Historiography: Themes in Its History and Approaches to Its Theory

2YMA Mandatory
Course Description: 


The course is divided into a lecture, mandatory for students in the 2YMA program, and a seminar (mandatory for students in the 1YMA program, elective for all others. The lecture will consist of a presentation by the instructors followed by half an hour of questions and in-class discussion.


Representing history as a branch of cognition that has been found directly relevant to the human condition since antiquity, the class highlights a number of influential, and controversial, ways of engaging with it in modern and contemporary times. It will present a critical overview of the theoretical approaches and research methods that have been conceived and practiced in academic historiography from its inception in the nineteenth century until the present. The major historiographical schools and trends will be presented from three angles, first with their context-dependent characteristics, then in their disciplinary, scientific and systemic aspirations, and finally in their possible practical use for research in the historical field under present-day circumstances. The class will start with an introduction discussing the goals and contexts of history-writing since antiquity, as well as the importance of historiographical self-reflection in source work and scholarly communication. We will then explore the influential nineteenth-century schools of historicism, positivism, and philology, the development of critical methodology regarding sources, and the ensuing emphasis on the peculiarities of times, places, and ethno-cultural traditions. We will then consider the objections to historicism and the twentieth-century turn towards the sociological, psychological and anthropological structuring of the historical field, with the use of quantitative methods. The third and most important part of the class will discuss the development of historiographical theory since the "linguistic turn". We will explore disciplinary approaches as evolving, yet recurrent ways of thinking about the relation between life conditions and history writing. From this point of view, the class will be attentive to the tension between particular histories on the one hand and cultural regularities, memory and collective representations on the other hand.

Learning Outcomes: 

The goal of the lectures is to familiarize students with a selection of the most influential approaches to academic history writing, placing an emphasis on trends that are relevant in present-day research. The readings consist of source extracts from the works of major historians as well as secondary literature. Students will be encouraged to engage theoretically as well as in their own research with these approaches, and in some cases with the ways in which they are presented in the assigned literature. The class readings, lectures, and discussions will contribute to the participants' formation of a self-reflective historiographical consciousness on the basis of a well-informed understanding of History's achievements and failures in the past, but also an awareness of the enduring capacity of history-writing to engage with the social and cultural questions of the present.


While the presence at the lectures and the participation in the discussions at the end of each session will influence the assessment, the grade will mainly be based on two essays of at least 1,500 words that students will be required to write at mid-term and at the end of the term, respectively. These essays are supposed to be based on one of the session topics and on the relevant set of assigned readings. Students may draw on additional readings, but this is optional. The purpose of these papers is to give you an opportunity to pursue the intellectual dialogue mentioned above in a structured, systematic manner. In writing these essays, you are not only expected to summarize the text of the assigned readings, but to make clear that you have understood the main ideas and the internal logic of the argument.