Historians have engaged in debates about the best way to approach the past since the earliest institutionalisation of the discipline in nineteenth-century universities, and even before. But the idea that there might be different, equally valid historical methods is relatively new. Some of the newer methods are often referred to as ‘turns’, such as the linguistic turn, or the postmodern turn, and their emergence is often accompanied by controversies within the discipline. It is worth noting that the emergence of a new approach does not signify that previously existing approaches become invalid. Rather, the course introduces us to a toolkit of approaches to the past.

This course provides a foundation to allow first-year historians to come to grips with the many ways in which historians pursue their craft. The year begins with a critical discussion of History as a discipline. We ask what history is, how it is approached, the methods historians use, and think about the different the archives and sources that they study. Having done so, we will explore the use of non-textual sources, which are often neglected. As we encounter these sources, and the methods used to engage with them, we will maintain a critical approach to the work historians do and the archives they use for their research.

Next, we move on to approaches to and sub-fields within history. We will consider different case studies which use scalar and spatial approaches. In the second term, we will move on to explore cultural and social history as paradigms that have influenced historical research. Cultural history focusses on identities, subjectivities, representation, and ideas. Social history on the other hand foregrounds ordinary lives of marginalised figures, as well as the history of commodities and sport. Finally, we will turn to global, international, and transnational history and the opportunities that lie therein. We will conclude the year by considering the power relations that sustains our disciplines and the possibilities for change in the twenty-first century.

While exploring these themes, the course also introduces the key skills required of a historian: navigating a reading list; taking notes; composing reading summaries; identifying & using historiography; approaching essay questions; developing an argument; structuring essays; footnoting and evidence; and avoiding plagiarism. In the Winter Term, we will focus on how to develop a research project, choosing a set of research questions, an archive and a method and critically exploring them in an assessed essay.