor and the controversy surrounding his 1962 revisionist tract The Origins of the Second World War. Taylor’s importance lies in his dominance within British historical scene in the mid-to-late 20th century, despite his eschewal of any form of theorising. Taylor is a reminder of the enduring relevance – and relative imperviousness to theory - of diplomatic history.

Just before the midterm break, Session 8 explores the concept of collective memory in relationship to the memory of the Jewish Holocaust. Session 9 examines cultural history, through the work of the pioneering historian of culture Jan Huizinga, author of The Autumn of the Middle Ages, and through the later work of George L. Mosse. Mosse made major contributions to the study of fascism, interpreting fascism – against prevailing historical and political science orthodoxies – as essentially a cultural revolution against the liberal bourgeois order.

Sessions 10 through to 14 return to a number of the key methodological challenges of post-colonialism, ethnological history, Kuhnian approaches to the history of science and postmodernism, focusing on the work of a number of key thinkers: Edward Said; Keith Thomas; Thomas Kuhn, Michael Ruse and Michel Foucault, along with the work of their manifold acolytes and critics. Specific topics examined will be the Orientalism; the new perspectives brought by feminism and cultural anthropology to the interpretation of the Early Modern “witch craze”; the mid-19th century Darwinian Revolution as a scientific “paradigm shift,” and the impact of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish on the study of institutions and of Stalinism.

The final session will involve book reports on several the most famous examples of 20th century “microhistories”: The Return of Martin Guerre; The Cheese and the Worms; Montaillou and The Great Cat Massacre.

The syllabus for Spring 2021 is here: /files/2733965/HIS_600_Syllabus_-_Twentieth_Century_Historiography_-_Spring_2021(2).pdf

Here is the course outline:

1. HIS 401/600 - 20th Century Historiography: Introduction to Course

Feb 8

The first class is an introductory session where the lecturer will set out the course structure and requirements in detail. Students will be placed into one of five presentation groups, and presentations for the first half of the course will be decided upon. Students will then watch the classic film Rashomon (1950) by Akira Kurosawa - a profound exploration of the nature of contested memory.

2. The Whig Idea of History and its Critics: Herbert Butterfield and Sir Lewis Namier

Feb 15

In 1931, a young Dissenting Cantabrian Herbert Butterfield issued an enduring challenge to the presiding English national myth - the liberal "Whig interpretation of history." Whiggish tendencies in history were challenged by another outsider, Lewis Namier - a Polish Jew who had made England his home in the early part of the century. Together, these two iconoclasts mounted an enduring challenge to the entire notion of teleology in history - and of reading present concerns into the very different world of the past.

3. Determinism, Morality and Progress: E. H. Carr's What is History and its Critics.

Feb 22

Reading Edward Hallet Carr's What is History? against the critique of Geoffrey Elton's The Practice of History was the way in which a generation of university students in the British Commonwealth was introduced to historical method. More than half a century on, the debate retains its vitality. The seminar will also examine the Carr-Elton debate in light of modern historiographical concerns, both from the orthodox Cambridge historian of modern Germany Richard J. Evans, and the radical postmodern critique of Keith Jenkins.

4. Class 4 - Postmodernism and its Discontents: Richard Evans vs. Keith Jenkins and Friends.

Mar 1

Richard J. Evan's In Defence of History is one of the most important and intellectually cogent defences of the traditional study of history, albeit one deeply appreciative of the insights that feminism, sociology, postcolonial studies and other late 20th century developments have brought to this ancient discipline. We examine the question of postmodernism and history through the prism of the debate between Evans and the radical English postmodernist Keith Jenkins. The writings of such postmodernists and anti-postmodernists as Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lawrence Stone, Patrick Joyce, Frank Ankersmit, Terry Eagleton, Luc Ferry & Alain Renault and John Lewis Gaddis are also examined.

5. La Longue Duree: The Annales School and the Cliometricians

Mar 8

Can the cycles of the economy, the comings and goings of sailors and shepherds - and indeed the very geography and geology of the entire Mediterranean itself - be the valid subject of history? Is history more "scientific" when it becomes a branch of sociology, quantitative mathematics or economics? The history of La Longue Durée - in which the great deeds of kings, generals and politicians are reimagined as mere ripples on the great ocean of long-term social, demographic and economic cycles, is examined via the work of the French Annales school. Historians examined include Marc Bloc, Fernand Braudel and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. In addition, there will be a secondary focus of the so-called Cliometric school and scholars such as Peter Lasslett and Richard Wall.

6. E. P. Thompson and the English Marxist Historians.

Mar 15

Ironically, a country in which the Communist Party was never more than a tiny presence in politics (in contrast to Continental Europe) produced one of the most vigorous and influential schools of Marxist historians. The seminar looks at the so-called British Marxist Historians, with a focus on the writings of Edward Palmer Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm.

7. A. J. P. Taylor - Diplomatic History and Method

Mar 22

In 1962, the gadfly historian A. J. P. Taylor threw a bomb amongst the historical profession and the educated public by challenging the almost universally-accepted belief that Hitler had deliberately started World War II, and that German foreign policy leading up to the war had been driven by Nazi ideology. The ensuing intellectual storm was one of the greatest controversies in English public intellectual life in the 20th century, and still makes for engaging reading. The controversy is still an essential starting point for considering the origins of the Second World War.

8. The Holocaust and Collective Memory

Mar 29

The concept of historical collective memory – a notion first explored by a group of scholars, including Marc Bloch and Maurice Halbwachs, centred at the University of Strasbourg in the 1920s – has become one of the new growth industries in the study of history in the 21st century. We shall explore this concept with reference to the debates around the collective memory of the Jewish Holocaust, especially in relationship to modern American historical memory. Students will watch the documentary film The Battle for the Holocaust (Channel 4, 2001), following up their viewing with posts in NEO Forum.

9. Cultural History - Jan Huizinga and George L. Mosse

Apr 12

The concept of "cultural history" had few genuine precursors until the Dutch historian Jan Huizinga wrote his classic study The Autumn of the Middle Ages in the 1920s. This seminar will examine Huizinga and another great cultural historian, the Jewish emigre American George L. Mosse, and his interpretation of fascism as a deformed "cultural revolution."

10. Enough Said? Postcolonialism and Orientalism

Apr 19

The publication in 1978 of Edward Said's Orientalism was a transformative moment in modern intellectual history. Said's challenge to the fundamental tenets of the discipline of Orientalism has been an enduring one. But how credible is his central thesis? We examine Orientalism in light of Said's critics, such as "Ibn Warraq"; Daniel Martin Varisco and Efraim Karsh. A secondary focus of the seminar is the work of the iconoclastic Middle Eastern scholar and historian of nationalism Elie Kedourie, who criticised many of the fundamental beliefs of Western Orientalism from a conservative and pro-Imperial perspective very different from Said's.

11. Witches, Anthropologists and Feminists: Feminist and Anthropological Approaches to History

Apr 26

Both the rise of the feminist movement and the establishment of anthropology as a distinct discipline have impacted - controversially - on the study of history. This seminar examines both feminist and anthropological approaches to the study of history through the prism of the controversies surrounding the rise and fall of the so-called "European Witch Craze" of the early modern era.

12. Poststructuralism and the Gulag: The Uses of Foucault's Discipline and Punish

May 3

Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish has had a transformative effect on historians' understanding of the relationship between knowledge, power and the state. The seminar will examine both Foucault's Discipline and Punish and the innovative and interesting use Foucault's theory in the American Sovietologist Stephen Kotkin's book Magnetic Mountain.

13. The Darwinian Revolution as a Paradigm Shift

May 10

The publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 represented a revolution in the study of the history of science. Traditional “Whiggish” accounts of the history of science as a story of discovery and progress have become anathema – at least within the confines of university Humanities departments. However, to what extent Kuhn’s own epistemology could be characterised as “social constructivist” remains a hotly disputed question. This seminar examines Kuhn’s influential concept of “paradigm shift” in relation to the mid-19th century “Darwinian Revolution” in zoology, biology and anthropology.

14. Reading Microhistories: Book Report Session on Microhistories. Final Exam Submissions.

May 17

At the beginning of the course in February, students were taken to the library and asked to choose one of a selection of four different "Microhistories." Today, in a very relaxed "coffee and cake" session, we will discuss these microhistories and talk about major themes in the course in general. Final Exams will be submitted at the beginning of class.

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