HIST 5707W: Narrativity and Performance in Public History
Winter 2022

Instructor: Professor David Dean

Introduction: Historians have always sought new ways of exploring, presenting and re-presenting the past, but over the past two decades a new awareness has emerged in our discipline through what might be called the performative turn. This wide-ranging phenomena includes re-enactments at living history sites and costumed interpreters in museums and heritage buildings; feature films, television dramas, and theatre stages; street performers, walking tours, and public art; video games and interactive digital sites; protests and parades; opera, musicals and dance. All involve performance strategies and techniques that shape the stories we choose to tell, enhance historical consciousness, and navigate the distance between past and present. The performative turn requires us to ask ourselves why we want to tell these histories and what we hope to achieve in the telling. We will begin by considering theories of narrativity and performativity and the ways in which these inform historical understanding and practice. We will then explore a variety of historical performances, varied both in time and space but also in form. This experience will provide you with a toolkit with which to explore forms of historical representation shaped by your own interests and concerns. Our common aim will be to reach an understanding of how historians have gained new insights into the past through performance. You are encouraged to work towards a final performance rather than a final research paper.

Class Format: We meet once a week in a three-hour block. We will make good use of live performances during the term performances and we will be welcoming visiting speakers to share their experience and run workshops.

Aims and Goals: My aims in teaching this course are to help you become familiar with some of the approaches historians have used in telling stories about the past; to give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the theory and practice of historical narrative and performance; to provide an opportunity to consider different forms of historical performance; to invite you to discuss these issues with others both in the classroom and beyond; to enable you to draw on the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of the course in a way that will be useful for your own work and area of interest; and to explore the possibilities of historical performance in a form that especially intrigues you. 

Assessment: participation, weekly reflections, and a final performance or reflection/review essay.

Text: There is no set text but key readings will be: Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire. Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Duke University Press, 2003); Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains. Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (Routledge, 2011); and David Dean, Yana Meerzon, and Kathryn Prince (eds), History, Memory, Performance (Palgrave, 2015).

Any Questions? Please email me at david.dean@carleton.ca