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Week one: Introduction

‘Writing History’ explores how knowledge of the past is constructed, and contested, in texts. It builds on the theoretical training provided by ‘History and Textuality’ by examining a sequence of four historical episodes, and considering some of the techniques that have been employed to represent them as cohesive and meaningful events in history, to widely varying intellectual and political ends.

This introductory session provides an overview of the key themes of the module, and of the first two units.

Suggested readings - either of:

  • Hayden White, 'The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality', Critical Inquiry 7 (1980, 22 pp.)
  • Paul Veyne, 'Prologue' and chs.1-2 in Writing History: Essay on Epistemology (1984, 29 pp.)

 

Seminar questions:

  • How useful is Michel-Rolph Trouillot's distinction between the two senses of history as 'what happened', and 'what is said to have happened'?
  • What makes an historical statement 'true'?
  • Is narrative a prerequisite for historical knowledge, or an impediment to it?
  • "History is a true novel." [Paul Veyne] Why does Veyne characterise history in this way, and do you agree with him?