Faculty of Arts


Thinking History: Approaches to the Past


Historians and other people grapple with the past in a variety of ways every day. But what exactly is the past and how do historians study it?

Up to now in your study of history, you have probably taken courses that focus on a particular global, regional, or national history or a broad theme in history (e.g., New Zealand history, sexual history). Along the way, you have been exposed to some of the ways historians approach the past. HISTORY 300 focuses on the study of history and serves as a formal introduction to the variety of ways historians have understood and explained the past.

The course does not centre on any specific place or topic, and it is not bound by a particular time period or field. Rather, we will engage with examples drawn from the fields including European, New Zealand, Australian and United States history to explore how the practice of history has changed over time and with it the different approaches and methods historians have used to access and explain the past.

Each week, we will have conversations and discuss a set of readings that outline a set of historiographical or methodological issues and the ways in which historians have engaged with these issues. Sometimes these represent major challenges to the conventional practice of history and have created controversy.

By studying specific debates, HISTORY 300 asks us to reflect on the questions historians have always struggled to answer: What can we know about the past? How should historians best use "historical" sources? How should historians practise history?

HISTORY 300 is different from your previous history courses. You may find it challenging and somewhat disorienting. Nevertheless, we hope you will come away with a broader and deeper understanding of the practice of history and the ability to think critically about history itself.

HISTORY 300 is a capstone course for the undergraduate history major as well as an invaluable launch-pad for those interested in Honours and postgraduate study in History.



Coursework only

Availability 2021

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Professor Jonathan Scott


Coursework only


HISTORY 300: 15.0 points


15 points at Stage II in History and 60 points passed

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