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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Anthropology

Postgraduate Course: The Invention of History (SCAN11008)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course is about how we may understand our relationship with the past. Engaging with a growing body of anthropological work, and research done in related disciplines, which has emphasised the collective nature of memory, and the social construction of the past, it looks at how the past is understood, experienced, remembered and represented in different ethnographic contexts in the present. Memory, history, and 'oral traditions' will be examined as different but related means of understanding, representing and politicising the past, alongside other, less discursive means of relating to the past, such as through performance, objects, bodies and landscape.

Engaging with more recent arguments that have emphasised the limits to the 'invention' of history, the course will consider how the study of 'the past' inevitably involves not only notions of time and temporality, but also of landscape, space and place, and artefacts, bodies, practice, things and materiality. The politics of the past is in no way limited to how we understand or represent it; it is also finely related to questions of what to do with its materiality - in the form of archaeological remains, ruins and heritage sites, objects and artefacts, bodies and bones, monuments and memorials.

With reference to a variety of empirical examples and broader theoretical trends, lectures will explore the politics of the past through the following topics: Time and denial of co-evalness; nationalism and identity; memory and forgetting; commemoration and memorials; heritage and museums; landscape and place; ruins, ruination and affect; artefacts and bones; and kinship, performance and ritual.
Course description Outline Content:

1. Inventing histories
In the first lecture we will tackle the proposition that is suggested in the title for this course: that history, our stories of the past, are 'invented' and that this processes of invention is bound-up with the politics of identity and, in particular, is indivisible from modern articulations of national (or sub-state national) identities.

2. The past in the present
In this lecture we will consider the anthropology of time and the problem of the relationship between the past and the present. Focussing on key debate within Anthropology (1996), we will explore the seeming contradiction inherent in the notion of the 'invention of history' that the past is theoretically constituted as being at once determining yet determined.

3. Collective memory
Following on from the previous lecture, we will discuss the problem of the presence of the past with particular reference to 'memory' and especially collective, or social, memory. We will find a pathway through the vast literature on collective memory, which shares an emphasis on the ways that our memories of past events are socially constituted in the present.

4. Landscapes and ruins
This lecture focuses on the temporality of landscape and the ways in which the past inhabits, or is said to inhabit, the material fabric of the world around us. We will particularly focus on ruins.

5. Ghosts and the return of the repressed
A with ruins, ghosts and 'the spectral' are enjoying something of theoretical vogue. This lecture will discuss some of the reasons for this popular and academic interest in ghosts. Building on the previous lectures, we will consider the proposition that ghosts are an affective experience of the unbidden return of a past, often, traumatic and violent, that has been repressed, or 'forgotten', within normative narrations of a shared history.

6. Exhuming bodies and bones
This lecture will consider the exhumation of bodies and bones and the ways in which the process of exhumation is enfolded into contemporary politics of memory and forgetting, particularly in situations where people are living with the legacy of traumatic, often state-sponsored, violence.

7. Museums, Anthropology, Empires
This lecture will consider the historical and contemporary practice of material culture within both the museum and the discipline of anthropology. The contemporary museum, particularly national museums, emerged from the activities and conquests of the European colonial empires. We will discuss how this legacy is or should be represented within the contemporary space of the museum and how anthropology should engage with these issues, particularly in relation to institutional and individual collections of objects.

8. Intangible Cultural Heritage
The tensions and debates around the collection of material objects have contributed to attempts to differentiate between Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage ¿ the latter term coined to refer to less durable objects, as well as narratives, embodied skills, and cultural expressions associated with specific times and places. Valuing the intangible places emphasis on the transmission and protection (rather than merely conservation) of cultural knowledge and ways of life. But this processual approach is complicated by the fact that some cultural expressions ¿ in this lecture, music in particular ¿ blur the boundaries between the tangible and intangible. The lecture will focus on complexities and contestations surrounding Intangible Cultural Heritage, as nation-states compete to have cultural expressions recognised as unique, valuable and worthy of protection.

9. Visiting the past
Nowadays, in the words we want to be affected by the past. Indeed, we will go to great lengths and are willing to spend huge amounts of money to have ourselves affected by the past. This lecture is about the lengths we will go and the money we will spend to experience the past. We discuss heritage tourism, the commodification of history and the possibility of visiting the past.

10. Dark tourism and cosmopolitan memory
To conclude the course, and following on from the discussion of heritage tourism, the final lecture will explore the phenomena of 'dark tourism' in order to discuss the future of the study of the invention of history and collective memory in the context of globalisation and cosmopolitanism.

Student Learning Experience:

This is hands on and intensive course in which students will learn through a mixture of lectures, 'homework' exercises and in-class discussions. There will be a weekly two hour lecture, and this will be supported by a one hour small group seminar for postgraduate students that will take place every second week.

Beyond the classroom learning experience the course organiser warmly encourages one to one discussions about issues relating to the course content and the students own academic interests.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  15
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 196 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The final assessment will consist of a short essay of 1500 words to be submitted in week 6 (30%) and a long essay of 3000 words to be submitted after the conclusion of the course but before the commencement of spring examination period (70%).

The short essay will invite students to consider the theoretical issues raised by the first five weeks of the course in reference to small bits of 'fieldwork' that the students are invited to undertake in conjunction with the lectures in weeks 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Feedback Written feedback will be provided for both the formative (short essay) and summative assessed components of this course. This feedback will be supplemented by an invitation to discuss areas of improvement with the course organiser in a 1-2-1 meeting.

Additionally, students will be encouraged to think towards designing their own essay titles for the summative assessment (long essay); this will be done in consultation with the course organiser.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show an understanding of how the past is imagined, constructed and contested through the processes of history, memory and commemoration
  2. show recognition of the role that ideas and knowledge of the past play in the complex politics of identity and state-making, in colonial, postcolonial and nationalist contexts
  3. show an understanding of how place & space, landscape, objects, bodies and things (in discursive and material ways), can enable and limit the imagination of the past
  4. show an appreciation of the ways in which notions of the past inform, enable, and limit the means through which landscape, objects and heritage are understood, engaged with, and managed
  5. the way in which struggles over place and the past are both inscribed in and produce or constitute space/place, landscape, ritual and artefacts.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr John Harries
Tel: (0131 6)50 4051
Course secretaryMr Adam Petras
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