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SA603 Public History

Course description for academic year 2024/2025

Contents and structure

In the book 1984 from 1949, 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 quarters, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the spread of propaganda and "fake news". The term "history" itself can have several different meanings: from the past reality, the scientific study of the past or in everyday speech as a good story. A prerequisite for understanding history is insight into some of the history subject's methods and theories, particularly source criticism, but at the same time how history is used is not limited to just what the research subject deals with.

A central concept in SA603 is the use of history, often called Public History. It is about all kinds of ideas and stories about the past, regardless of whether these are rooted in an actual past or not. In this perspective, it is not the past in itself that becomes important, but the interpretations and functions it can have in the present. Another key concept in this context is historical awareness. It is about different dimensions of time where you look at the interaction between different ideas about the past, understanding of the present and expectations about the future. History is therefore a central part of how both individual and collective identities are established and creates bonds between members of society. History thus creates a collective "we", but at the same time also an opposite "them". How history is used is therefore not necessarily neutral.

The course gives students a basic introduction to how history is used for various purposes, from education and entertainment to commercial and political purposes. History use can take several different forms, such as e.g. text, image and sound. In a history usage analysis, one can therefore see how history is used in everything from television series, books, games and films to political speeches, school books, statues, memorials and much, much more.