Hist 338: History & Theory Example Syllabus from 2019

HIST 338: History and Theory

Spring 2019

DG Shaw


Office hours: Wednesdays 4:30-6

Public Affairs Center 205


Course Description


This seminar will explore the contemporary theory and philosophy of history. Each class will divide into two sessions and we will normally read one (or two) articles or chapters per session in order to give them close attention. Intensive engagement with the class is important. Even though the readings are normally short compared to most history seminars, the abstract character of the work and the need to develop skills of logical reading and critique mean that the course will indeed be rigorous.


The course will attempt to give some background for recent discussions of the theory and philosophy of history in part one, where some influential and thought provoking works from the 1850s-1950s will be discussed. Feb. 26 will be a transition week when debates about history as science spawned the discussions that have followed in the last fifty and sixty years. Part Two will move among issues focused on language, narrative and interpretation and the decline of objectivity. Part Three will discuss some quite contemporary themes that have emerged especially after the decline of the ‘linguistic turn’. Here we discuss new concerns with the real presence of the past, experience, agency, the problems of perspective and periodization. Note that since all readings are available through Moodle, we might decide to adjust specific readings and topics as we go, affected in part by discussions that we have in the course along the way.



Part One: From the Philosophy of History to Theories of History

  1. January 29 (short)      Introduction: History, Theory, Historiography, Philosophy
    1. Theory and Philosophy of History
    2. Elements towards a Philosophy of History
  2. February 5: Philosophical Historians
    1. J. G. Droysen, “History and the Historical Method”, 119-31
    2. R G Collingwood, “Historical Evidence,” 249-82  consider adapting and replceing with section on human nature and human history earlier in the Idea of History

4:30 February 7: Bonus: Wesleyan Seminar on the Theory & Practice of History, Professor Anna Krylova, Duke University, “The Human Actor, Agency, and Historical Analysis.”

  1. February 12
    1. 4:30 LECTURE  February 12: Marnie Hughes-Warrington “‘Big and Little Histories: Sizing Up Ethics in Historiography”
    2. February 12 class meets from 6-7:30 Collingwood, “History as Re-enactment of Past Experience,” 282-302.
  2. February 19: The Normal and the Radical
    1. Marc Bloch, “History, Men, and Time,” The Craft of the Historian, 20-47
    2. Radicals:
  1. Walter Benjamin, “Ten Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 253-64;
  2. CLR James, “Marxism,” 17pp.
  1. February 26:    Science or Narrative? ‘Covering Laws’ and Historical Understanding
    1. Carl G. Hempel, “The Function of General Laws in History,” 35-48
    2. William Dray, “Explanatory Narrative in History”, 15-27
    3. Louis Mink, “The Autonomy of Historical Understanding,” 24-47


Part Two: Linguistic Turns: 

  1. March 5:          Narrative, Interpretation, Fiction
    1. Hayden White, “Interpretation in History,” 281-314.
    2. White “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” 5-27.
    3. White, “Historical Emplotment and the Problem of Truth in Historical Representation,” 27-42.
  2. March 26: Reality after Language
    1. Nancy Partner, “Hayden White (and the Content and the Form and Everyone Else) at the AHA,” 8pp.
    2. Partner, “Reality Fictions in an Age of Historicity,” 21-39
    3. Gabrielle Spiegel, “The Middle Way?”, 15pp.

March 28, Seminar: Andrea Frisch, “The Inhumanity of Universal History: Agrippa d’Aubigné and the Question of Historiographical Neutrality”, 4:30 Boger Hall

  1. April 2: Truth and Interpretation
    1. Quentin Skinner, “Interpretation, Rationality, Truth,” 27-56
    2. Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power,” 51-75


Part Three: Some Recent Themes–Experience, Time, Agency, Things

  1. April 9:
    1. Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” 773-97
    2. Monique Scheer, “Are Emotions a Kind of Practice?” 193-220
  1. April 16: Reinhart Koselleck
    1. Koselleck, “’Space of Experience’ and ‘Horizon of Expectation’: Two Historical Categories,” 22pp
    2. Koselleck, “The Eighteenth Century as the Beginning of Modernity,” 18pp
  2. April 23: Periodization and Temporality
    1. Constantin Fasolt, “The Limits of History, in Brief”, 7 columned pages
    2. Eelco Runia, “Spots of Time,” 305-16
    3. Berber Bevernage, “The Past is Evil/Evil is Past,” 333-52
  3. April 30: Provincializing Europe, Decolonising History?
    1. Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of history: who speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” 1-26
    2. William Gallois, “History Goes Walkabout,” 167-96
  4. May 7: Agency, Animals & Things:
    1. Bruno Latour, “On the Partial Existence of Existing and Non-Existing Objects,” 247-69
    2. Ewa Domanska, “The Material Presence of the Past,” 337-48
    3. DG Shaw, “The Torturer’s Horse”, 146-67
  1. Anna Krylova, “The Human Actor, Agency, and Historical Analysis”, read previously for Wesleyan Seminar on the Theory and Practice of History.



All readings will be made available through the course’s Moodle.

*Students need, however, to have a copy to hand during class and should try to bring a hard copy of the texts with them.


Course Enhancements & Scheduling Anomalies: With your agreement, the class components on February 7 and 12 will take place at 4:30. Class on February 12th will consist of a lecture by Marnie Hughes Warrington, followed by scheduled discussion till 7:30. On Feb. 7 students should attend the Seminar for the Theory and Practice of History from 4:30-6:00 in Boger Hall 110 for a seminar led by Professor Anna Krylova. We shall discuss the paper additionally at the end of the semester. The first class meeting will be a half class to balance this.

Students are also invited to read the paper and attend the seminar by Andrea Frisch on March 28th at 4:30.

If you know you’re going to have to miss a class, tell me. If you’re having trouble of any sort that might affect your work, tell me. If you’re having trouble getting it, tell me. I love to talk to you outside of class.


Requirements and Grading

  1. Class Participation, Moodle posts, Office hours, and Attendance: 30%

The core of the course is intense and careful reading and discussion of the articles. Class participation includes attendance, discussion, and required Moodle posts. To prepare for the seminar, students will need to post by 1 PM Tuesday a question and a qualm, that is, a doubt to Moodle. In the post, you should indicate at least one precise place in the text that interested or troubled you. You should also be prepared to explain your interest, doubt or criticism to the class during seminar discussion. Two different readings should be referenced, so a qualm about one, a question about the other.

  1. Paper One: 30%

The first paper of about 2000 words will be due on March 8. This paper will explore the challenges of ethics, politics, and the historical work and theory. Some additional readings will provide a basis for reflection, along with the Hughes-Warrington lecture.  Further details will be provided in February.

  1. Final Paper: 40%

The second paper is your major work for the semester. A topic paragraph will need to be submitted on April 7th. The paper, which should be should between 3000 and 5000 words, can be on any relevant topic but must again be approved and developed in discussion with the professor. This paper will be due as late as is allowed by the rules and practicalities–this varies depending on class year, etc.–but will be no earlier than the end of the exam period.