HST3000: The Uses of History

20 credits (semester 2)

Module Leader: Dr Casey Strine


A pass in at least two history modules at level two.

Unit Description:

Through lectures, seminars, and workshops, this unit will encourage you to critically engage with public history by exploring its theory and practice, communicating your scholarly work to new audiences, and reflecting on the possibilities and challenges of translating history between academic and non-academic settings. The module will also offer the opportunity to engage with a range of practitioners of public history such as filmmakers, activists, and heritage professionals.

History suffuses contemporary culture: whether informing political debate, shaping national identity, filling cinema seats, or drawing visitors to museums and castles, the past exerts a hold on our imagination that extends far beyond the boundaries of university lecture halls. In recent years, though, the borders between professional and public history – borders that have been well-policed for over a century – have begun to blur. Novel ways of producing and presenting historical knowledge – from community heritage projects to websites like Wikipedia – have prompted historians to rethink the way they present themselves and their work to the non-academic world.

Both students and staff at Sheffield have often taken the lead in trying to bridge the gap between scholarly research and a wider public: Professor Bob Shoemaker’s London Lives project, the History Matters blog, and the second-year Witness project each try in different ways to communicate history to non-specialists, and reflect on the significance of the past to contemporary society. Yet globally, public history raises important practical and political questions. The sorts of issues which we will explore in the module include:

  • In communicating historical research via formats like fiction, film, and museums what do we lose and gain?
  • Can our historical research inform contemporary debate, or to put it another way, how (if at all) do we learn from the past? And, indeed, should we?
  • How do the commercial and political imperatives of public history shape understanding of the past?
  • How do we go about translating scholarly research into formats suitable for a wider audience?

Information on assessment can be found at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3

Selected Reading

  •  Paul Ashton and Hilda Khan (eds), People and their Pasts: Public History Today (2009).
  • M. Bloch, The Historian's Craft (1992)
  • Jerome de Groot, Consuming History: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture (2009).
  • L. Jordanova, History in Practice (2000)
  • Roy Rosenzweig and David Helen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (1998).
  • Faye Sayer, Public History: A Practical Guide (2015)
  • J. Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 4th edn. (1999, 2006)

Intended Learning Outcomes
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