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EN126 History and Textuality

**This is a provisional syllabus and is subject to change.**



History & Textuality examines the intersection of History and Literary Studies. This core module introduces first-year students reading for the English & History degree to the fundamental ways that historians and literary historians organize their inquiries. In the course of the year, we will examine the major questions, skills, and methods that these disciplines share—and that mark them as distinct areas of historical knowledge.

The module is divided into five units. The first is equally divided between the Departments of English and History; the second and fourth are weighted towards English; and the third and fifth towards History. Accordingly, it is hoped that team-teaching will occur at various points within each of the units. Core texts for each unit will be supplemented by weekly critical and theoretical readings.

The first term is organized by two questions: What is history? And what is literary history? Readings will introduce students to the key components of historical research and writing. We will then consider literary history as both a mode of history and as a mode of critique that provides the study of history with valuable analytic and interpretive tools. In taking the French Revolution as a focus, “What is History?” builds upon EN123 Modern World Literatures and HI153 The Making of the Modern World, both of which consider this period in their early weeks. “What is Literary History” stays with this timeframe in its consideration of Romanticism. The core text for these weeks will be Frankenstein, a novel students read in week 5 if they are taking EN123. Given the difficulty of the readings and concepts the students will encounter, this level of interaction with the other core modules is designed to provide students with stability and the time for reflection.

Term 2 introduces two new questions, “What is Cultural Memory” and “Where is History Going?” These units will give students the opportunity to explore and problematize the historicity of texts and the textuality of history in more depth.

Term 3 will consider “The Angel of History.” This unit is meant to encourage students to reflect on the module as a whole and to prepare them to think critically about the choices and specialization that will come in the following two years of the degree. The module will be taught by one lecture and one seminar each week.

This module will be taught by one lecture and one seminar each week.



  • Week 1: Introduction to the module and its objectives

UNIT 1: What is History?
Core texts: Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

  • Week 2: ARCHIVES: Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives; Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History
  • Week 3: EVIDENCE: Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution; Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination; Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience”
  • Week 4: METHODS: Fernand Braudel, On History; Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past; Robert Darnton, "The City as Text"
  • Week 5: CHALLENGES: Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery; Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic

UNIT 2: What is Literary History?
Core text: Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)

  • Week 7: NARRATIVE and HISTORY: Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel; Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel; Marilyn Butler, “Frankenstein and Radical Science”
  • Week 8: HISTORICAL FORMALISMS: Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism; Ian Hacking, Historical Ontology; Jonathan Kramnick and Anahid Nersessian, “Form and Explanation”
  • Week 9: HISTORICAL MATERIALISMS: Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel; Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature; Fredric Jameson, “Marxism and Historicism”
  • Week 10: CRITIQUE: John Guillory, “Literary Study and the Modern System of the Disciplines”; Judith Butler, “What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue”; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading”


UNIT 3: What is Cultural Memory?

Core text: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

  • Week 11: INHERITANCE: Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition; Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History”; Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past
  • Week 12: MEMORIALIZATION: David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country; Erika Doss, Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America; Douglas Crimp, “The Spectacle of Mourning” and “Portraits of People with AIDS”
  • Week 13: MEDIATION: John Guillory, “Genesis of the Media Concept”; Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation
  • Week 14: TRAUMA: Dominick LaCapra, “Trauma, Absence, Loss”; Sara Suleiman, Crises of Memory and the Second World War; Ron Eyerman, Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity

UNIT 4: Where is History Going?
Core Text: W.G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn

  • Week 15: THE AFFECTIVE TURN: Michael Taussig, “Tactility and Distraction”; Giorgio Agamben, “Notes on Gesture”; Lauren Berlant, “Thinking about Feeling Historical”
  • Week 17: GLOBAL HISTORY: Jeremy Adelman, “What is Global History Now?”; Nandini Das, “Richard Hakluyt”; Martin Dusinberre, “Japan, Global History, and the Great Silence”
  • Week 18: THE NONHUMAN TURN: Michel Callon, “Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay”; Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”; Jennifer Roberts, Mirror-Travels


UNIT 5: The Angel of History
Core text: Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)

  • Week 20: Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past
  • Week 21: Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
  • Week 22: Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
  • Week 23: Module review