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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2005

T C 357 • Inventing History: Truth, Lies, and Productive Fictions—W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
41140 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM

Course Description

Historians do not now, any more than they have in the past, completely agree on what it is that they do and how they ought to do it. The general public is even less certain. In this course we will examine some of the issues that make history-writing so controversial. These include questions about the point of history-writing: does it have a social task? Is it a moral undertaking? Does history serve the author, the readers, or the subjects? Is remembering, per se, preferable to forgetting? Does everything have a history, and does history include everyone? We will also look at the problem of the historian’s omniscience: what is evidence, what is a fact? What relations do these bear to social memory, to cultural reproduction, and to the creation of authoritative—or even of truthful—narratives? Finally, we will consider the problems associated with the historian as author: does well-written history reflect or transcend its times? Should historians aim to be objective? If assumptions are inevitable, what makes some better than others? How do historians control their own assumptions, not to mention for those of their readers? By reading and discussing major works by a variety of historians, students will formulate their own philosophies of history. This class is especially recommended for Plan II students undertaking theses that present a historical argument.

About the Professor Alison Frazier is a medievalist who specializes in the period from 1250-1550 and in intellectual and religious history. She holds a doctorate from Columbia University and is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Her book, Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. She is also studying changes in the image of Augustine of Hippo, charismatic and miracle-working women in the late Middle Ages, and Renaissance cultural exegesis of the creation story in Genesis 1-3.

Grading Policy

This course contains a substantial writing component. This course is a chronological survey of approaches to retelling the past, based primarily but not exclusively on European sources from the ancient period to our own. Class will be conducted in seminar format. and writing will be intensive: three 3-5 pages each (20% of final grade), one of these to be substantially revised and enlarged as a final paper of 7-10 pages (30%), peer review of papers (10%), and discussion and in-class work (40%). Final grades will be weighted to reflect participation in discussion.


Herodotus, Histories Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War Sallust, Catiline Conspiracy James of Varazzo, Golden Legend Voltaire, from the History of Customs Kant, Idea for a Universal History Smith, from Wealth of Nations Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History Marx, selections Nietzsche, Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life Braudel, The Mediterranean World Foucault, History of Sexuality A selection of historical novels and/or movies


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