Introductory Seminar in Post-1700 European History

History Narration Argument

This seminar is intended for first- and second-year students who have some interest in history. I welcome both prospective majors and people who may never take another history class. The course focuses on how we think about history. It will introduce you to an interesting set of books, and some articles that will help you explore this subject.


The course will focus on two aspects of how we try to grasp history. One aspect is its cognitive aspect—history’s production of true knowledge about the past. The other is its production of “feeling” or “sensibility” concerning the past. In recent decades, this latter aspect of history has become newly visible in the attempts of historians and others to deal with traumatic events or situations in the past. This aspect has also become visible in the growing interest, since the late 1970s, in “historical memory.” Earlier, concern with sensibility emerged in the work of some historians of art and culture.


As of October 18, 2017, the book list is not yet definitive. So far, the books include: Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (ISBN 0674766911); Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (multiple editions); possibly Alon Confino, Foundational Pasts: The Holocaust in Historical Understanding (ISBN 0521736323); Berber Bevernage, History, Memory, and State-Sponsored Violence: Time and Justice(ISBN 041582298X);F. Ivietzsche, Use and Disadvantage of History for Life(edition to be determined) and Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (any edition of 1970 or after).


The books by Davis, Arendt, and Kuhn are classics in their genres. Davis's book ought to be known to every history major, and Arendt's and Kuhn's books to every educated person.


I shall add one or two other books (possibilities include books by Friedrich Nietzsche, Carlo Ginzburg, John Pickstone, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hayden White, and W. G. Sebald). The addition of more than two of these books would force the omission of Confino from the above list, but you can attend Confino's classes and not Pickstone's, Nietzsche's, White's, Ginzburg's,  or Sebald's.


The definitive textbook list will await my rethinking, between now and June 21, of the 2017 version of this course.


All “textbooks” will be in Clemons Reserve. Parts of some of them will be available in COLLAB Resources. Most are available used, online, cheaply. We shall also read some articles, and you will need to print them out for attentive reading (not possible on-screen).


Class Procedure, Requirements, Evaluation:


The course combines reading, writing, and discussion. There is no final exam. Almost every week there will be a reading assignment for you to grapple with. Most weeks, you will produce a very short“response paper” dealing with some aspect of the reading (a mini-paper), to be submitted electronically before the class meeting (and most likely to be revised later). You must complete and submit these mini-essays at the required times—this is a participatory class, and participation includes submitting your work and getting feedback and correction in the following week.


Over the course of the semester you will produce a portfolio of writing (which normally allows this course to count as satisfying the Second Writing Requirement). The basis of the portfolio will be your mini-papers, but you will also produce two slightly longer “think papers” (which may in part be built on the basis of a mini-paper). I shall provide intensive editing of and feedback on your writing. The course thus provides an introduction to the norms of literate writing, with an emphasis on the norms governing good academic writing.


Periodically I shall update the information for this course on my site:

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
Department Contacts