This is one of my favorite courses to teach, and it’s very hard for me to resist packing it with too much material. I’ll have to whittle this draft down a bit. The fundamental idea behind the course really comes from my graduate advisor, David William Cohen, who handed me an essay that he’d written called “The Production of History” in my first month of graduate school. It completely changed my entire understanding of what I was doing in becoming an academic: to some extent, this weblog is just an extension of the fundamental reorientation of purpose that the essay gifted to me.
One thing that fascinates me about this class is that it is always very hard for one faction of students in the class to make the transition to seeing history as “produced” in this sense, and as traversing scholarly and public domains. Their first response, and occasionally even at the end of the semester, their last response, is just to say, “Well, a lot of these people who care about history are wrong in their factual understanding of the things they care about”.
Request: Other historical novels I should add to the list? Films or television shows that are missing that have a really different visual or thematic take on their employment of history?
The Production of History
People make history, but they also talk, imagine, and fight over the past. This course examines how history and memory circulate through public life in modern societies, how and why the past matters to individuals, groups and institutions. Among the topics we will examine are controversies over museums and memorials, the relationship between scholarly historians and their publics, historical fiction and stories of time travel, collecting and memorabilia, debates over textbooks and school curricula, and practices of amateur history and re-enactment.
Students will complete several short written and oral assignments throughout the semester, including required entries on a course weblog, and one longer writing assignment at the end of the semester. A substantial amount of our reading involves online materials. The class is focused around discussion, so attendance, responsible preparation with readings and other materials, and participation are an important part of the final grade.
Books for purchase:
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past
Tony Horowitz, Confederates in the Attic
Art Spiegelman, Maus
Kyle Ward, History in the Making
Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull
Tuesday January 23
General Reflections on Memory, History and Archives
Thursday January 25
Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past, all
Tuesday January 30
David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, pp. 3-34
Carolyn Hamilton, Terrific Majesty, selection
Thursday February 1
Joanne Rappaport, The Politics of Memory, Chapter Seven
Gyanendra Pandey, â€œIn Defense of the Fragmentâ€, Representations, 37: 1992.
Tuesday February 6
Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory, pp. 3-27
Martin Duberman, â€œâ€™Writhing Bedfellowsâ€™ in Antebellum South Carolina: Historical Interpretation and the Politics of Evidenceâ€, Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past
Thursday February 8
Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land, pp.13-60
Timothy Garton Ash, The File, pp. 5-40
David Macaulay, Motel of the Mysteries
Historical Expertise Outside the Academy
Tuesday February 13
Johannes Fabian, Remembering the Present, pp. 24-50
Manthia Diawara, â€œSong of the Griot,â€ Transition, 74: 1997.
David William Cohen, â€œLa Fontaine and Wamimbi: The Anthropology of â€˜Time-Presentâ€™ as the Substructure of Historical Orationâ€, in Bender and Wellbery, eds., Chronotypes. Pp. 22-46 (focus on side-by-side comparison of La Fontaine and Wamimbi’s texts)
Thursday February 15
â€œThe Nasty Girlâ€ (film)
William Rubenstein, â€œAcademic vs. Amateur Historyâ€
Ron Rosenbaum, Travels With Dr. Death, chapter on Kennedy conspiracy theorists
Vermont History Expo
The Yellow Rose of Texas story
Tuesday February 20
Samuel Asbury, â€œThe Amateur Historianâ€
David Gaza, â€œMyth, Blood and Inkâ€
Bill Groneman, Defense of a Legend, short selection
The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of Jose Enrique de la Pena
Thursday February 22
Randy Roberts, A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory, Chapter Seven and Eight
â€œDavy Crockettâ€ (Disney version)
First short paper due
Tuesday February 27
Tony Horowitz, Confederates in the Attic
Thursday March 1st
La Wrenâ€™s Nest
Underground Railroad Re-enactments
Civil War re-enactor website
Tuesday March 6th
Eastmanâ€™s Online Genealogy Newsletter
Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites
Thursday March 8th
Memorialization: Collective, Personal, Institutional
Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, pp. 41-56
Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, pp. 46-51
Roy Rozenweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past, pp. 177-189
Tuesday March 20th
Claudia Koonz, â€œBetween Memory and Oblivion: Concentration Camps in German Memoryâ€, in John Gillis, ed., Commemorations
Art Spiegelman, Maus
United States Holocaust Museum
Thursday March 22nd
Norman Tyler, Historic Preservation: An Introduction, selection
Department of the Interior, The Preservation of Historic Architecture: The US Governmentâ€™s Official Guidelines for Preserving Historic Homes, selection
William Murtagh, Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America, selection
Friday March 23rd
FIELD TRIP to Philadelphia (Independence Hall, Society Hill, Betsy Ross Museum, Mutter Museum)
Tuesday March 27th
Kirk Savage, â€œThe Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation and the Civil War Monumentâ€, in John Gillis, ed., Commemorations
Sitting Bull Monument Foundation
Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield: â€œThe Story of the Indian Memorialâ€
Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Forums
Live Chat Transcript: â€œCusterâ€™s Last Standâ€, with Paul Hutton
Petition for Confederate Historical Monument
Confederate Heritage Month
Daughters of the Confederacy
Debating the Confederate Flag
Markeroni: Historical Markers and Historic Landmarks
Wisconsin Historical Markers
Thursday March 29th
Philip Nobile, ed., Judgment at the Smithsonian, pp.xviii-xciii
District Six Museum
Eric Gable and Richard Handler, The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg, pp. 50-101
Enid Schildkrout, â€œAmbiguous Messages and Ironic Twists: Into the Heart of Africa and The Other Museumâ€, Museum Anthropology, 15:2
Paul Lane, â€œBreaking the Mould? Exhibiting Khoisan in Southern African Museumsâ€, Anthropology Today, 5: October 1996.
Tuesday April 3rd
Textbooks and Curricula
Kyle Ward, History in the Making
Lindaman and Mayer, History Lessons
Tuesday April 5th
Joseph Moreau, Schoolbook Nation, pp. 52-136
Diane Ravitch, The Language Police, selection
Museum design paper due
Tuesday April 10th
Kathleen Woods Malsalski, â€œExamining the Japanese Textbook Controversiesâ€
John Lukacs, A Student’s Guide to the Study of History, selection
David Barton, â€œGod: Missing in Action From American Historyâ€
Postcolonial Zimbabwean textbooks: selection
Howard Zinn, A Peopleâ€™s History of the United States, short selection
Thursday April 12th
Public Policy on History and Memory
â€œLong Dayâ€™s Journey Into Nightâ€ (film, excerpts)
Truth and Reconciliation Commission website
Antje Krog, Country of My Skull
Tuesday April 17th
David Horowitz, Uncivil Wars, pp. 7-9, pp. 70-83
Elazar Barkan, The Guilt of Nations, Introduction
Janna Thompson, Taking Responsibility for the Past, Introduction
Randall Robinson, The Debt, pp. 199-234
Walter Williams, â€œThe Legacy of Slavery Hustleâ€
â€œBrown University Applauded For Examination of Ties to Slaveryâ€, Diverse Online
The US Senate Apology for Lynching
Thursday April 19th
Each student will be assigned one of these books. You are responsible for making an entry on the class weblog describing the way that the novel makes use of history, about the mode and form of its representation of the past.
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
George McDonald, Flashman
Patrick Oâ€™Brian, The Wine-Dark Sea
Amy Fetzer, The Irish Princess
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels
Eric Shanower, A Thousand Ships
Tracy Chevalier, Girl With Pearl Earring
James Clavell, Shogun
Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver
Elizabeth Lane, Apache Fire
Judith Lindberg, The Thrall’s Tale
Jack Cavanaugh, Quest For the Promised Land
Robert Graves, I, Claudius
Caleb Carr, The Alienist
Frank Miller, 300
Gillian Bradshaw, Beacon at Alexandria
Henryk Sienkievicz, With Fire and Sword
Kathryn Laskey, A Journey to the New World (Dear America series)
James Michener, Centennial
Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber
Gary Jennings, Aztec
More as needed.
Tuesday April 24th
We will have a showing of a program of short selections from these films and TV series in preparation for this class session.
â€œRedsâ€, â€œSpartacusâ€, â€œPattonâ€, “1776”, â€œRomeâ€, â€œCentennialâ€, â€œDeadwoodâ€, â€œMonty Python and the Holy Grailâ€, â€œO Brother Where Art Thou?â€, â€œBlack Adderâ€, â€œLittle House on the Prarieâ€, â€œLawrence of Arabiaâ€, â€œSchindlerâ€™s Listâ€, â€œBlack Robeâ€, â€œThe Lion in Winterâ€, “Gone With the Wind”, “Gladiator”
Thursday April 26th
Time Travel and Alternate History
The class will be divided into five groups; each group will be assigned one of these books, and will need to post on the class weblog about it.
Diana Galbadon, Outlander
Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
Harry Turtedove, Guns of the South
Steven Barnes, Lionâ€™s Blood
Robert Harris, Fatherland
â€œBill and Tedâ€™s Excellent Adventureâ€ (film)
Tuesday May 1st
Collectors and memorabilia
Racist Memorabilia collection at Ferris State University
Presidential Campaign Memorabilia at Duke University
Examine eBay under the following categories, and examine some of the items being sold:
Antiques–Weathervanes, Lightning Rods
Collectibles–Militaria–World War 2
Thursday May 3rd
Presentations and discussion of final projects.
Final project due May 14th, 5pm. No extensions.
Cool class, and much more ambitious than my version of it. I might think of some more suggestions, but for now
Grave of the Fireflies (college should be depressing)
Farewell my Concubine
Once Upon a Time in China II
Maybe some of Eiji Yoshikawaâ€™s stuff. Taiko lines up well with Shogun.
Once Upon a Time in China is a great idea.
tora, tora, tora (throw in pearl harbor for a good contrast)
the pianist or maybe das boot or stalingrad made by the same producers.
the green berets would also be great for a created history.
the things they carried
a day in the life of ivan desinovich or August 1914 (but that’s a messy novel)
albert speers memoirs could be of interest as well. looks like a fascinating class.
Green Berets! I used that the first time I taught this class, don’t know why I forgot it this time. Tora Tora Tora and Das Boot are a nice suggestions as well.
you’ve done blog entries on gaming—have you considered a discussion of games such as the ages of empire or call of duty series? these games offer a different sort of “history as entertainment” than hollywood.
I have used clips from Storycorps (http://www.storycorps.net/) in classes to talk about how people make and remember history. Clips from the original WPA oral history projects are also available online; I believe at the Smithsonian website.
Diana Gabaldon has a podcast–one podcast discussed the relationship between writing and historical research. That might be useful to the students assigned to read that book if they get into thinking about the writing process.
The last time I did the course, we played Sid Meier’s Gettysburg–I’m thinking of a session this time where we play Civilization IV and a few other games.
Storycorps sounds totally fascinating. I hadn’t known about the Gabaldon podcast either, that’s great.
Historical fiction: Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the River Drina
As for movies, Memento might make for an interesting discussion of how the past is produced.
For fiction, how about Heather Robertson’s Willieand Lily. As an immmigrant, I learned from them my 20th c. Candian history. Fun books, well written, & forgotton too soon.
Ambitious – a great course, fat for the stealing. Thanks.
One text I’m fond of is Stephen O’Shea’s Back to the Front. A moving reflection on the folly of both WWI and our practices of remembering it.
Possible historical novels:
Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year
Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
Flanagan’s Tenants of Time
McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter
More subtly (working with a smaller but definitively distant time frame):
Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Thackeray’s Vanity Fair
A time travel must: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Nice suggestions, all! I agree, Connecticut Yankee is a must. The question of novels that are working with “recently past” events is an interesting one–makes a good contrast to others, certainly.
Philip K. Dick, *The Man in the High Castle*.
Stephen Sondheim, *Pacific Overtures*.
By the way, please please tell me that you agree that the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica sucked.
Yeah, it was weak. Boring. Plus the show usually likes to explore all sides of an ambiguous event, so I don’t know why someone didn’t scream at Adama, “You didn’t start this war, you dumb asshole: you confirmed that the Admiralty’s suspicions that the Cylons were engaged in a military build-up were correct!”
Don’t forget the French!
Dumas, Three Musketeers
Anatole France, The Gods are Athirst
Stendhal, The Red and the Black
Hugo, Hunchback of Notre Dame
And Tolstoy, War and Peace
Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
A somewhat more obscure, but very worthy book is:
Josef Roth, The Radetzky March
L. Neil Smith’s Probability Broach. I believe there’s a graphic novel version of it in the works, at least. It was my first exposure to raw libertarianism.
Here are a few historical novels/historiographic novels you might include on your list. (I’ve recently completed a dissertation on the contemporary historical novel.):
Joanna Scott, *The Manikin* and *The Closest Possible Union*
Edward Jones, *The Known World*
W. G. Sebald, *Austerlitz*
Monique Truong, *The Book of Salt*
William T. Vollman, *Fathers and Crows*
Zora Neale Hurston, *Moses, Man of the Mountain*
Toni Morrison, *Paradise*
Bharati Mukherjee, *The Holder of the World*
V. S. Naipaul, *The Loss of El Dorado* and *A Way in the World*
Thomas Pynchon, *Vineland* and *Mason & Dixon*
Ishmael Reed , *Mumbo Jumbo* and *Flight to Canada*
Philip Roth, *So I Married a Communist* and *American Pastoral*
Peter Ackroyd, *Hawksmoor* and *Milton in America*
Willa Cather, *My Antonia* and *O Pioneers*
Don DeLillo, *Libra*
E. L. Doctorow, *Ragtime*, *The Waterworks*, *Billy Bathgate*, *The March*
Steve Erickson, *Arc d’x*
Alasdair Gray, *Poor Things*
Wilson Harris, *Palace of the Peacock* and *The Mask of the Beggar*
Stendal, *The Charterhouse of Parma*
Ankersmit’s recent work, *Sublime Historical Experience*, is quite interesting in relation to the historical novel. I also recommend the classic study of the contemporary historical novel, Linda Hutcheon’s *A Poetics of Postmodernism*.
This looks like an excellent course!
Why The Wine-Dark Sea?
Don’t get me wrong, the series is great, and O’Brian’s evident specialist knowledge (and back-story as a biographer, thus attuned to larger questions of research and history), but the book is the 15th in the series. Isn’t that rather a long way in?
Also, big kudos for the Sienkiewicz. Why each volume of his trilogy (in the modern Kuniczak translation, which is just heaps better than any other I’ve seen) isn’t broken into smaller books and given Robert Jordan-sized marketing is a mystery to me. It seems like fantasy publishers are leaving many millions of dollars uncollected.
More great suggestions. With The Three Musketeers I think I need to work that into the films–the great, great 1970s version, which I love. Tom Jones as well, I think.
Fantastic list of novels, Luther. Doctorow in particular is important; Ragtime I think I might try to work the film into the showing, as I very much like it.
I would agree that Wine Dark Sea is maybe not the most obvious of the O’Brian books. Maybe Surgeon’s Mate or Ionian Mission?
Also, Alan Furst should be in the list of novels. Dark Star, probably or maybe Night Soldiers.
Also, if you are going do suggest Shogun you might suggest some of Barry Hughart’s stuff like Bridge of Birds. Or just go right to the source and suggest Van Gulik’s Judge Dee books. Both more or less historical fiction, but also ahistorical in that they are working very hard to present the timeless culture of China.
I suppose I just really liked The Wine-Dark Sea for some reason out of the series. Surgeon’s Mate is a good choice as well. I like Bridge of Birds very much, so that’s a nice suggestion.
I don’t know Furst–I’ll look him up.
“My surname is Lu and my personal name is Yu, but I am not to be confused with the eminent author of The Classic of Tea. My family is quite undistinguished, and since I am the tenth of my father’s sons and rather strong, I am usually referred to as Number Ten Ox.” … “‘My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character,’ he said matter-of-factly.”
Yes! What a delightful book … apparently Hughart intended to write seven novels in the series but got jumped from publisher to publisher and couldn’t afford to continue. What might have been?
Anyway, I’ve just now gotten to The Wine-Dark Sea, which is part of why I asked.
This is fantastic! Many thanks. Take a look at Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt for the alternate history section.
Tim, this course looks good. Iâ€™m exploring some of these issues in a Open University / BBC Radio 4 series, â€˜The Things We Forgot to Rememberâ€™. Thereâ€™s also some extra material on the topic here:
Right now itâ€™s showing material from last yearâ€™s series, but it will be updated with more programme summaries and a short podcast series next week, when series two begins.
Jeremy Black has written a very good short survey of the uses of history, called Using History (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Looks like a very cool course.
You probably don’t need any more recommendations at this point, but:
Dorothy Dunnett, Niccolo Rising
Robin Hood — either the Errol Flynn version or the Kevin Costner one.
Alexander Nevsky — which if I recall correctly was intended in part as anti-German propaganda, suppressed when the Molotrov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed, and then promoted again after Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
And on the subject of historical films, “The Ahistoricism of Medieval Films, by Arthur Lindley, makes an interesting (if somewhat incomplete) argument about how (European and American) movies about medieval Europe treat the past differently than movies set in more modern times (say, 18th Century and more recently).
Fantastic course. Looks like everyone is trying to make your job harder, with great suggestions. Here are mine.
On historical novels, Maryse Conde’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem is short, teachable, and smart. Samuel Delany’s Atlantis: Model 1924 is a brilliant and beautiful look back at the Harlem Renaissance. Neil Gaiman’s 1602 is a historical graphic novel, or just plain old comic book. Guy Gavriel Kay has been writing historical fantasy for the last several years. Every one of August Wilson’s plays is historical drama.
I’ve posted lists of literary/historical re-visions of antebellum and early American literature for my students; feel free to send your students in those directions.
Gotta second the Years of Rice and Salt recommendation. Robinson’s novel is not just alternate history but about debates over the writing of history (along with many other things), plus its structure enacts one character’s claim about the best way to write history. But doubledubya is right to emphasize Dick’s The Man in the High Castle–shorter and more teachable.
On memorialization, contrasting the Smithsonian controversy in the US with the ways the atomic bombings are commemorated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki might work well. Pearl Harbor in reverse works well, too. As would having students compare Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese textbooks on “the Great East Asian War” with US/UK versions–or, the shorter version, having them research the international politics of the controversies over Japanese textbooks. BTW, China and Japan recently agreed to form a committee to try to find common ground on the history of WWII, with an eye to resolving such disputes. Perhaps a new theme on the politics of historiography? Could get into other topics such as historical propaganda films (like the Why We Fight series, for instance), too.
No Hayden White? No debates over truth in the writing of history? Did I just miss them on a fast read, or is the course steeped in that pomo/post-structuralist perspective (or is such a perspective passe or always already uninteresting)?
Dunnett is every bit as good as O’Brian. Plus she’s willing to kill off major characters in a way that O’Brian isn’t, so the dramatic tension is greater.
For some really tasty comparative goodness, try her take on Macbeth’s story, King Hereafter. It’s much more medieval and Scots-centric, illuminating relationships between the Orkneys and the Scottish mainland. Plus there’s Lady Godiva in a revealing role.
My cousin just suggested a movie called CSA: Confederate States of America. It’s a fake documentary about what would have happened if the Confederacy had won the war. The CSA subsumes the North, and the new alternate US is engaged in a Cold War against Canada (Abolitionists become a stand-in for Communists), we supported the Nazis in World War II, and there are news stories about slaves Fed-Exing themselves to freedom. Might be worth checking out.
I should post separately about The Years of Rice and Salt, since I also like it very much.
I’ve tried to shoehorn Hayden White and the debate about his work into this course before, and the problem I think is that it drags the entire course back towards being an “internal” debate about scholarly history.
The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories by Allessandro Portelli. The title article is a masterpiece of how people transform their memories of history to fit current events. Easier to access than Halbwachs. I used it quite successfully with Swat freshman back in the day. I paired it with Richard White’s Memories of Ahanagrah (sp?) which does a nice job exploring the tensions between memory and scholarship as White investigates his own family history.
Jeezus! I forgot about the Richard White, which is sitting right in front of me on my desk. The Portelli I don’t know: off to the library right away!
Has no one yet suggested _The Plot Against America_ for the Alternate History section of the course? Kind of an annoying book, I think, but one that does take an interesting stab at the what-if-this-one-event-had-happened-differently bit.
As for films, how about HBO’s recent _Elizabeth I_?
Also from the film world, what about _United 93_, either on its own terms or as compared to _World Trade Center_ ? (I couldn’t bring myself to see _WTC_, but I imagine it would offer a useful point of comparison.)
Going back to some of doubledubya’s (sorry, can’t resist repeating it) complaints about liberal bias in U.S. history departments, including a lack of sufficient patriotism, I wonder if something more general on history-writing and nationalism or the discipline of history and the nation is worth separating out. Abe’s education reforms in Japan aim at something like what ww is calling for here. A cross-cultural look at the uses of history for the nation might be interesting.
Also interesting might be a more explicit focus on arguments over what makes history writing different from anthropology. The history/prehistory distinction can be just as interesting to investigate as the history/fiction one.
Apologies for the late posting. I have always wanted to use Iain Pears “Instance of the Fingerpost” in a class on either oral history or personal narratives. It tells the same story from five different perspectives (a murder story which embroils several members of the early Royal Society of England). Each narrator is convinced they are right, yet each new perspective makes the previous narrator appear unsympathetic and unreliable.
The advantage: Everyone is telling the same story as they saw the events; each story is equally true. No single story is complete.
The disadvantage: It’s long! The small paperback version is ~750 pages.
(As for Alan Furst, my favorite is “The Polish Officer”)
And more apologies for another late posting, but I had to comment on what looks like a fantastic class and concur on a number of novels and stories.
On the 1930s, Alan Furst’s “Dark Star”, “Night Soldiers”, and “Polish Officer” are brilliant yet very different renditions of pre-war Central Europe. Many of Furst’s more recent novels suffer by comparison, but he is not to be missed. “Dark Star” also reads well against Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon”.
Among the historical novelists, Dorothy Dunnett’s two series (the 6-book “Lymond Chronicles” and the 8-book “House of Niccolo”) are both wonderful, but very hard to read in snippets. Anything by Iain Pears (partner of the historian Ruth Harris) is a fine choice. As a French historian myself, I am strongly partial to Marguerite Yourcenar’s “Memoirs of Hadrian”, easily available in translation.
Alternate worlds/SF: I am using Connie Willis’s novella “Fire Watch” (about time travelling historians during the Blitz) in an historical methods course, for a week entitled “What is the Historical Imagination”. David Brin’s “Thor Meets Captain America” is a minor classic of the genre, although it in some ways trivialises a very dire topic.
Looking forward to reading about the course wrapup in a few months.