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Study information

Uses of the Past

Module titleUses of the Past
Module codeHIH2002
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Richard Ward (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In this module you will explore how people in the past used history to explain their present, and how people today use history.  You will look at the ways in which the past has been constructed, including the roles people have played, the impact of different cultures, and how things have changed over time. You will explore the authority that different cultures have given to the past, what makes a past ‘authentic’ and ‘powerful’, how notions of good or bad history have changed over time, and you will assess why people have turned to the past in order to make sense of their worlds. You will compare past and present uses of history across different cultures, and the way in which history is used by different states and rulers, and in education, entertainment, and public commemoration.  You will also look at how groups have attempted to make sense of their past using a range of sources: for example, chronicles, paintings, films, genealogies, statues, and memorials.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • introduce you to the many and varied ways in which the past has been used, and continues to be used. It will compare the function of history in different cultures of the past and present, addressing its use by different states and rulers, and in education, entertainment and public commemoration.
  • address the role that scholars, novelists, film makers, or propagandists, for instance, have played in constructing the past, using reflections on past cultures of historical production to contextualise and critique the function of the academic historian today.
  • explore the authority that different cultures have given to the past, what makes a past ‘authentic’ and ‘powerful’, how notions of good or bad history have changed over time, and how and why people draw upon the past to make sense of their worlds.
  • examine a range of texts and objects – such as chronicles, paintings, films, genealogies, statues, memorials – through which groups have attempted to make sense of their pasts. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Assess the varying functions of history in both the past and the present, for different cultures and social groups
  • 2. Assess critically writing about the past, through consideration of the purposes for which it was created and the functions that it has played in past and contemporary societies
  • 3. Analyse, through a particular case-study, the issues involved in the representation of the past to a public audience

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Assess the work of scholars and handle different approaches in areas of controversy
  • 5. Collate and critique data from a range of sources
  • 6. Understand, recognise, and deploy historical terminology in a comprehensible manner

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Carry out both independent and autonomous study and group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Present complex material orally
  • 9. Digest, select, and synthesize evidence and arguments to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument

Syllabus plan

While the content may vary from year to year, it is expected that the module will cover some or all of the following topics: writing about the past; personal history; history, education & citizenship; history & culture; public history; remembering and forgetting the past; and creating a usable past.

The lecture programme is designed to add context and additional case-studies to the themes discussed in the seminars, and bring other important issues related to the ‘uses of the past’ to your attention.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Lectures (10 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching14Seminars (7 x 2 hours
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Workshops. These will be facilitated by a tutor, and will help you work towards your assessment and provide opportunities for formative feedback
Guided Independent Study264 Reading and preparation for seminars, workshops, and assessment

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Poster pitch workshop60 minutes1-9Oral
Poster development workshops2 x 60 minutes1-9Oral
Individual Assignment workshop60 minutes1-7, 9Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group Project, comprising: Poster (30%), Presentation of poster (15%), + attendance at Group Proejct workshops (5%)50Poster (500 words + design elements); 15-minute presentation; participation in 4 x 90-minute workshops1-9Written and oral
Individual assignment503,000 words1-7, 9Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Group Project Poster and Presentation of PosterIndividual assignment (2,500 words)1-9Referral/Deferral period
Individual assignment Individual assignment (3,000 words)1-7, 9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

In place of the Group Project Poster and Presentation of the Poster, there will be an individual assignment equivalent to 2500 words, which represents that individual’s contribution to such a project. It is not possible to mitigate part of the group project: if you are offered a deferral or referral for the group project, you cannot carry forward any of the marks from the group project.  

 The original individual assignment remains the same.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • B. Anderson, Imagined Communities (2006)
  • S. Berger & C. Conrad, The Past as History: National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Modern Europe (2014)
  • A. Clark, History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom (2008)
  • J. de Groot, Consuming History (2008)
  • E.  Hobsbawm and T. Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (1983)
  • L. Jordanova, History in Practice (Revised 3rd Ed. 2019))
  • D. Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (1985)
  • R. Samuel, Theatres of Memory (1998)
  • S. Sleeper-Smith (ed.), Contesting Knowledge: Museums and Indigenous Perspectives (2009)
  • J. Tosh, The Pursuit of History (2015)
  • B. Southgate, Why Bother with History? (2005)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Past, History, Heritage, Public History

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date