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Proseminar in Humanities: Thinking Historically (Theory and Methods in Contextualization)

Semester and Year FA 2018
Course Number CORE-GG2031
Section 001
Instructor Alejandro Velasco
Days W
Time 6:20 PM - 9:00 PM
Units 4
Level G



In a much-remarked 2008 speech on race relations, then-candidate Barack Obama drew on Faulkner to remind Americans of the continuing legacies of racism in the US: “the past is never dead,” he noted, “it’s not even past.” In doing so Obama called upon a familiar trope in critical thought – that history is just as dynamic and elusive as the present, each one (past and present) continuously shaping and informing the other. Which raises the question: what is history? What does it mean to think historically, to understand history not as an array of facts but as process, not as a field of study but as a sensibility, as a way to analyze the world around us? This course is designed for students seeking to add meaningful historical dimensions to their theses. We begin by surveying conventional approaches to historical analysis, from Herodotus to Hegel to Marx to Benjamin. Then we draw from Nietzsche, Foucault, Hayden White, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot to consider how history is constructed, used, and misused. We will then examine how jurists, anthropologists, novelists, sociologists, and. human rights activists think historically to inform and deepen their craft, reading from Tolstoy, Justices Breyer and Scalia, Eric Wolf, Christopher Mele, and Daniel Wilkinson. We end with workshops that consider what it would mean to think historically about your own theses. What kinds of questions and materials would you include as you prepare for your prospectus, thesis, defense, and ultimately, life after NYU, armed with a sense of history?


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Course Type

Graduate Core (CORE-GG)