What Is History?

History examines past events, processes and structures by asking a series of questions from the perspective of the present. History gains its understanding of the past by analysing and interpretingsources and by engaging with existing research. By reconstructing the historicity of social and cultural phenomena, history offers us an insight into the scope of human agency and the formability of present and future. The aim here is not to generate a definitive canon of knowledge, but instead to keep on asking new questions of the past and to attempt to answer these by engaging with existing knowledge. The questions which historians ask and the manner in which they go about investigating these always reflect their own theoretical assumptions about how human societies and cultures function. As such, history students are expected to engage critically with a wide variety of theories and methods.

History at the University of Basel is both a cultural studies and a social sciences discipline. From a cultural studies perspective, history is concerned with specific historical perceptions and interpretations of the world and the human patterns of behaviour to which these have given rise. Seen through the prism of the social sciences, history examines social conditions and structures as well as processes of political organisation – all with a particular eye on power structures. Culture is understood as the sum of the diverse attempts by members of a society to shape their world, a process which is in turn moulded by underlying cultural, social, political and economic structures. By combining approaches which are typically used in cultural studies with those from the social sciences to investigate, analyse and theorise historical processes, patterns and ruptures, the History Department also contributes to a better understanding of contemporary society.