Please note that this module was available
from 2007 to 2010, but has since been
withdrawn and is no longer available.
Tutor: Professor Carolyn Steedman
What is a novel? And why did the novel rise to pre-eminence when it did, in Western societies? Is it a literary form unique to Western modernity, or have novel emerged in other times and places, out of quite different cultural traditions? On the one hand, a novel is just another text (or document) to historians: they ask the same kind of question of novels as they do of state papers, baptism records, a shopping list from 1785; or an epic poem, a 1930s detective story, or a Bollywood film from 2002. Historians ask: who produced this text or document? In what social circumstances did this Treasury minute, list of applicants for poor relief, or penny dreadful from 1860, emerge? Who were its readers (did anyone read it, at the time it was produced?), and what personal or political uses did they make of their reading?
But if novels are 'just another text’ for historians, their status is complicated by the large-scale historical theses (from the emergence of nationalism to the development of individualism, that have been articulated around the idea of the novel and its emergence.
'History and the Novel', an undergraduate first-year and second-year option module, examines novels as historical documents at the same time as it explores historical arguments about 'the rise of the novel’. It asks questions about the historian’s relationship with documents or artefacts like novels. Does your own experience of reading in general, and of reading novels in particular offer any insight into the experience of readers in the past? '
The module aims to answer these questions by treating novels as a social and cultural artefacts, produced and consumed in particular historical circumstances. It will introduce you to ways of using novels as sources of historical evidence, and the use of literary and textual analysis for the purposes of historical research. It is designed to complement the first-year History core module (The Making of the Modern World, 1750-2000), as well as adding to existing History option modules, through discussion of the dominant literary form of modernity. It should add to your repertoire for research, thinking, and writing across all the modules you take.
Andre Kertesz, L'intime plaisir de lire. Photograph from Kertsz's book On Reading (1971).
An exhibition of his work entitled L'Intime Plaisir de Lire was held in Paris in May 2004.