Accessibility statement

Mending the Past: History & the Politics of Guilt & Reparation - HIS00081M

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Geoff Cubitt
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

The past has passed, but leaving it behind is another matter. Violences and injustices perpetrated at specific moments in history linger or resurface, generating often politically contentious demands for justice, reparation, apology, acknowledgement, atonement or reconciliation. Over the period since the middle of the twentieth century, and increasingly in recent decades, demands of this kind – rooted in varied experiences of war, racism, colonialism, imperialism, state terror, genocide, displacement and dispossession – have been a salient, though often a controversial feature of the political landscape, both within particular nations and internationally. Drawing on a range of examples from different countries and global regions, this module will explore the political, ethical, conceptual and legal issues raised by such demands and by the resistances they encounter, and will use these as a prism through which to investigate cultural assumptions about collective guilt and responsibility, social trauma, the ethics of witnessing and remembrance, identity politics, symbolic action and other themes. Detailed case studies will be combined with general conceptual analysis.

The module draws on approaches in politics, sociology, law, philosophy and cultural studies as well as history, but it also seeks specifically to explore the historical conditions under which movements for reparation, apology or retrospective justice have emerged, and the ways in which history as a discipline, and historians as its practitioners, are implicated in these debates, whether through the role of historians as advisers, commentators or witnesses in particular cases, or through the more general notion that historical writing and research itself may serve as a vehicle of justice or reparation or as a means of sustaining recognition of past atrocities.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Spain: Forgetting and Remembering
  2. France: Memory, justice and history
  3. Australia: The Stolen Generations and the politics of apology and reconciliation
  4. Japan: Acknowledgement and denial in national and international perspective
  5. Transatlantic slavery: apology and reparations in the Atlantic world
  6. South Africa: Memory, truth and reconciliation after Apartheid
  7. Restitution of cultural property
  8. Round-up: Historians and the politics of guilt and reparation.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Barkun, Elazar. The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices. (New York & London: Norton, 2000.)
  • Jennifer Lind. Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2008.)
  • Ruti Teitel, ‘Transitional justice genealogy’, Harvard Human Rights Journal 69 (2003), 69-94

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.