This core module explores key themes in American history from the colonial through to the modern eras, introducing students to important debates in historical scholarship and giving them an awareness not only of the principal historiographical schools but also of the critical interrelationship between historical trends and events and scholarly interpretations of the past. Classes will be organised chronologically and thematically and will be taught through a series of case studies covering topics such as Native American history, consumption, gender, class, slavery, immigration and ethnicity, the New Deal, revisionism and the Cold War, and the New Left.
Each age, we are often told, rewrites the past in its own image. In the case of the French Revolution, this is an understatement. In the second half of this century the scholarship has seemed to be in a state of almost permanent revolution as historians have taken up one interpretative or methodological approach after another. Some of the story of this historiographical roller-coaster ride may be known to readers, thanks to William Doyle's best-selling text book Origins of the French Revolution, which begins with a long and detailed survey 'Writings on Revolutionary Origins since 1939'. Although still the most widely read account of the scholarship in the English language, it was written as long ago as 1979, and a vast amount of water has flowed under the bridge since then. My main concern in this essay is to draw attention to important developments which have occurred in the scholarship – on the Revolution as a whole, not just its origins as in Doyle's book – over the last twenty years. How ever, let me start by briefly revisiting the territory already mapped by Doyle.
The major holy books all contain allusions to civil warfare and/or lines that can be read as addressing its horrors. “I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians,” declares the King James version of the book of Isaiah: “and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour.” It was often the Apocalypse, though, as demonstrated by Benjamin West’s great canvas, that Christians mined for terrifying and allusive imagery. Such biblical borrowings sometimes crowded out references to the Roman classics as a means of evoking and explaining civil war altogether, as seems often to have happened in medieval England.