Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Personal Testimony for Historians: theory, method, practice HIST5171

  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Humanities
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No

Short Description

This course will enable students to work confidently with and reflect critically on primary sources collectively known as personal testimony (to include oral history, autobiography, interview data, letters, diaries, photographs, mass observation data). It will introduce a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches and offer students the opportunity to undertake in-depth analysis utilising these.  It will require engagement with a variety of approaches and interpretive frameworks including: linguistics, memory studies, narratology, subjectivity, trauma theory. It will address questions concerning reliability, representativeness, generalisation, the relationship between these sources and public discourses and the ways in which personal testimony is inflected by gender, race, ethnicity, class, age and other variables. The course will also consider the ways in which historians have used personal testimony in their work, examining the cultural and methodological shifts that have taken place in historical practice.


10 x 2 hour sessions over 10 weeks

Requirements of Entry

Standard entry to Masters at College level

Excluded Courses





1 x Essay (3,000 words) 60%

1 x Short Research Project (2,000 words) 40%

Course Aims

This course aims to:


■ Engage students in independent and critical analysis of a variety of primary sources collectively known as personal testimony (including oral history, autobiography, diaries, letters, photographs, material artefacts)

■  Equip students with the tools and skills to reflect critically on historical questions and methodologies focused on the personal

■ Provide students with the knowledge and skills to undertake in-depth analysis of a range of personal testimony sources utilising appropriate theoretical and conceptual frameworks (to include linguistics, memory studies, narratology, subjectivity, trauma theory)

■ Facilitate students' understanding and critical reflection on the ways in which historians have used personal testimony in their work

■ Develop students' skills in pursuing individual research by developing an extended piece of written work

■ Develop students' collaborative working skills through participation in and presentation in seminars and workshops

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to: 


■ Present in written and oral exposition an understanding of the methodologies and theoretical frameworks employed by historians to analyse forms of personal testimony

■ Demonstrate the ability through oral exposition or written argument to critically assess the ways in which personal testimony has been used in historical research

■ Evaluate different theoretical and methodological approaches to working with personal testimony

■ Produce sustained arguments in both written and oral form on a variety of personal testimony sources utilising the concepts, approaches and methods encountered on the course.

■ Critically engage with primary and secondary sources to construct an independent argument.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.