Roundtable discussion: Thresholds, Boundaries, Beginnings, and Ends

Last year, Mount Holyoke's community of historians gathered to explore the work of the eminent social and political historian Eric Hobsbawm, a discussion that illuminated the impact of Hobsbawm's ideas on a broad range of historians and historical debates.

This year we will wrestle with questions shared by historians of every stripe:

  • How, and why, should historical time be divided and compartmentalized into "eras", "periods", "epochs", and other similar categories?
  • How do we, as historians, decide what constitutes the beginning and end of our inquiries into past societies, peoples, and beliefs?
  • What are the boundaries of, and in, history--both as an object of study, and as the story we tell about the past?

Leading our discussion will be Chelsea Miller '14, whose recently-defended honors thesis focuses upon the contested boundaries between "ancient" and "medieval", "East" and "West" in modern historiography. As a shared point of departure, we have circulated four short essays which approach the problem of historical boundaries from a variety of perspectives, and which define them in quite different ways. To get the conversation going, we'd like each of you to come prepared with a brief response to one of the following questions:

  • If you're currently pursuing the undergraduate study of history, have the boundaries (geographical, chronological, or thematic) encountered in your curriculum helped you to better understand the past, or obstructed you from seeing it fully? Which boundaries do you think we need to maintain, and which ones could stand to be amended or removed?
  • if you're currently teaching undergraduate history courses, what kinds of boundaries most profoundly shaped the way you studied and learned about the past? Which boundaries do you now wish had been present, or absent?

Please join us on the 10th for what promises to be a lively and wide-ranging discussion!


Chelsea Miller

Sean Gildsdorf