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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Based on a True Story: Representing the Past in Museums and on Screen (HIST10518)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis module introduces students to the field of public history and, more specifically, to museum exhibitions and historical film/television. We will discuss issues and debates about how the past is represented to the public in museums and on screen and the role of the professional historian in these representations. Students will draw on these learnings in the module's final assessment by pitching and defending an idea for a new museum exhibition or historical film/TV series of their own devising.
Course description Public history, broadly defined, refers to representations of -- and engagement with -- the past that occur beyond the walls of academic history departments. In this expanded historical field, academic historians are only one of many stakeholders in the past, sharing their authority with heritage professionals, writers, artists, actors, directors, and members of the public. On this module, we explore what is at stake when the past is represented in public in museums and in historical film or television. We consider the challenges faced by museum professionals and filmmakers when representing the past to different audiences, and how technological advances might change the way we engage with the past. We enter into debates about the balance between historical accuracy and entertainment and how public history can both sustain and challenge dominant historical narratives. We analyse how public audiences engage with historical representations and the role of identities and emotions in this process. And we explore how academic historians are involved in public history representations as advisers, curators, critics, and audiences.

This module has a significant practical and experiential dimension. As with any other module, we will be engaging conceptually with the historiographical literature on public history in our seminar discussions and assessment writings. But we will simultaneously pursue more hands-on experience with public history during independent learning time by visiting museum exhibitions locally and/or virtually and by watching historical films and TV series. This ethos is reflected in the module's final assessment, a written task that tests students' ability to both work theoretically with concepts/methods from public history research and to think practically and creatively about how to represent a particular past to a particular audience by pitching an idea for a museum exhibition or a historical film/TV series. The module may appeal particularly to students who are considering careers in heritage, media, local government, or the third sector; and to students attracted by assessment methods that differ from the standard academic essay. CONTENT NOTE: In some weeks, this module deals with difficult material relating to genocide, colonialism, and discrimination, inter alia.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level historical courses or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level historical courses or equivalent.

Students should only be enrolled on this course with approval from the History Honours Programme Administrator.
Additional Costs No additional costs will be incurred by students for compulsory museum visits that form the core components of the course. Some of the recommended museum visits may involve additional costs, but these are optional and the module/assessment can be undertaken without incurring these additional costs.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
1000-word exhibition/film review (20%)
4000-word public history pitch essay (80%)
Feedback Students will receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours for this course or by appointment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Identify and explicate core debates and concepts within the field of public history.
  2. Critically engage with uses (and abuses) of the past in museum exhibitions and historical film.
  3. Analyse the use of narrative, objects, images, sounds, and space in the design of museum exhibitions and historical film/TV screenplays.
  4. Speak knowledgeably about how, why, when, and how much historical accuracy matters when evaluating history presented to public audiences.
  5. Creatively write history for non-academic audiences.
Reading List
Adair, Bill, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski. Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. Left Coast Press, 2011.

Black, Jeremy. Contesting History: Narratives of Public History. A&C Black, 2014.

Cauvin, Thomas. Public History: A Textbook of Practice. Routledge, 2016.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision. Random House of Canada, 2011.

Frisch, Michael. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

Groot, Jerome de. Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture. Routledge, 2016.

Hughes-Warrington, Marnie. History Goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film. Routledge, 2007.

Macdonald, Sharon, and Helen Rees Leahy. The International Handbooks of Museum Studies. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.

Simon, Nina. The Participatory Museum. Museum 2.0, 2010.

Smith, Laurajane. Uses of Heritage. Taylor & Francis, 2006.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Understanding of the practical and theoretical challenges faced by people who present history to public audiences.

Ability to devise, pitch, and defend a public history project.

Awareness of the relationship between the past and contemporary political, social, and cultural issues.

Capacity to present history to different non-academic audiences and comprehension of the issues and challenges involved in this.

Developing these graduate attributes will support students to pursue careers not just in academia but also, particularly, beyond academia in sectors such as heritage and governance, media and communications, or the third sector.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Huw Halstead
Tel: (01316) 506693
Course secretary
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