HIS 400: Reading, Writing, and Using History


History can be helpful in making sense of the present, but it can also be dangerous. It is often misunderstood, distorted, or even entirely fabricated. The abuse of history is sometimes dramatic and violent. Some have created false histories to justify the exclusion and even extermination of others. Less obvious are the ways we use particular interpretations of history to explain and respond to events. In fact many people invoke “history” without fully understanding what that history is, let alone how easy it is to take from it almost any “lesson” one wants.This course looks at the development of written history, the idea of the “archive,” and the use of written history in the service of ideology, politics, and governance by nation states, empires, social reformers/activists, and corporations. We also look at how history is used to understand ourselves, our families, and societies within the context of the complicated, constantly changing world in which we live. By examining the often precarious nature of history, we can see how it has – and is – used or abused to shape collective memory, identity, and perspective. We will make extensive use of “case studies” to detail the usually contentious complexities of events, and demonstrate how various interpretations of history affect the contemporary world.

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