The Production of History




Why is the past so often a subject for contentious debate in the present? Why are struggles over the shape and expression of memory such a persistent feature in public and popular culture? What, if anything, is at stake in such contests? How long and in what manner should we remember past injustices and misdeeds? When and how does popular culture engage and represent the past without engendering controversy or debate? How do we come to know history outside of the classroom? What is the relationship between popular presentations of the past and scholarly writings about history?

We will try to answer these and other questions by examining a variety of episodes in the "production of history", ranging from the cancellation of an exhibit on the decision to drop the atomic bomb at the Smithsonian Institution to Bugs Bunny's encounter with Christopher Columbus.

History 1N is a first-year seminar. The reading load is fairly intensive, and students will also be expected to complete a variety of writing assignments and projects over the course of the semester. Attendance and participation in discussion are a central part of your work in the course. We will also go on one class trip which is mandatory for all participants. I may also schedule several voluntary trips of various kinds, as well as a class dinner, possibly. Do not sign up for this course if you are unprepared to handle the workload: space is limited and a commitment to tackle the work in good faith is a necessity.

Readings marked with an asterix will either be on reserve in McCabe Library or distributed in the form of a handout.

Warning: Some of the links below may offend or disturb you, but I believe it is important to deal with the total range of "productions of history" that exist, however repugnant some of them may be. Just be sure to bring along your critical thinking skills wherever this syllabus may take you.

Please inform me promptly via email, tburke1@swarthmore.edu, if any of these links are not working.

Wednesday January 19


Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past, all


Wednesday January 26

The Historical Guild

Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, Chapter One,Two, Four and Five

*Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory , pp. 3-27


Wednesday February 2

Historical Scholarship Outside the Guild

Multimedia (examine before class):
The De La Pena Diary debate
The basics of the controversy

Texana Book Reviews

True West, letter to the editor

The deaths of Davy Crockett

Daughters of the Republic of Texas

Alamo site: "rejected sources"

Hobbyist magazines

Please look around this site a bit. Take note of the kinds of subjects that tend to covered and of the basic approach that the authors take to their subjects. Look at some of the titles under "Magazines" and go to the intro pages for several. Read at least a few of the articles here.

Multimedia (In-Class Viewing):

Film selection: "The Civil War"

Film selection: "Shoah"


2-3 page paper.
Military history is by far the best-selling genre of historical writing. Much of it is written by "amateur" historians. Speculate: why do you think military history is so popular with readers but so relatively unpopular with academic historians? How does this disparity in relative popularity speak to the general issue of amateur versus professional history?


Wednesday February 9

Memory and Folklore

Joanne Rappaport, The Politics of Memory , all

Multimedia (View before class):

Film: "The Nasty Girl"


Collect a testimony concerning the "Intercultural Center incident" at Swarthmore College, October 1998. In an accompanying one-page paper, describe what you see as the meaning and significance of this testimony.



Wednesday February 16

Museums, Memorials and Monuments I

Richard Handler and Eric Gable, The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg, pp. 3-124, pp. 220-236

Multimedia (View before class):

-Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg
Explore this site fairly thoroughly.

Evelynton Plantation

-Holocaust museums

Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC
Spend some time working through this site.

Museum of Tolerance

Take a fairly detailed look at this site.

El Paso Holocaust Museum

Read just this one page.

-White Pine Public Museum

Look through the range of materials here to get a feel for the total range of displays.

-National Czech and Slovak Museum

Examine the exhibits page and more if you have time.

-Virginia's Civil War

Look through some of the tours suggested here.

-American Cotton Museum

Examine this site.

-The Diefenbunker

Examine this site about this rather curious museum.

-Liberty Square at Walt Disney World

Description of this area of the themepark. Read the whole page carefully except for the section on the Haunted Mansion.

-Ku Klux Klan Online Museum

Don't look at this repulsive site if it will unduly disturb you to do so, but I want to ponder what the limits to museums and memorials are or should be.


Field trip to Philadelphia museums, date TBA


Wednesday February 23

Museums, Memorials and Monuments II

*Edward Linenthal, History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past, pp. 9-62

*James Loewen, Lies Across America, selection

Multimedia (View before class):

Black History Month and similar memorials
Black history
Good centralized site. Casually peruse the links most directly related to Black History Month as a memorial event.

Philadelphia Online's Black History Month

Java-intensive site, so watch out. Try the quiz.


VFW's "Origins of Veterans Day"

VA's "Suggested Remarks" for Veterans Day

Battling Bastards of Bataan

Waco Holocaust Electronic Museum

A memorial to the Branch Davidians who died during their confrontation with the federal government. There is some disturbing stuff here, including some material which sounds a lot like the typical sentiments of militia groups, so be warned.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Look at the material on the 50th Anniversary celebrations and familiarize yourself with the memorial design.

Robben Island

Mount Rushmore

Grange Castle Restoration Project

Agra Fort

Widow Clarke House



Wednesday March 1

Living History

Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic , all

Multimedia (View before class):

Living History International
Explore the materials linked to this site.

L'Age d'Or

Read the main page. Explore further if you wish to.

Society for Creative Anachronism

Explore this site thoroughly.

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

Explore this site.


Multimedia (In-Class Viewing):

"Everybody Loves Raymond"

Re-enactment episode, short selections.



You will be assigned an event, historical person, or other historical subject matter in the second week of the class. (Each student will have a different assignment.) In a 5-6 page paper due at our March 1 class, describe how you would approach designing a museum exhibit about or appropriate memorial to this subject. Use of visual or other multimedia material to accompany the prospectus is encouraged but not required. Do whatever research you feel is necessary to understand the subject and adequately plan your exhibit, but you are not expected to have an exhaustive knowledge of the particular subject matter you are assigned.

The most important aspect of this assignment is to discuss analytically and philosophically the central purpose or objective of your exhibit, and how you think the design of the exhibit would achieve that objective.




Wednesday March 15

Public Policy and History

Multimedia (View before class):
-Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Thoroughly read the materials at this site. Examine at least some of the report.

BBC "Talking Point"

Discussions of the TRC's work. Please read all the responses.

-Reparations for the enslavement of Africans

NCobra Website
Thoroughly read the materials at this site.

-Internment of Japanese-Americans

"Military Necessity or Racial Prejudice?"
Read this article.

Speech by the Attorney-General

Read this speech.

-Native American land claims and the law

Title XXV, Chapter 19: Land Claims Settlements
Read at least the Rhode Island, Maine, Florida and Connecticut sections. Get a sense for how claims about history play a role in settling land claims disputes.

Indian Land Claims map

Examine the large PDF map, following instructions on loading the PDF viewer.

Indian land claims controversies in New York State

Read these three articles from a New York state newspaper about recent and ongoing controversies.

-Official apologies

Queen Elizabeth and Jallianwala Bagh

Japan's role in Asia during World War II

John Leo on apologies



In 1938, as part of the build-up to World War II, Adolph Hitler annexed the portion of Czechslovakia known as the Sudentenland, arguing that because many of its residents were German-speaking, it should be part of Germany. Many of the Sudentenland Germans supported Hitler's actions. Much of the Sudentenland was returned to the control of postwar Communist Czechslovakia and still remains within the borders of the present-day Czech Republic. German-speakers in the postwar Sudentenland claim that they were deprived of their property by the postwar Communist government and are today lobbying the current Czech Republic for reparations for the losses they claim to have suffered.


In a 2-3 page paper, compare these claims to the others we are reading about for this week. Are the Sudentenland activists entitled to such reparations? Why or why not? If so, on what should such reparations be based?

What I am looking for here is for you to develop your own systematic criteria for how or when reparations are warrented. If not in this instance, would you grant reparations in other cases? How do you make the distinction? If you think reparations are never warranted, why do you think so?


Wednesday March 22

Textbooks, Pedagogies and Education

James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, all

*US History standards, selections


Wednesday March 29

Genealogy and Family History

Multimedia (View before class):
Spend a lot of time working through this site and the materials linked to it.

The American Immigrant Wall of Honor

Pick a couple of surnames at random from the student directory and search.

Jefferson-Hemings controversy

Jefferson Family Genealogy


Using Rootsweb and a standard web-search engine like Hotbot or Webcrawler, do genealogical research on your own surname. (We will discuss using search engines in class.)

Then compare this with what you already know of your own particular family history. Be prepared to make a 5-minute oral presentation about what you found and how you view your findings. What does it mean to find the history of people with the same name, if anything?


Wednesday April 5

Collections, Souvenirs, Antiques

Multimedia (View before class):
Please follow these instructions carefully.

On the Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before class, check the following categories at eBay:

Collectibles: Memorabilia: Historical

Collectibles: Militaria: Civil War

Antiques: Science Instruments

Antiques: Folk Art

Please read the descriptions of at least five items in each category and track their progress over the week. Note what the sellers say (and perhaps don't say) about the origins, meaning and nature of the item. (Pick items which have just recently been listed for auction so that you can watch them over the whole week.) Also, observe overall which items seem to be attracting the most activity (number of bids) and the highest prices in each category.

Lionheart Autographs

Examine this site. What kinds of autographs and documents are available? What determines their value?

Khoisan heads in the British Museum

Read this article.

Regimental Beersteins

Hard to Find GI Joes

Collectors' and Collectors' Societies Home Pages

Japanese Swords collector

Ken's Antique Radio Haven

Larry's Bomber Command

National Insulator Association

Historical Model Railway Society


2-3 page paper. What objects seem to have historical value, and why? Which objects do not seem to acquire value among collectors? Why are some objects more valued for their histories than others?


Wednesday April 12

Alternate Histories, Time Travel and Historical Romance

Gardner Dozois, ed., Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History, pp. xi-43, pp. 71-111, pp. 130-180, pp. 251-322

*J.C. Herz, article on "Sid Meier's Gettysburg", New York Times

Multimedia (View before class):

Amazon.com's "Historical Romance" section
Look over the range of titles here. Note the eras and situations most favored by writers in this genre.

"Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"

Time TBA.

Multimedia (In-Class Viewing):

Compilation videotape: scenes from alternate-history films and television shows

"Sid Meier's Gettysburg": short demonstration


5-6 page (approximately) paper.
At our March 29 meeting, you will be assigned an event. Write an alternate history of that event. You can complete this assignment as an essay, as a exercise in creative writing, or in a multimedia form, but you should find some way to explain or make apparent the underlying assumptions or logic you have used to guide the development of your alternate scenario. Do whatever research you find necessary to complete the assignment, but you will not be expected to have an exhaustive knowledge of the subject.


Wednesday April 19

Fictions, Entertainments and Promotions:

History in Popular Culture

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

*Articles on the controversy over the film "JFK"

Multimedia (View before class):

"Gone With the Wind"
Time TBA.


Time TBA.

"Black Robe"

Time TBA

Multimedia (In-class viewing):

"Hare We Go" or other Bugs Bunny cartoon

Herbert Hoover doll

Historically-themed computer games: demonstrations


Wednesday April 26

The Authority of History

Bring to class the following:


A URL for a museum site. Be prepared to describe the site and the museum and to relate it to the ones we discussed earlier in the semester.


A photocopy of a newspaper or magazine advertisement that uses a representation of the past as part of its appeal. Be prepared to discuss how you view the advertisement.


An example of a public controversy over history of any kind which has brought professional academic historians into dialogue or dispute with productions of history outside the guild. Bring any background materials (articles, etc.) relevant to your example to class and be prepared to discuss your example.