Rachel Fulton Brown

Department of History

The University of Chicago




Spring 2015



“History,” as Isidore of Seville (d. 636) put it in his Etymologies, “is a narration of things done, through which those things which were done in the past are discerned.  In Greek, it is called historia, apo tou istorein, that is ‘to see,’ or ‘to learn by inquiring.’  For among the ancients no one would write history unless he had been present and had seen those things which ought to be written down.”  But what if you weren’t there to see?  The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the practice of historical research as an exercise in imagining what it was like to “see” the events of the past as if one were present and to narrate them so that others might “see.”  We will consider problems of plot, character, setting, and style, as well as practicing finding and interpreting the textual, architectural, geographical, and material sources at our disposal for writing “realistic” accounts of “things done.”



1. Participation in discussions (essential!) 20%

2. Practice exercises (variable, depending on the assignment) 35%

3. A final paper of 15-20 pages with bibliography (double-spaced, 11 or 12 point, due June 10) 45%


Course readings are available on Reserve or as online resources through Regenstein Library




April 1 The Voice of the Past

“Appendix E: Translations of Beowulf,” in Beowulf, trans. Roy Liuzza, 2nd ed. (Peterborough: Broadview, 2013), pp. 301-20 [PR1583 .L58 2013]

R.M. Liuzza, "Lost in Translation: Some Versions of Beowulf in the Nineteenth Century," English Studies 83.4 (2002): 281-95


April 8 The Representation of Reality

Leopold von Ranke, “Preface to Histories of the Latin and Germanic Nations from 1494-1514, A Fragment from the 1830’s, A Fragment from the 1860’s,” in Fritz Stern, The Varieties of History from Voltaire to the Present (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), pp. 54-62 [D13.S84]

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), chapter 1 “Odysseus’ Scar,” chapter 7 “Adam and Eve,” chapter 18 “In the Hôtel de la Mole,” pp. 3-24, 143-73, 454-92 [PN56.R3A905]


Assignment: Bring a sample page from your favorite historical novel to discuss


April 15 Props, a.k.a. Material Culture

Johann Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages, trans. Rodney J. Payton and Ulrich Mammitzsch (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), chapter 1 “The Passionate Intensity of Life,” pp. 1-29 [DC33.2.H830 1996]

T.H. White, The Once and Future King (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1958), bk. 1, chapters 14-16, pp. 130-54 [description of Christmas feast and Boxing Day hunt] [PR6045.H58O6 1958a]

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), First Day, Sext, pp. 39-46, First Day, After None, pp. 78-93 [descriptions of church door and scriptorium] [PQ4813.C65N891W36]

Jane Auel, The Mammoth Hunters (New York: Crown Publishers, 1985), chapter 21, pp. 357-78 [description of sewing] [PS3551.U5M26 1985]

A.S. Byatt, The Children's Book (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), pp. 3-7, 24-27, 75-84 [description of objects in museum, pot on landing, puppet show] [PR6052.Y2 C45 2009]


Assignment: Go to a museum and look at lots of things, describe one object from your chosen period of research


April 22 Setting, a.k.a. Architecture and Geography

Augustus Welby Pugin, Contrasts, or A Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Middle Ages and Corresponding Buildings of the Present Day Shewing the Present Decay of Taste, Accompanied by Appropriate Text, 2nd ed. (London: C. Dolman, 1841), chapters 1-2, 5, Conclusion [Hathi Trust]

Walter Scott, The Talisman: Tales of the Crusaders vols. 3-4 (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable & Co., 1825), chapter 1, pp. 3-17 [description of landscape in Holy Land, knight and Saracen] [Hathi Trust]

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame of Paris (first published 1831), bk. 3, chapters 1-2 [description of cathedral and city] [Hathi Trust]

________, Les Misérables (first published 1862), Vol. II Cosette, bk. 1 Waterloo, chapters II-IV [the battlefield]; and bk. 5 A Dark Chase Requires a Silent Hound, chapters I-III [Map of Paris 1727] [Hathi Trust]


Assignment: Find a map, describe a landscape and/or a building from your period


April 29 Speeches, a.k.a. Rethinking the Thought

R.G. Collingwood, “Outlines of a Philosophy of History” (1928), in The Idea of History, rev. ed., ed. Jan van der Dussen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 426-96 [D16.8 .C592 1993b]

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, bk. III The Mytilenian Debate; bk. V The Melian Dialogue [many editions!]

William of Newburgh, History, trans. Joseph Stevenson (London: Seeleys, 1856), bk. IV, chapters VII-XI, pp. 563-72 [Jews at York] [Hathi Trust]

Washington Irving, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus: To which are added those of his companions (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1868), bk. II, chapter 3 “Columbus before the Council at Salamanca,” pp. 84-94 [Hathi Trust]


Assignment: Find at least three primary sources written in your period about the event or character that you want to describe


May 6 Imagine the Scene, a.k.a. Empathy

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1994), Pt. I chap. I.1.C “The Temporality of the Aesthetic,” pp. 121-29 [BD241.G313 1994]

John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, trans. Francis X. Taney, Anne Miller, and C. Mary Stallings-Taney (Asheville: Pegasus Press, 2000), Prologue, chapters 7, 74-80, pp. 1-4, 24-29, 236-68 [BT306.4.M4413 2000]

Birgitta of Sweden, Life and Selected Revelations, ed. Marguerite Tjader Harris, trans. Albert Ryle Kezel (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), bk. 7, chapters 15, 21-26, pp. 188-91, 202-7 [BX4700.B62E50 1990]

Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, trans. Louis J. Puhl (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951), pp. 25-33, 49-58, 81-88, 95-98 [BX2179.L7E513 1951]

Mary of Agreda, The Mystical City of God, trans. Fiscar Marison (Chicago: [1902-1912]), vol. 2 The Incarnation, bk. 2, chapter  X, pp. 393-410; vol. 3 The Transfixion, bk. 2, chapter XXII, pp. 642-76 [http://www.themostholyrosary.com/mystical-city.htm]


Assignment: Using one of your primary sources, describe a character and imagine a dialogue with him or her


May 13 From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, a.k.a. Character

Ursula LeGuin, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Susan Wood, rev. ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1989), pp. 78-92 [PN3435.L40 1992]

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (first published 1596), bk. 1, canto 1 [Renascence Editions http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/fqintro.html]

Patricia Finney, Firedrake's Eye (London: Black Swan, 1992), pp. 9-19 [Chalk]

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (first published 1813), vol. I, chapter XVIII [the ball at Netherfield] [Hathi Trust]

Patrick O'Brien, Post Captain (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972), chapter 2, pp. 33-55 [Aubrey and Diana][PR6029.B375P857 1990]


Assignment: Note the vocabulary and syntax in one of your primary sources and imitate it in a scene


May 20 Myth-Making, a.k.a. Objectivity

Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 1-17 [D13.5.U6N680 1988]

Walter Scott, Ivanhoe: A Romance (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable & Co, 1820), chapter XXXVII [Rebecca's trial] [Hathi Trust: Waverly Novels 9, pp. 311-322]

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, Vol. IV Saint-Denis, bk. 10, chapters I-II [on insurrection and rebellion]; Vol. V Jean Valjean, bk. 1, chapters I, V, XIII, XX-XXII [the barricades] [Hathi Trust]

Ernest Renan, Life of Christ (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1900), chapter XV "Commencement of the Legends Concerning Jesus--His Own Idea of His Supernatural Character" [Jesus's beliefs about himself] [Hathi Trust]

Adolf E. Bandelier, The Delight Makers: A Novel of Prehistoric Pueblo Indians (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1890), chapter 2, pp. 26-59 [ancient Pueblo life] [Hathi Trust]


Assignment: Describe your own perspective on the past: what is your myth?


May 27 Story Arc, a.k.a. Plot

Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), pp. 1-42 [four structures of story-telling] [D13.W58] [ACLS Humanities E-book]

Novick, That Noble Dream, pp. 593-629 [D13.5.U6N680 1988]


Assignment: Plot out your story, explain why you chose the arc that you did


June 3  Story Time


Assignment: Share your stories!




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