In this module we consider what it is that history studies—individual actions, social structures, states, empires, religious movements, social classes, periods and regions, civilizations, large causal or law-governed processes. We explore whether history as a whole has meaning, structure, or direction, beyond the individual events and actions that make it up and the nature of causal influence among historical events or structures that underwrites historical explanations.
We continue by examining what is involved in our knowing, representing, and explaining history by asking what role is played by the interpretation of the "lived experience" of past actors in our historical understanding, and how the historian arrives at justified statements about this lived experience. Can we arrive at justified and objective interpretations of long-dead actors, their mentalities and their actions, or does all historical knowledge remain permanently questionable?
Finally, we consider the extent to which human history is constitutive of the human present. Can historical understanding of events in the past inform our policies and actions in current situations judged in important respects to be sufficiently similar?
Total Contact Hours: 40
Private Study Hours: 260
Total Study Hours: 300
Method of assessment
Main assessment methods:
Group Presentation (15 minutes) – 15%
Essay 1 (1,800 words) – 30%
Essay 2 (3,000 words) – 55%
Indicative Reading List
Carr, E. (1990). What is History? New edition, London: Penguin.
Collingwood, R. (1994). The Idea of History (Revised edition), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cox, L. 2014. 'The Convergence of Ricoeur's and Von Wright’s Complex Models of History’, Ricœur Studies, 5(1), pp. 95-114.
Day, M. (2008). The Philosophy of History: An Introduction, London: Continuum Press.
Førland, T. (2017). Values, Objectivity, and Explanation in Historiography, New York: Routledge.
Gilbert, B. (2019). A Personalist Philosophy of History, New York: Routledge.
Little, D. (2010). New Contributions to the Philosophy of History, New York: Springer.
Lemon, M. (2003). Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students, New York: Routledge.
See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)
The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1 Demonstrate a systematic understanding of, and ability to evaluate, the major philosophical theories of history as a discipline;
2 Engage critically with some of the central issues and controversies in the philosophy of history through their study of the relevant arguments (e.g., for the nature of historical causality, or the possibility of counterfactual history), and ultimately support a solution to a particular issue;
3 Recognise, critically evaluate, and demonstrate understanding of the implications of positions addressing the questions of the certainty of historical knowledge, and of its current relevance;
4 Demonstrate the ability to engage in a close critical reading of some of the major texts in the philosophy of history and refer to these to support their own position.
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Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
- ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
- The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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