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Unit information: History of the Present in 2018/19

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Unit name History of the Present
Unit code AFAC20006
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Koole
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit provides both an introduction to a particular historical theme, and a sideways look at the practice of studying the past. It examines how we can think about history not only as a narrative exercise, but also as a tool for critiquing ways of thinking and being in the present. History of the Present shows how the categories we think with, and even what we feel, are neither ‘natural’ nor pre-given but have histories. This unit therefore introduces not only a present-oriented history but, by showing the possibility of change for things normally taken for granted, also one which is future-oriented.

The unit is divided into two parts. The first part introduces a historical theme and the ways historians have drawn on other disciplines, such as literary criticism or human geography, to understand that theme. Possible themes include ‘selfhood’, ‘objectivity’, ‘perception’, ‘invention’, and ‘modernity’. The second part focuses on the history of that theme in different areas of life within the period specialism of the unit director. Focused around a study of key primary sources, the second part of the unit therefore also introduces students to the history of the chosen period and the methodological difficulties of studying the past through different source types.


  • To introduce students to a given historical theme and period.
  • To introduce students to different disciplinary approaches to the study of the past.
  • To introduce students to a range of historical source types and methods of analysis.
  • To develop students’ critical reflexivity regarding the uses of the past and the thought categories of the present.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Identify key historical trends of the unit theme.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the multiple disciplines historians draw upon to understand that theme.
  3. Critically analyse a variety of primary source types and explain the challenges associated with this analysis.
  4. Critically assess the uses of the past.
  5. Demonstrate a capacity for future thinking and intellectual risk through study of the past.
  6. Communicate with a specific, non-academic audience.

Teaching details

Two one-hour lectures and one one-hour seminar weekly.

Assessment Details

One 1,500-word blog post, written in pairs (50%) [ILOs 1-6]

One 2,500-word summative essay (50%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

Arnold, John, History: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford, 2000)

Dobson, Miriam, and Ziemann, Benjamin, Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History, (London, 2008)

Foucault, Michel, The Politics of Truth, Sylvere Lotringer (ed.), Lysa Hochroth and Catherine Porter (trans.), (Los Angeles, 2007)

Morgan, Sue, Jenkins, Keith, and Munslow, Alan, (eds), Manifestos for History, (London, 2007)

Steedman, Carolyn, Poetry for Historians: Or, W. H. Auden and History, (Manchester, 2018)