SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Debating Pasts

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

Debating Pasts is the first of two compulsory modules for the MA in History at SOAS. Its aim is to encourage critical thinking about the discipline of history by examining the various themes, approaches, theories and research methods that have shaped and reshaped the field since the mid-twentieth century. The course has a particular focus on Asian, African and Middle Eastern pasts, and on how the modern historiographies of these regions emerged from their encounter with the West in the context of imperial power and its dissolution in the postcolonial era. Beyond the exploration of these shifting and contested historiographical terrains, it seeks too to develop key skills in research and in the crafting of historical writing.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  1. explain the main shifts in post-WWII historiography.
  2. demonstrate how to read a text critically and discern the various methods and approaches the author uses.
  3. explain orally and in written work how histories of the 'non-West' - of Asia, Africa and the Middle East - engage with, critique and depart from the methological and theoretical questions in the field more broadly.
  4. debate with their peers on questions of historiography.
  5. write clear, persuasive historiographical essays.


Total of 10 weeks teaching consisting of a 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

There are eight substantive topics for this module:

  1. Traditional history and the Annales
  2. Marxism and History from Below
  3. National and Imperial Histories
  4. Postmodernism and the Cultural Turn
  5. World History
  6. Gender, Sexuality and the Body
  7. Urban History
  8. Oceanic History

In addition, week one is an introduction and the final session, 'Reflections', that involves a discussions to wrap up the course.

Method of assessment

  •  Annotated bibliography, 1000 words (30%)
  •  Essay, 2,500 words (70%)

Suggested reading

  • J. Tosh, The Pursuit of History (6th ed. 2015)
  • J. Arnold, History: A very short introduction (2000)
  • J. Popkin, From Herodotus to H-Net: The story of historiography (2016)
  • M. Bentley, Modern Historiography: An introduction (1999)
  • M. Bentley, ed., Companion to Historiography (1997)
  • A. Budd, ed., The Modern Historiography Reader: Western sources (2009)
  • P. Burke, ed., New Perspectives on Historical Writing (2nd ed. 2001)
  • P. Burke, ed., History and Historians in the Twentieth Century (2002)
  • J. Tosh, ed., Historians on History: Readings (2nd ed. 2014)
  • M. Poster, Cultural History and Postmodernity: Disciplinary readings and challenges (1997)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules