Core Course National Historiographies and Contested Heritage

Course code:
Period 2+3
Language of tuition:
Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen
dr. B. Boter
dr. B. Boter
prof. dr. S. Legene
dr. B. Boter
Teaching method(s):

Course objective

This core course trains Research Master students and PhD candidates in
devising and executing a common research project, based on theoretical
and historical texts, which critically engages with libraries, archives
and cultural institutions that house and provide access to relevant
textual, material or visual collections. The course focuses on tracing
and re-interpreting primary sources that have been canonised in national
historiographies, while inviting the participants to reflect on and
discuss various theories and methodologies related to notions of
evidence, experience, authenticity, voicing, representation and
Participants work independently and align their approaches and results
with the common overarching theme of the workings of the imagination in
political contestations around nation building. They will be trained to
review and report on each other's work in class and at the Graduate
School. They will do so in both oral and written form, and at a high
academic level.

Course content

In the edited volume Nationalizing the past, a number of historians
present their predecessors as 'nation builders in modern Europe'
(Berger/Lorenz 2010). Moreover, recent literature from Cultural Studies,
Museum Studies, Comparative Literature, Public History and Anthropology
zooms in on museums as nation builders, or on artists, novelists,
photographers, cartographers, and film makers as historians. So who does
what? Whereas 'traditional' Political History typically focuses on the
politicians, the armies, the electorate, and the unruly crowd in order
to explain processes of state formation and nation building, Cultural
Studies and Cultural History seem to be oriented more towards the
nationalizing impact of narratives, and of cultural expressions and
activities. They invoke anthropological concepts like the ‘theatre
state’ (Geertz) to analyze political processes and explain how
(auto)biographies or historiographies of individual objects and
rituals, such as those labelled as being part of ‘world heritage,’
project national histories onto specific political or national sites.
How does this cultural turn relate to political processes of
nation-state formation and what are the implications for history as a
discipline? In order to find answers to these and other questions the
course will revisit Anderson's famous notion of ‘imagined community’
(1991) in order to examine and discuss the workings of the imagination
in political contestations around nation building. The course offers a
case study approach. Recent developments in South African historiography
and representations of the South African past in biographies,
exhibitions, movies, truth-reports, constitute one such possible case.
The selection of case studies will partly depend on the research
interests and ongoing (RMA or PhD-thesis) work of the participants. This
course outline is a draft, open for revision during the first class

Form of tuition

Seminar. The research project will relate to ongoing research by Legêne,
Boter and others within the framework of the ‘Global History, Heritage
and Memory' programme at the VU research institute CLUE+. The
participants will (1) read common theoretical literature and historical
monographs; (2) meet other researchers at international conferences or
seminars on heritage policies and national identity. In addition they
will discuss various approaches to the relevant sources and their
institutional contexts and (3) select one cultural production
(exhibition, biography, theatre play...) for an in-depth analysis.
Finally (4) each participant will work on an individual case study,
related and relevant to a common research question and their own
Research Master or PhD project. At a final Graduate Seminar, the
participants will present their research and conclusions to other
VU-students and -staff and in the context of relevant research schools
(OPG, Huizinga, other).

Type of assessment

Pro-active and full participation during class sessions; individual and
group presentations in class; feedback on work by fellow participants:
Individual final paper: 40%.
Contribute to the organisation of, and individual presentation during,
the Graduate Seminar and/or Research School Seminar: 20%.
Contribution to a general article on the selected cultural production:
Each aspect has to be satisfactory for a pass. No compensation of
partial grades will be allowed.

Course reading

To be announced

Target audience

This core module is part of the disciplinary programme of History and of
xxxx in the broad Humanities Research Master programme and the second
year Research Master History and xxx programme. PhD students (VU),
external PhD candidates and students from the relevant interuniversity
research schools are invited to participate as well.


This course alternates on a yearly basis with the other core course
‘Emotional Economies’. The course will be taught in 2017-18.

© Copyright VU University Amsterdam
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