History, Memory, Narrative, and other Disorders
"In the cellars of the Vatican, as narrow and winding as catacombs, there is a strange enormous graveyard. It is of parts of ancient statues, thrown on the ground in a rough classification, feet in one heap, then knees, then whole legs, and so on. There is something particularly poignant about the fingers and elbows. There are also parts of dogs and wild boars, and once the head of a Parthenon horse was found there." - Eleanor Clark, Roman Journal
The past, it seems, is always awaiting ordering: sorting, assembling, telling, re-assembling, and re-telling. In the case of the ancient statues, the Vatican's criteria was anatomical: "feet in one heap, then knees." With only fragments to go on, one choice may be as informed or arbitrary as another, and often is. The ancient statues might just as well have been ordered, say, by sculptor, or century, or subject. Or the pieces might be left utterly unordered in some monstrously dismembered, post-modern montage of feet, spears, and hydras. As it is, the elbows of Roman statuary co-exist with Renaissance re-makes, sharing only a common form, staring profuse and ambidextrously across the centuries.
The historian’s compulsion to order, to assemble and narrativize the past, and the problems of historigraphy are the subject of this doctoral seminar. Using a field of study, each student their own, we examine the problems of evidence, of narrative, of the genres and voicings of history. The end goal is to develop a tool kit of historigraphical styles, genres, approaches, available to the student, and suited to the field of study at hand.