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Approaches to History - 30 credits (HS1701)

Module Tutor: Kevin Passmore Passmore et al, Writing History

Course Description
The ability to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of existing accounts of the past is an essential precondition for making a research contribution of your own. Approaches to History therefore helps you to recognize some of the major conceptual approaches that historians have used – consciously or unconsciously – to understand the past. The course is organized chronologically. It begins with consideration of the political and diplomatic history written by the first professional historians from the late nineteenth century. It then considers the rise of social history in the course of the twentieth century, in its various forms (the Annales, Marxist and non-Marxist social science, women’s history, Subaltern Studies, for instance), The third part of the course examines the cultural turn in historical writings since the 1990s, including gender history, postcolonial and transnational studies. All parts of the course emphasis upon the ways in which theories have been used in actual historical writing, and for each topic examples are taken from all periods of history.

Dr Kevin Passmore is an expert on the history of France (1870-1945) and is one of the editors of Writing History: Theory and Practice (Hodder Arnold, 2010).

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year


Necessary for

Teaching methods
The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of each approach. They provide a a starting point for individual reading, seminar discussion and critical reviews. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.
Seminars allow students to develop and test their understanding of particular approaches, and to examine the ways in which they work in set examples of historical writing.  

Students will be assessed by

  • two 1000-word critical reviews (excluding empirical appendices and references) [25% each].
  • one 2-hour unseen written examination in which the student will answer two essay questions [50%]

Summary of course content
Introduction: Chronology
Introduction: Themes
Rankeanism and the professionalization of history
Political and national history
History from below
Women’s history
The Annales
Poststructuralism and history
Gender history
Psychohistory and postcolonial history
Structure and agency

Learning outcomes
Students will be able to:
Demonstrate familiarity with some of the most important approaches that have influenced historical writing.
Demonstrate how these approaches have evolved over time and in relation to wider economic, political, social and intellectual developments.
Identify strengths, weaknesses, problems and/or particularities of historical interpretations.
Evaluate the use of particular approaches in actual historical writing.
Show broad awareness of the manner in which historians have dealt, explicitly or implicitly, with questions relating to objectivity, structure and human agency, causation and change.

Skills that will be practised and developed
Students will learn to:
Formulate and justify their own arguments and conclusions about a range of issues in the context of seminar discussions.
Present their arguments clearly and concisely, in accordance with appropriate scholarly conventions, in three 1000 word Critical Reviews and three timed examination answers.
communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in writing
formulate and justify arguments and conclusions, and present supporting evidence
modify as well as to defend their own position.
think critically and challenge assumptions
use a range information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
Manage their time and organise their own study methods and workload.
work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.    

Suggested book purchases
Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner and Kevin Passmore (eds), Writing History: Theory and Practice Second Edition, (Bloomsbury 2010)
Anna Green and Kathleen Troup, The Houses of History (Manchester University Press 1999)

Suggested preparatory reading
Garthine Walker (ed.), Writing Early Modern History (Bloomsbury 2005)
John Tosh, Historians on History (Pearson 2000)
Laura Lee Downs, Writing Gender History (Bloomsbury 2004)
David Cannadine (ed.), What Is History Now? (Palgrave Macmillan 2002)
John H. Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press 2000)
George G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century (University Press of New England 1997)
Mary Fulbrook, Historical Theory (Routledge 2000)
Michael Bentley ed., Companion to Historiography (Routledge 1997)
Michael Bentley, Modern Historiography (Routledge 1999)
Alan Munslow, The Routledge companion to historical studies (Routledge 2000)
Marnie Hughes Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers on History (Routledge 2000)
Stefan Berger, Mark Donovan and Kevin Passmore (eds), Writing National Histories (Routledge 1999)