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Last modified: 28 Jun 2018 10:27

Course Overview

This course examines the ways in which societal understandings of the past shape political outcomes in the present. Introducing students to the concept of ‘Collective Memory’, the course engages with key theoretical and empirical debates in this emerging field of Politics and IR. It asks such questions as: How can narratives of the past reproduce or challenge contemporary power relations? To what extent do political actors and institutions engineer particular historical narratives that serve their current interests? To what extent are societal ideas of the past malleable? What is the relationship between ‘remembering’, ‘forgetting’ and political power?

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 3
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 30 credits (15 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Tom Bentley

Qualification Prerequisites


What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Either International Relations (IR) (Studied) or Politics (PI) (Studied)
  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)
  • Programme Level 3

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?


Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

This course examines both theoretical and empirical debates regarding the ways in which the past is mobilised in pursuit of political objectives in the present. The course initiates by studying the theoretical underpinnings of Maurice Halbwachs' concept of 'Collective Memory' - the idea that social groups share common understandings of the past which influence decision making and social structures in the present. In studying theoretical debates concerning memory, the course examines key thinkers that have built on Halbwachs' theory as well as those that reject the very notion of his concept. The early weeks of the course further look at theoretical debates concerning the differences and overlaps between 'history' and 'memory' and debates concerning the relative power of dominant and marginalised groups in memory formation. The course then applies such theoretical debates to key empirical cases where the politics of the past are contested and struggled over. Such cases include various states' official commemorations of the Holocaust; the role of historical analogy in justifying warfare and the social and political functions of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in post-conflict societies. The later weeks of the course analyse the significance of commemoration rituals in British politics and the increasingly common phenomenon of 'atrocity tourism'. The course concludes by investigating the role of Empire in memory politics. It does so by focusing on the conflicting politics of memory regarding ‘The Troubles’ and ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Northern Ireland, and the increasing imperative of former colonial powers to offer apologies for aspects of their past Empire. At each stage of the course, the political and ideological consequences of competing historical narratives are considered.

Further Information & Notes

Available only to students in Politics OR International Relations degrees.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: One essay of 3000 words (30%) and one 2-hour written exam (70%). Resit: One 2-hour exam (100%). Only the marks gained at first attempt can be used for Honours classification.

Formative Assessment

Through tutorials, feedback on essay plans and feedback on non-assessed class presentations.


Written feedback and marks for essays. In addition, feedback on essay preparation conducted via office hours.

Course Learning Outcomes


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