Course Description

European History

HIEU 5062

Philosophy and Theory of History

Fall 2018

Instructor: Allan Megill

Instructor faculty page: site:

Questions? E-mail the instructor.

Office Hours: normally Mon-Wed 3:40-4:50 and by arrangement. Best to e-mail me in advance.


This class offers an introduction to the currently vibrant field of the philosophy and theory of history, while at the same time giving students the opportunity to write a seminar-type paper with some guidance and supervision from the instructor. The class enrolls qualified third- and fourth-year undergraduates, and graduate students.


In the past, the class has attracted students from English, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, East Asian studies, law, and other fields, as well as history. Visiting scholars (graduate students and faculty) from other countries have also attended the class, and their presence has added much to it. Undergraduates often use the class to write a paper that might become part of a senior thesis or serve as a writing sample for graduate school.


The paper shall be on a topic discovered by the student and approved after consultation with the instructor, and is to have some relevance to the understanding and representing of past realities or of remnants from the past in the present. However, the aim here is not theory for its own sake. Normally, the paper should derive from and be relevant to students’ own particular interests.


Some years ago, I published a book, Historical Knowledge, Historical Error (University of Chicago Press, 2007), dealing with various theoretical issues in history-writing, including such matters as memory, identity, abductive inference, and grand narrative. In my more recent work, I have moved on to other issues that are part of a book manuscript in progress. These issues include popular history, historical remnants, and the relation of history to aesthetics and ethics. Here is a video of a lecture that I gave in Finland in October 2017 that presents one part of these more recent concerns:


We shall read various books and quite a few articles. Possible book authors include C. Browning, Collingwood, Bevernage, Confino, N. Z. Davis, Kuukkanen, L. T. Ulrich, and H. White. The “final” book list and syllabus will be determined by sometime in June.


Course Requirements in Brief: 1. Do the assigned reading before class. 2. On occasion, write up a brief [500-word] mini-paper and/or write up a discussion summary (“Protokoll”) (I anticipate a six or seven such exercises from each student over the course of the semester). 3. Contribute to discussion, sometimes by “introducing” part of the week’s reading. 4. Write a 20–25 double-spaced pages seminar paper. There will be a very short assignment to be written and submitted prior to the first meeting of the class.

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Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
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