Highlighted Courses

Spring 2022

This list provides a more specific description of particular courses than is found in Course Offerings.

Please note: First-year students are encouraged to try either 200- or 300-level courses in History, according to their own interests. In general, the difference between 200- and 300-level courses is a matter of the topic’s breadth (200-level courses covering longer periods of time and/or larger areas of space than 300-level courses), rather than indicating any degree of difficulty, pre-assumed knowledge, etc. (Note: This distinction will not necessarily apply where History is cross-listed, e.g. AAS 313/HIS 213.)

While a 200-level course is necessary for entry into the Department, students need not “start” their History careers with one. First-year students are welcome and encouraged to take 300-level courses regardless of their previous experience.

Photographs and newspaper clippings of the people of Trenton, NJ

HIS 202 / AMS 202 / URB 203: The Sixties: Documentary, Youth, and the City

This new seminar in history and documentary film explores personal narrative and how individual experience contributes to profound social change. Young people coming of age in the 1960s participated in one of the most tumultuous decades in recent U.S. history. Trenton, New Jersey is our case study. The course will contrast oral histories, biography, memoir, ethnography and journalism, drawing on the Trenton Project archive of documents and interviews. Themes include: civil rights and Black power; immigration and migration; student uprisings and policing; gender and sexuality; high school and college; churches and city institutions; sports and youth culture; labor, class and neighborhood; politics and government. As we work to understand the mindsets of young people in the 1960s, we will consider what it means to look back from our own volatile moment in history. The course asks how a new generation of storytellers will shape public conversations and policy, particularly regarding youth, race, and protest.

Students will learn how historians and filmmakers define the scope of a project, conduct research, gather evidence, reshape questions and themes, edit, and complete a final piece. Students will produce original works in both disciplines, drawing on (and contributing to) a deep archive of oral history interviews and primary source documents assembled by the professors and cohorts of students since 2016.  You will learn film production and video-editing, experience is welcome, but not required. Weekly readings, films, and seminar discussions provide historical context and methods as we weave individual private lives into larger public histories. There will be a critique of near-final student films on campus, and a final public screening in Trenton in May. Visit The Trenton Project to see student films from previous courses. View more course details.

Instructor: Alison Isenberg and Purcell Carson
Tuesdays, 1:30 to 4:20 pm

Photos and prints from the Little Rock integration, a Chinese woman detained in San Francisco, and witches burned at the stake

HIS 280: Approaches to American History

How do historians do history? How do they go into archives filled with historical documents and come out with narratives, interpretations, and arguments? To demystify this process, we will recreate it in class. Students will be given a very wide range of primary documents produced by three central events in U.S. history: the fight to integrate a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas (1955-59); the detention of twenty-two “lewd” Chinese women at San Francisco’s harbor (1875); and the notorious trials of accused witches in Salem, Massachusetts (1692-93). Armed with these historical documents, we will attempt to produce history. View more course details.

Instructor: Kevin Kruse and Beth Lew-Williams
Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 to 12:20 pm

Protest march of South Asian peoples

HIS 341 / SAS 341: Making Minorities: Modern South Asia

Who is a minority? In contemporary South Asia, "minority" is often defined by religion, linguistic identity, caste, ethnicity, or other social markers. But the category of "minority" is not static. In this course, we study the ways that minorities have been legally, politically, and socially defined in colonial and post-colonial South Asia, including in modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. We historicize the fraught categorization of religious, linguistic, caste, and other minority groups, and we ask how minoritized people have attempted to avert or contest forms of majoritarian rule. View more course details.

Instructor: Amanda Lanzillo
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 am to 12:20 pm

Cartoon shows chubby white man attempting to sew the tattered American flag back together; Paul Fell copyright 2016

HIS 361: The United States Since 1974

How did the United States become so deeply divided? It didn’t all start with the former president, Donald Trump. Professor Zelizer takes his class through four decades of contemporary history, looking at how and why the country moved further apart on core issues of politics, economic, culture, and social relations. With a stunning multi-media presentation, the class helps students make sense of the turning points that they and their parents lived through. View more course details.

Instructor: Julian Zelizer
Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:00 to 11:50 am

Photograph of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir

HIS 369 / CHV 369: European Intellectual History in the Twentieth Century

What is the best way to organize society? How can we ensure equality between the sexes and different social groups? What is the place of religion in the modern world? How do we grapple with colonialism, and what is its legacy in the present? How do we promote social change, and when, if ever, is violence required? These were all pressing questions for intellectuals in Europe, as they grappled with one of the most tumultuous periods in human history, encompassing two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Fascism, the Holocaust, and the collapse of European Empires. In this course, we will examine these intellectuals, track the historical developments that provoked their questions, and discuss whether and how their answers continue to resonate in the present. View more course details.

Instructor: Ed Baring
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 am to 12:20 pm

Ships sailing in New York harbor, mid-1700s

HIS 372: Revolutionary America

Hardly a week goes by without American politicians summoning the views of crusty “Founding Fathers” to support their own political agenda. Such rhetoric typically draws on a sanitized, even quaint version of the nation’s revolutionary past: a tale of wrongfully oppressed colonists—staid, breech-wearing, and bewigged—standing up for liberty and democracy. The real story, however, is far more interesting. This course traces the dramatic upheaval of the American Revolution—its ideals and contradictions, its anxiety and violence, its achievements and tragedies—from many perspectives: female and male, Black and white and Indigenous, free and enslaved, American and British, Loyalist and Patriot. We’ll explore why colonists declared independence and how they won it, why the Revolution created an “empire of liberty” rooted in slavery, and how ordinary people influenced these extraordinary events. From the Seven Years War through the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, we will seek a more accurate, inclusive, and human understanding of the contested origins of the United States’ fragile political experiment. View more course details.

Instructor: Michael Blaakman
Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00 to 10:50 am

Painting "The Verdict of the People" by American artist George Caleb Bingham: Crowds gather around a courthouse to hear voting results.

HIS 379 / SPI 362 / AMS 420: US Legal History

Where is the law? Who makes it? What is it supposed to do? The answers to these questions seem so obvious that we don’t usually think about them now. We simply assume that laws are written down and published, overseen by legal professionals, and intended to produced justice. But the history of law in the United States tells a far more complicated story, one in which law did not always take the forms or serve the purposes that it does today. Using a range of legal documents, we’ll explore the many forms of law, the range of people who made and interpreted it, and the changes in law’s content and the legal system’s structure. With this history, you’ll will never view current issues in the same way again. View more course details.

Instructor: Laura Edwards
Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:30 to 2:20 pm

History of Ecology and Environmentalism flyer with images of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring and John Gast's painting American Progress

HIS 394 / ENV 394: History of Ecology and Environmentalism

What does it meant to be an environmentalist? How is the history of environmentalism related to the science of ecology? How have differences in lived environments reinforced social and political inequalities within the United States and globally? In searching for answers to questions like these, this class explores the nature of the environment, from Darwin’s theories of organic change to twentieth century ideas of urban restoration. View more course details.

Instructors: Erika Milam and Jack Klempay
Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:30 to 2:50 pm

Albert Einstein standing on a boat, with a cigar in his mouth and his signature haircut

HIS 398: The Einstein Era

Everyone has heard about Albert Einstein. This is, when you think about it, a somewhat strange fact. How many physicists are world famous, literally household names, such that even just a cartoon outline of their haircut is instantly recognizable — even 65 years after their death? How many non-physicists can you say that about? This course is both an exploration of Einstein’s science, philosophy, and life in context, tracing how he traveled through a tumultuous 75 years marked by war, fascism, and celebrity. Besides the history of relativity and quantum theory, we’ll look at Einstein’s engagement with civil rights, his FBI files, and his complex relationship with religion and politics, and more. View more course details.

Instructor: Michael Gordin
Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:00 to 12:20 pm

Angry white woman tosses books at men presiding over a witch trial in Salem, MA, in 1692. Lithograph, American, 1892.

HIS 409 / GSS 455: Women and Law in the United States

The common assumption is that women’s relationship to law tracks with rights: they were excluded and as a result, largely powerless within the legal system, until they acquired the full range of rights. That is a mistake. Women were active in law and shaped its content and operation long before they acquired rights. In this seminar, we will explore those dynamics, with attention to differences and power dynamics among women, using a range of sources, from court cases to memoirs and novels. The focus on women also reveals new elements to law, which was always more than just top-down rules formulated by legislators and judges. Law figured as a lived aspect of people’s lives, which meant that women’s experiences were central in the law’s definition and operation. In fact, law was impossible for women to escape: it structured their identities, social relationships, material circumstances, and expectations of what government should be and do, even as it obscured elements of their lives and activism. You will leave class with an overview of the changing legal status of women in the United States, a greater understanding of the complicated roots of current legal issues facing women now, and an appreciation for the ways in which those issues affect all Americans, not just women. View more course details.

Instructor: Laura Edwards
Tuesdays, 1:30 to 4:20 pm

The tomb of the unknown Jewish martyr in Paris

HIS 445 / ECS 445: Remembering Deportation and Genocide in France Since the Second World War

160,000 persons were deported from France to camps in Central and Eastern Europe during the Second World War. A rough half were Jews; a rough half were résistants. How was the experience of deportation remembered in literature and film? How do the two kinds of experience, Jewish and résistant, compare and contrast? View more course details.

Instructor: Philip Nord
Wednesdays, 1:30 to 4:20 pm

1791 print by William Dent that shows men dancing round a cauldron with the words "French Spirits" "Revolution Anniversary, or Patriotic Incantations"

HIS 449 / FRE 449 / ECS 449: The French Enlightenment

Ever wondered what eunuchs, frizzy mint, cannibals, coffee, Quakers, and Marie-Antoinette porn might have in common? They all were part of the Enlightenment, a movement whose major concepts are central to political life in both France and the United States. This course introduces you to some of its most profound thinkers, from Voltaire and Montesquieu to Rousseau. It discusses themes such as the freedom of speech, the nature of human knowledge, and the relationship between education and ideological emancipation—topics that were just as controversial and contested in the eighteenth century as they are today. View more course details.

Instructor: Matthew McDonald
Tuesdays, 1:30 to 4:20 pm

A woman sitting in a chair with abdominal viscera, particularly the uterus, clearly visible; woodcut from 1523 Berengario’s Isagogae breves

HIS 491 / GSS 491 / HUM 491: Fertile Bodies: A Cultural History of Reproduction from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

The ancient Greeks imagined that the womb ruled the body. Medieval Christians believed in a womb touched by God. Renaissance doctors sought to unlock the womb’s secrets and absolutist Kings understood it as the key to empire and power. For two thousand years, philosophers, priests, physicians, and politicians sought to understand and control the mystery of human generation contained within a woman’s body. From a strictly biological standpoint, the answers they came up with missed the mark by a mile. We no longer believe that a wandering womb causes hysteria, or that a woman is simply an inverted man, or that God exacts retribution on a woman by rendering her unborn child ‘monstrous.’ And yet, this course will show how these ideas defined the experience of womanhood for millennia, in turn shaping the medical, legal, and religious institutions that still govern our modern world. View more course details.

Instructor: Melissa Reynolds
Tuesdays, 1:30 to 4:20 pm