This paper introduces students to ways of looking at the past that will probably be novel to them. The course explores both the strengths and the weaknesses of looking at the past from the perspective of other intellectual disciplines, with their varied methodologies and their different types of evidence (Anthropology; Archaeology; Art History; Economics and Sociology). The paper also offers a chance to examine the particular perspective on History offered by an awareness of the role of gender and gender difference, an approach that has been developed powerfully in recent decades. Classes and tutorials are supported by a comprehensive lecture-course which runs in the Michaelmas Term. Students are encouraged to attend lectures on all the different disciplines, since these include a number of overlapping themes and interests; in contrast tutorials normally concentrate on only two or three of the disciplines. The study of each Approach is organized around a series of broad sub-topics which are described more fully below and are supported by short bibliographies. However none of the reading is prescribed and a course-tutor could perfectly well approach each subject with a different set of examples, chosen from any period.
The paper is concerned with the ways in which the writing of history has been influenced by other disciplines, methods and techniques. Candidates will be required to show knowledge of at least two different ‘approaches’ out of the six set out below. The sub-headings give guidance to areas in which questions will be set:
This Approach introduces students to the work of cultural and social anthropologists, and to the way it has influenced the thinking of historians in recent decades. As with the other Approaches, the aim is to offer students new broader perspectives on the ways in which the past can be studied and to think more carefully about the concepts they use. The four broad subthemes and supporting bibliographies allow students to read some of the classic works of anthropology and thereby appreciate the diversity of ways in which anthropologists have approached the study of humans in the present. Students can consider the extent to which functionalism and field studies at a micro level have influenced historical work, or the possibilities for historians of the cultural anthropology exemplified by the work of Clifford Geertz. Students will also be encouraged to take note of the extent to which there is a two-way interaction between anthropology and history and to consider the implications of the intense self-criticism of anthropology as an agent of colonialism.
Family and kinship
This topic offers students the chance to analyse how anthropological work has sharpened historians’ understanding of the central role of family and kinship structures in societies and of the diversity of forms which these structures may take. As a central topic of much anthropological work it exemplifies the way anthropological approaches have been contested and have developed over the last half century – from the stress on scientific categorization in the mid-twentieth century to the more recent emphasis of Pierre Bourdieu on fluidity and improvisation.
Authority and Power
This topic introduces students to another central interest of anthropologists – to the way authority is constructed and maintained in small face-to-face societies and to the role of rituals in legitimizing power or authority. Areas of particular study might include the strengths and limitations of the functionalist approach to feuds and rebellions, or the way in which historians have learnt from anthropologists’ attempts to analyse how rituals work.
Religion, Magic and Popular Culture
This topic examines an area where the debt of many historians to the work of anthropologists has been extensive and has opened up a number of lively debates. The work of Evans-Pritchard or Clifford Geertz and its influence on historians such as Keith Thomas or Robert Darnton offers a classic example. At a general level the topic encourages students to examine why religion and magic make sense to their participants and to consider the limitations of concepts such as popular culture.
The construction of history
This topic explores the way anthropologists have looked at and thought about the past, be it myths, genealogies, oral histories, or the work of professional historians, as an attempt by participants within a society to explain who they are and to legitimize, contest or make sense of the world as it is. Students are encouraged to consider the applicability of such interpretations to historical testimonies and records from the past or indeed to the work of professional historians and anthropologists in the present.
The aim of this Approach is to introduce history students, very familiar with working with the evidence of words and texts, to a different type of evidence for the human past: mute material remains. The course underlines the very considerable strengths of material objects as evidence, but also their limitations, and how they are subject to varying interpretations. It also offers a chance to show how an archaeological approach has altered historians’ perceptions of the past. The course, while arranged thematically, introduces students to aspects of archaeological methodology (such as how to find and interpret traces of buried landscapes). It is not centred around theoretical debates within ‘Archaeology’ itself, though students may engage with these if they wish. The introductory explanations and attached bibliographies give some idea of how each theme might be studied though each can equally be approached with a different set of examples, chosen from any period. It is also possible to centre a topic on a specific site or group of material (e.g. for ‘Burials’ the Spitalfields crypt, or the Sutton Hoo barrows).
This topic will introduce students to many of the different types of surviving evidence for ancient and capes (crop-marks revealed through air photography; pottery-scatters through field-survey; modern topographical features; etc.). It will show how we can read in the landscape changing patterns of economic exploitation, settlement and ideology. Production and exchange This topic explores the evidence for the manufacture and exchange of goods examining both production sites and the distribution patterns of archaeologically identifiable products.
Burial: belief and social status
In this topic students are invited to consider the extent to which the dead, and what is buried with them, can provide evidence of belief and social differentiation.
The built environment: form and function
By looking at both whole townscapes and individual buildings, this topic encourages the student to explore the builders’ intentions and the way that people have used the built environment.
The goal of this Approach is to broaden the historian’s sensitivity to an infinite variety of visual evidence. In most history writing, disproportionate attention is paid to written sources: this course is designed to foster a more balanced approach. However, using visual evidence is far from simple. ‘Art’ in this context is very broadly defined, to include not merely the western canon of ‘high art’, but the entire gamut of material cultural production, and its consumption. The short bibliography can be supplemented with case-studies from different periods and places. Indeed, students should be encouraged to engage in detail with particular images – including any to be found in Oxford’s museums and galleries. While for brevity and convenience it is largely focused on western art traditions, this is not intended as any constraint on the scope of the course. The course is structured around four broad – and overlapping – themes.
Creation and consumption
The first theme relates to the social context of art: how, precisely, are the variety and changes in artistic production (styles of painting, forms of architecture, etc.) related to contemporary social developments? Consideration needs to be given not only to structures of patronage, but also to broader issues of markets and consumption.
Art and politics
The second theme includes, but extends beyond, the use of visual imagery as a form of propaganda. Images have been deployed for subversive, no less than authoritarian, purposes. Analysis often reveals a creative tension in the interpretation of an image, whose ‘true’ meaning is contested.
The power of images: ways of seeing
The third theme explores varieties of visual response. Intense emotional identification with a picture, or a violent desire to destroy a statue, are repeatedly documented phenomena. To study these responses in context is to shed new light on historical societies.
The idea of the history of art: displaying, writing and collecting
The last theme is the particularly western way in which ‘the history of art’ has been conceived. This notion has been profoundly influential (through collecting, the construction of museums, art writing and art history), and rewards study. The post-medieval European idea of ‘fine art’ is a highly particular category: to recognize it as such is to become more fully aware of the richness of a far more inclusive realm of visual culture beyond the ‘fine’ arts, both in European and non-European traditions.
The aim of this Approach is to introduce students to the ways in which economic models and statistical sources can be used to understand history. It encourages students to tackle the central issue of how economic development has changed the character and quality of human life and, to this end, to look at the ways in which political, social, and cultural institutions have determined long-run economic and demographic outcomes, and simultaneously been determined by them. The course takes a global perspective, with particular attention to the analysis of cross-country and cross-time differences in capital and labour market institutions and technological change, and the effects of those differences on economic and human development. In the course of these four lectures, students will be introduced to economic approaches to collecting and using quantitative historical data to identify causal links between historical factors and economic outcomes.
The Great Divergence, Living Standards and Institutions
How do economists measure economic activity and living standards? And how do economists think about institutions and their effect on the economy? The ‘Great Divergence’ between Western Europe and Asia provides a particular focus for thinking about these general questions.
How do economists think about how humans interact with the natural environment? The ‘Malthusian model’ of population and living standards is a central theory. The recurring problem of famine raises the issues of the relative importance of nature’s constraints (scarcity, climate shocks) and human agency and institutions (markets, policies).
How do economists approach slavery? What is the significance of slavery for the broader economy? How viable is a slave-based economy? Slavery in antiquity provides one possible focus, as do the importance of slavery to the British economy, and the North American experience more generally.
How do economists define money, understand the determinants of inflation, and evaluate its consequences? Historical financial crises (e.g. Europe’s Price Revolution, the South Sea Bubble, bank runs in Depression-era America or the German hyperinflation of 1923) provide a focus for questions around the rationality or otherwise of economic behaviour, collective and individual.
This Approach introduces students to the historiography of gender, women’s history and the history of sexualities and to explore the contributions these approaches have to other historical agendas. The contributions of women’s history are explored, underlining the importance of recovering the experiences of women in the past, the methodological challenges of doings so, and interrogating key concepts like patriarchy. The work of historians using gender as a category of historical analysis uncovers the degree to which masculinity and femininity are contested social categories, and the ways in which gender norms shape social, political, economic and cultural structures and processes, allowing students to look at the means by which gender and sex hierarchies are maintained and contested. Examining the history of sexuality and the body introduces students to work exploring the cultural, social and scientific categories of sexuality and gender as historically and geographically specific and malleable, and to studies highlighting the differences between laws, norms and experience.
Women, Gender, Sexuality and Work
This topic looks at the ways in which men and women’s work has been differentiated, at the relationship between the social and sexual division of labour, the ways gender and race have intersected in shaping labour regimes and the definitions of ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ work. Students are introduced to work examining the determinants and processes of change in male and female roles in the household and workplace.
Women, Gender, Sexuality and Politics
This topic examines the way the language and practice of politics, colonialism, nationalism and citizenship have been gendered. It introduces students to work contesting narrow understandings of political participation to uncover the way women have exercised political power both formally and informally, and challenged their political exclusion. The intersections of race and gender in the establishment and evolution of political structures are explored.
Women, Gender, Sexuality and the Body
This topic introduces students to scholarship exploring the history of sexuality, looking at the ways in which the sexual identities of men and women are culturally variable, and at changing understandings of the sexed body. Students are introduced to scholarship exploring the relationship between queer theory and history, and to work examining the intersections between norms and practice.
Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion
This topic explores the ways in which gender norms have been constructed and subverted by religious discourses. The variety of forms of religious expression available to men and women is discussed. The complex relationships between intellectual and religious change and the positions of women and men are assessed.
Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Empire
This topic explores in more detail the way that ideas about gender have shaped the political, social, economic and cultural structures of empire, and the ways that policing gender and reproduction have been important tools of empire and domination. It highlights the intersections of ideas about gender and race in imperialism and colonialism.
The aim of this Approach is to introduce students to the discipline of sociology, to explore ways in which sociological method has influenced historians, and to look at ways in which sociology and history over the years have diverged or converged. Students are introduced to the discipline of sociology as the study of man as a social animal, shaped by social institutions but at the same time able to construct or reconstruct them. How much scope different sociologists give to the individual and human agency is discussed. The course is organized around four broad themes.
The approach of sociology to sources, concepts, the comparative method and ‘grand theory’ is compared to that of historians, and examples from the hybrid of historical sociology are examined. The traffic is not all one way and the appeal to some sociologists of the narrative and biographical approach is also illustrated.
This topic introduces students to the sociological theories of social stratification, especially those of Marx on class and Weber on social status, and examines how they have set the agenda for much social history. It also explores how such concepts have lost some of their explanatory force and how historians have refined them in new and exciting ways.
Power and authority
This topic examines ways in which sociologists have conceptualized the state and political institutions and at how they have analysed political obedience in terms of power (coercion) and authority (the recognition of legitimacy). It explores different notions of power developed by theorists such as Foucault, and ideas of bureaucracy, social discipline, revolt and revolution. Ways in which historians have used or developed these ideas are discussed.
Sociology and religion
This topic examines ways in which religion has been treated by sociologists. It looks in particular at the concept of the secularization of modern society, both as a debate among sociologists of religion and as a research question for historians who have refined and challenged the theory in the light of empirical evidence.
This Approach enables students to look at both the historiography of histories of race and ethnicity and at the contribution this large body of scholarship has made to other historical agendas and methodologies. Work on the histories of race and racialised people are evaluated while each topic explores the potential of treating race as a category of analysis in historical work more broadly. This strand allows students to explore how knowledge about race has been historically produced, how racialised political, economic, and social structures have been historically sustained, and how racialised systems have been contested, resisted, and subverted. The methodological challenges faced by scholars writing histories of racialised, colonialised, and marginalised peoples are explored and the contribution of other disciplines – including gender studies, anthropology, and the history of science and medicine – are also assessed. Examples span classical antiquity to the twentieth century.
Race as a category of historical analysis
What do historians mean when they employ the term “race”? This topic assesses important discussions surrounding the use of race as an analytical category, including debates on the applicability of race to premodern periods. The topic also introduces scholarship on the relationship between race and other categories of historical analysis, including gender, class, and religion.
Race, labour, and law
This topic looks at the ways in which race and racial theories have arisen from – and in turn helped to sustain and legitimate – a variety of labour regimes and legal and penal systems in the past. Particular attention will be paid to scholarship on slavery in the Atlantic world but readings will be drawn from across different parts of the world and across time periods.
Racial theories in the past
This topic surveys the ways in which people and societies have conceptualised race and racial difference since classical antiquity, and the forms of classification and ordering that have ensued. This topic will ask how and why certain racial theories have been intellectually, politically, socially, and culturally influential in the past.
This topic introduces key strategies for uncovering and writing about the histories of people who have been silenced in traditional historical records. As well as evaluating influential methodological interventions, including the work of postcolonialism, this topic will draw attention to some of the newest and most innovative attempts to write histories of historically marginalised people.
This topic centres histories of resistance, antiracism, and racial solidarity movements. In so doing, this topic asks to what extent attention to race can produce histories that challenge our conventional chronological and geographic frameworks.