Can We Know Our Past? (Gen Ed 1105)





In a time when histories are being contested, monuments removed, and alternative facts compete with established orthodoxy, how do we evaluate competing narratives about what really happened in the past?


Histories, Societies, Individuals icon with textScience & Technology in Society icon with text

Jason Ur and Matthew Liebmann

What happened in the past? How do you know? Even though today we take great pains to document every major event that occurs, more than 99% of human history is not written down. How, then, can we determine with any certainty what people did, let alone thought about, hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years ago? This course addresses these and other fundamental questions: Can we ever really know what happened in the past?  If the past is “dead and gone,” how do we know what we (think we) know about it?  And what is our degree of certainty about the past societies and cultures that historians, archaeologists and others study today? Through hands-on interaction with artifacts, experiments and other analytical methods you will consider how these approaches relate to different “stakeholders” – groups of people whose understanding of themselves is rooted in a connection to history.  By the end of this course, you will have a sense of how your knowledge of the seemingly-distant past is, in fact, intimately tied to your experiences in the contemporary world. 


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