HIST 506 PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

 

Allan Megill, University of Virginia, Spring 2003

212 Randall Hall, Fridays 1:00-3:30 p.m. c:\50601\50603desyes

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION AND REQUIREMENTS

 

Note: For full information about this course, you need to have in your possession both this handout and the handout headed "Syllabus/Selected Bibliography." You should read this handout, and the first two pages of the other handout, carefully. You will also need the handout headed "Virtual Class Packet."

 

INSTRUCTOR CONTACT INFORMATION: Office Location: 221 Randall Hall.

 

Office Hours: usually M W 3:40-4:40, and by arrangement. You should not feel confined to my scheduled office hours. An efficient means of arranging appointment times is by e-mailing me, at megill@virginia.edu; it is best to e-mail me a day or two in advance. I can almost always arrange meetings at other times than the official hours. Note: On occasion I shall have to cancel office hours because of other obligations. It is a very good idea, therefore, to contact me ahead of time even if you plan to come during regularly scheduled hours. I cannot guarantee my presence at any particular scheduled office hour.

 

Telephone Numbers: Office: 924-6414 (voice-mail after several rings if there is no answer). Home: 971-8744 (answering machine after several rings). You should feel free to phone me at home: I prefer working there to working in Randall Hall. If we are otherwise occupied we generally don't answer the phone; but avoid 5 p.m.-9 p.m., and don't phone later than midnight (although, if you do, it doesn't matter, since the phone won't be heard anyway).

 

E-mail: megill@virginia.edu. Instructor home page: http://www.people.virginia.edu/~adm9e

 

Course home page: http:/toolkit.virginia.edu/HIST506

 

Course Subject and Rationale: The class aims to provide a reflective history of the core of Western historical thinking and writing, and also at the same time to provide some theoretical devices for understanding historiography generally. Thus it combines history and theory. The accompanying syllabus/bibliography will give you a fairly good idea of the coverage of the course. It is my contention that some knowledge of the history of historiography and of the rudiments of historical theory is essential if one is to understand and "do" history at the highest level. The risk in not having this knowledge is that one is more likely to fall into banality or error.

 

                The course is intended to be useful to students both in the discipline of history and outside it. To the former it offers an entré to the far from negligible field of historical theory. To the latter it offers a quick way of gaining some sense of how historians (as distinguished from literary scholars, political scientists, anthropologists, scholars in religious studies, and so on) think about the past and about the world in general. To both groups, it perhaps offers some new perspectives on some specific works or genres of history.

 

                Each time I teach this course I have in hand one or more writing projects related to it. You will note from the materials section of the toolkit that many items--some published, some unpublished--were written by me. This semester I am preoccupied with making progress on a book, “Historical Thinking,” that will bring together in some sort of comprehensible way some of the points I have made about “historical thinking” in previous work. I also have a shorter article project, on “Historical Coherence” or “Coherence in History,” underway, commissioned by a journal. My most recently published article was seen by students last year in a variant of this course, and an article that is in press also has some connection with the course.

 

                For some years I have been quite concerned with the ethics of history (however that might be understood): it is a concern that goes back half a decade and more. This has become a hot topic in some recent historiographical discussion, as you will learn from a few items on the toolkit, as well as from the Web site 111.hnn.us.. 

 

Course Requirements: Practically speaking, the most important requirement of this, and other, 500-level courses that I teach is the writing of a fairly substantial paper (of 20-25 page length). The topic of the paper needs in some way to be related to the theme of the course: that is, the paper will need to deal with issues of history-writing, or of historical thinking more generally, and it will also need to connect with some of the specific literature that we shall be dealing with in class.

 

                Undergraduate students are well advised to look for a paper topic that they already have some experience with, through other courses or through their own reading. History graduate students who take this class generally try to write a paper in which they apply what they learn in this class to their empirical research field. Mutatis mutandis, graduate students in other departments either do the same thing, or they introduce me to relevant literature in their field (on such issues as evidence, narrative, and the like). All paper topics are to be discussed in advance with me. You are expected to have given me, in writing, an overview of your proposed topic by the week of March 10-14, 2001 at the latest. Note that if you are graduating, there are severe time constraints in regard to the writing of the paper, and you should not leave things too late.

 

                In addition, you will also be expected to participate effectively in the collective work of the class. In particular, you will be asked, a few times a semester, to be the "reporter" for part of a class session, producing an account of the discussion that you will post on the class e-mail list by a day before the next class. You will also be expected, once or twice, to produce some sort of short written response, also to be posted on the class list, to the reading that we will be doing. So that I can keep this work in mind during final grading, please hold onto copies of this writing, and submit these copies when you submit the final paper. (If you aren't easily able to print off e-mail messages, let me know: I can usually supply a copy.)

 


Course Reading: The following books are required for the course. Note that they are all on reserve, except for one book that has just been published. I have ordered copies of all books at the University of Virginia Bookstore:

 

                Fritz Stern, ed., The Varieties of History from Voltaire to the Present, revised ed.

 

                R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, revised edited by Jan Van der Dussen

 

                Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History

 

                Brian Fay, Philip Pomper, and Richard T. Vann, eds., Contemporary History and Theory: The Linguistic Turn and Beyond

 

                Jörn Rüsen, ed., Western Historical Thinking

 

                In addition, there is a significant amount of reading in article or excerpt form, some uploaded onto the toolkit, some available via JSTOR or The History Cooperative. I shall be adding some of my own material-in-process as we move through the semester.