Accueil > Narratives, Representations and Uses of the Past

AHIS 23A11 - Narratives, Representations and Uses of the Past

Type d'enseignement : Lecture and tutorials

Semester : Autumn 2018-2019

Number of hours : 48

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

Historians are part of the process of representing, writing and appropriating the past. Their approach is based on a quest for truth and objectivity, and on precise procedures to provide evidence. This endeavor coexists with the multiple social and political interpretations of the past, which have proliferated over the last forty years (referred to as the so-called “memory boom”). Due to memory claims, demands for reparations, ideological constructions and the “invention of tradition”, numerous and contradictory discourses have flourished and taken on various forms (literature, cinema, visual arts, commemorations, collections, etc.). As a shared object, the past is at the heart of political and social conflicts, notably through the major process of “competitive victimhood”. The very goal of this course is thus to understand the background, logic and forms of these various uses of the past, and to define the specificity of historical knowledge, its requirements and objectives, as well as its possible role in the current context of political nationalism, ideological negationism, religious fundamentalism and massive assaults against democracy.


DE VOOGD, Christophe (Enseignant-chercheur, Sciences Po)

Pedagogical format

Session 1 – Introduction: the omnipresent past Session 2 – Myths, heroes and legends Session 3 – The past of nations Session 4 – The recreated and demiurgic past of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes Session 5 – The scientific approach of the past Session 6 – Narratives of the past: literature, history, and the press Session 7 – Visualizing history Session 8 – The past as a heritag Session 9 – Judging, compensating, forgetting Session 10 – A time of commemorations Session 11 – History reenacted Session 12 – Conclusion: history between truth and falsehood

Course validation

The module is composed of both lectures and seminars (48 hours total). The final course grade is composed of a continuous assessment grade (2/3 of the final grade) and a final exam grade (1/3 of the final grade). The continuous assessment grade is based on performance in the seminars. It includes: a grade for a semester-long group project (3-5 students) based on a case study of narratives of the past (memory claims, historiographical controversy, social uses of the past, museography, etc.) (50%) a commentary of a corpus (5-6) of documents to be completed individually (40%) a participation grade (10%) The final exam (3 hours) will consist in a written commentary of documents related to the themes of the lecture. The exam will evaluate students' capacity to analyze various types of documents (texts written by historians, works of art, excerpts of novels, petitions, etc.), to distinguish between diverse modes of representing the past, and to mobilize the readings discussed in the lectures in order to reflect on the plural uses of the past in the public sphere.

Required reading

  • Luca Andrighetto, “The victim wars: how competitive victimhood stymies reconciliation between conflicting groups”, The Inquisitive Mind, issue 15, 2012.
  • Jack Goody, The Theft of History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006 (reed. Canto Classics, 2012).
  • François Hartog et Jacques Revel (dir.), Les Usages politiques du passé, Paris, « Enquêtes », Éditions de l'EHESS, 2001.
  • Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger (dir.), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Ivan Jablonka, L'Histoire est une littérature contemporaine. Manifeste pour les sciences sociales, Paris, « La Librairie du XXIe siècle », Paris, Le Seuil, 2014.

Additional required reading

  • Philippe Joutard, Histoire et mémoire, conflits et alliances, Paris, La Découverte, 2013.
  • Margaret MacMillan, The Uses and Abuses of History, London, Profile Books, 2009.
  • John Torpey (ed.), Politics and the Past. On Repairing Historical Injustices, Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Senior lecturers

  • CALAGUE, Antoine (Enseignant)