Core Course National Historiographies and Contested Heritage


Course Objective

This core course trains Research Master students and PhD candidates in
devising and executing a common research project. Based on theoretical
and historical texts, the project critically engages with libraries,
archives and cultural institutions that house and provide access to
relevant textual, material and/or visual collections. Elaborating on
Benedict Anderson’s famous interpretation of the nation as an ‘imagined
community’ (1991), this course will challenge students to think deeper
about the ways in which national historiographies are part of the
process of imagining, and instrumental in deciding who is ‘in’ and who
is ‘out’ in the communities that are being imagined, as well as to
critically engage with the connection between communities and
nation-states. The course focuses on tracing and re-interpreting primary
sources that have been canonised in national historiographies, while
inviting the participants to reflect on and discuss various theories and
methodologies related to notions of evidence, experience, authenticity,
voicing, representation and reception.
Participants work independently and align their approaches and results
with the common overarching theme of the role of historiography in
nation building. You will be trained to review and report on each
other's work in class and at the Graduate School. You will do so in both
oral and written form, and at a high academic level.

Course Content

In the edited volume Nationalizing the past, a number of historians
present their predecessors as 'nation builders in modern Europe'
(Berger/Lorenz 2010). Grand narratives on the nation’s past have been
instrumental in shaping modern political identities, and are produced
and recycled through fiction and non-fiction literature, the visual
arts, museums and exhibitions, the popular media, public debate, as well
as through academic funding mechanisms that set the priorities for
historical research. At the same time, such grand narratives are never
free of exclusions, distortions and the myopia produced by short-term
political interests. As a result, they have been challenged by the great
waves of historiographical renewal: through the ‘history from below’ of
the new social historians of the 1960s, the women’s history and gender
history of the 1970s and after, postcolonial theory and the cultural
turn of the 1980s, or the rise of global history and the spatial turn of
our digital age. Critics have pointed out that canonical national
historiographical frameworks have imagined the community in ways that
were at the same time too narrow – excluding or silencing the history of
women, people of color, or the lower classes – and too broad, seeing
national consensus where in fact there was conflict. On the other hand,
the alternative often rested on imagining alternative communities that
suffered from some of the same shortcomings.
The course will enhance students’ understanding of the making of – and
challenging of – national historiographies through a case study
approach. After an in-depth discussion of four concrete examples of the
ways in which national historiographies were constructed and challenged,
we will select case studies directly related to historiographical
notions crucial to students’ own research interests. The selection of
case studies will thereby partly depend on the research interests and
ongoing (RMA or PhD-thesis) work of the participants. This course
outline is a draft, open for revision during the first class sessions.

Teaching Methods

Weekly Seminar. The research project will relate to ongoing research by
Legêne, Brandon and others within the framework of the ‘Global History,
Heritage and Memory' program at the VU research institute CLUE+. The
participants will (1) read common theoretical literature and historical
monographs; (2) meet other researchers at international conferences or
seminars on heritage policies and national identity. In addition they
will discuss various approaches to the relevant sources and their
institutional contexts and (3) select one cultural production
(exhibition, biography, documentary, theatre play...) for an in-depth
analysis. Finally (4) each participant will work on an individual case
study, related and relevant to a common research question and their own
Research Master or PhD project. At a final Graduate Seminar, the
participants will present their research and conclusions to other
VU-students and -staff.

Method of Assessment

Pro-active and full participation during class sessions; individual and
group presentations in class; feedback on work by fellow participants:
Individual final paper: 40%.
Contribution to the organisation of, and individual presentation during,
the Graduate Seminar and/or Research School Seminar: 20%.
Contribution to a general article on the selected cultural production:
Each aspect has to be satisfactory for a pass. No compensation of
partial grades will be allowed.


To be announced

Target Audience

This core module is part of the broad Humanities Research Master
programme. PhD students (VU),
external PhD candidates and students from the relevant interuniversity
research schools are invited to participate as well.

Additional Information

This course alternates on a yearly basis with the other core course
‘Ecologies and Emotions’. The course will not be taught in 2020-21.

General Information

Course Code L_AAMPALG008
Credits 9 EC
Period P2+3
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. P. Brandon
Examiner dr. P. Brandon
Teaching Staff dr. P. Brandon
prof. dr. S. Legene

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar