Truth Productions: Historical and Cultural Frames

Term: Fall 2008

Subject Code: GHIS

Course Number: 6104

This course explores the production of truth as an historically and culturally variable phenomenon. When and how is it that "facts" come to matter? When and why does "the eye-witness" account come to be a more credible truth? Under what conditions do rumors produce more reliable truths than being present? What is the relationship between torture and truth, between sincerity and deception, between narrative form and truth claims. Truth production takes different forms (confession, testimonials, truth commissions) just as it employs and produces different technologies (truth serums, psychoanalysis, torture, lie-detectors, dna sampling). Truth production is situated knowledge par excellence. How we imagine we can know the past is contingent on what we take to be plausible and reliable truth claims about the past, who counts as a credible witnesses, and what kinds of evidence are marshaled to back historical claims. Drawing on the work of Steven Shapin, Mary Poovey, Lorraine Daston, Hayden White, Michel Foucault, Natalie Davis, and scholars of historical ethnography, we will look at "hierarchies of credibility" (documents, testimony, memory, rumor, visual vs. verbal evidence) and the conditions under which they change. Readings will be drawn from Truth and Reconciliation Reports, torture documents, court cases, and from the fields of philosophy, literature, and history as well as anthropology. This course is not open to first year graduate students.


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