Course: Human Encounters and the Origins of Historical Knowledge

HC 231H

Professor: Tim Williams

This course explores the ancient and medieval world. In particular, we will focus on fundamental questions of historical thinking that remain relevant today: Why remember the past? For whom is the past important? How does the study of the past explain the reality of the human condition? And what tools have groups used to disseminate that knowledge? To answer these core questions about the nature of history we will explore historical thinking across various cultures, places, and periods in the pre-modern world. On the one hand, we will focus on the traditional canon of historical thought in "western civilization," including historical works produced by the ancient Greek, Roman, and Hebrew people. On the other hand, we will also explore groups such as Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and indigenous peoples of North America, who are typically neglected in the study of "western civilization."

We will read a wide range of primary sources from each of these traditions--including epic poetry, biblical texts, oral accounts, biographical works, and early confessional writing--as well as scholarly literature. These sources will not only draw us deeply into the cultural and intellectual history of the pre-modern world but they will also provide the raw material for understanding why individuals in the past pursued historical knowledge. We will explore these themes in regular class discussions and frequent writing assignments. By the end of the course, all students should feel grounded in the history of the premodern world, be able to discuss comfortably the complexity of historical knowledge and its varied uses, and demonstrate proficiency in written analysis of assigned texts.