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SA603 Public History

Course description for academic year 2023/2024

Contents and structure

In the book "1984", the author George Orwell claimed that "who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past". The quote is no less relevant at a time when democracy is being challenged from several sides, for example the spread of propaganda and "fake news". A central framework for understanding this is the use of history, i.e. how history is used for various purposes. Another key term is historiemedvit (historical awareness).

Historical awareness is about the interplay between ideas about the past, understandings of the present and expectations about the future. History is thus something that surrounds us, may happen without us registering it, and that shapes our society and the way we think. History is something that creates bonds between different groups, but also distance and contradictions. How history is used is therefore not neutral. The course gives students a basic introduction to how history is used for various purposes, both for identity creation, entertainment and political and commercial purposes. Concepts such as memory, myths, historical awareness and identity are central to the study of the use of history. History is also expressed in various media, from popular culture such as in TV series, books, films, memes or on social media, to physical expressions we deal with on a daily basis, such as statues, monuments or memorials. At the same time, history can be conveyed in many different ways, such as role-playing, reconstructions or digital media. The subject will look at how history is communicated and what use it has.

A prerequisite for understanding the use of history in society is insight into the methods and theories of the subject of history with a particular focus on source criticism. It will be central to look at what knowledge and source base different forms of history use will have, at the same time that the subject will be task- and practice-oriented.