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Unit information: History of the Present in 2020/21

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Unit name History of the Present
Unit code AFAC10011
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
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 an introduction to a particular historical theme, and a sideways look at the practice of History. It examines how we can think about History not only as a narrative exercise, but also as a way of critiquing contemporary concepts and categories. 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 primary sources, the second part of the unit therefore also introduces students to the history of the chosen period and the methodological challenges of studying the past through different source types.

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

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of short lectures, structured source analysis, collaborative writing exercises, and interactive seminar discussion. There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities on which students will be expected to work independently, in pairs, and as seminar group participants. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. There will be opportunities for tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

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

One 2,000-word summative essay (50%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

Classen, Constance, The Museum of the Senses: Experiencing Art and Collections, (London: New York, 2017)

Kenny, Nicholas, The Feel of the City: Experiences of Urban Transformation, (Toronto: London, 2014)

Mack, Adam, Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrackers, (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, 2015)

Pink, Sarah, Doing Sensory Ethnography, (2nd edn, London, 2015)

Scott, Joan W., ‘History-Writing as Critique’, in Keith Jenkins, Sue Morgan, and Alun Munslow (eds), Manifestos for History, (London: New York, 2007), 19-38

Tilley, Heather, Blindness and Writing: From Wordsworth to Gissing (Cambridge, 2017)