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School of History

HIST0378 - Enlightenment Histories: History and Time in 18th Century Thought and Culture

Module code: HIST0378

Credits: 15
Semester: Spring

Module Convenor: Alessandro Arcangelis

The cultural and intellectual milieu of the European Enlightenments, with its twin emphases on the universality of nature and the all-encompassing power of Reason, has too often been characterised as anti-historical. In recent years, however, historians' work has drawn attention to a plethora of sources proving the contrary: the concepts of history, time and progress were at the forefront of the intellectual agenda of Enlightenment thinkers, in ways that demand a greater scholarly focus on eighteenth-century historical imaginations. This course examines the debates on the concepts of history and time in European intellectual history during the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment years were marked by frequent and profound reflections on temporality, which, in addition to underscoring the historicity of human experiences and practices, raised questions on the nature, direction and meaning of history, and on the possibility of re-imagining and re-figuring time for the purpose of creating, through direct political action, a better world. Moreover, the course will foster the use of a wide range of sources and encourage the study of a broad array of contexts, while employing the resources of a plurality of approaches to the study of intellectual history. Throughout the course, students will consider Europeans' evolving engagement with the concepts of history and time across a large number of eighteenth-century discourses and practices. These include, among other things, the conceptual shifts in their understanding of historical change, the secularisation of history, the ambiguous historicity of crucial concepts such as the 'state of Nature', the use of natural history as a form of historical representation, the evolving practices of history writing, the changing uses of historical examples in political thought and public life, and the political implications of specific temporal perspectives and philosophies of history. In exploring these themes, students will engage with a broad variety of authors, including, but not limited to, Vico, Voltaire, Turgot, Rousseau, Herder, Kant, Ferguson, Hume, Kames, and many more. By emphasising the use of history in these authors' writings, and in several different, yet interconnected disciplines, this course aims at providing students with critical historiographic skills enabling them to undertake original research on the emergence of a distinctly modern historical consciousness during the eighteenth century.

Assessment: Essay (4,000 words) 100%

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