Highlighted Courses

Spring 2024

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.


HIS 205 The Byzantine Empire

Instructor: Teresa Shawcross

T/Th 11:00 - 12:20

Ever wondered what the world would have looked like had the Roman Empire not fallen? Well, this is not a hypothetical scenario. As you’ll find out in this course, the Roman state not only survived for another thousand years after the end of antiquity, but was extraordinarily successful. Its power was admired and feared by the nascent polities at its frontiers – from Germany and Russia to Egypt and Iran – and attentively studied by elites as far afield as Central Asia and China. We shall examine the empire’s institutions of domestic government, its diplomatic strategies, and its military technology. We shall learn why its unprecedented capacity to dominate the economy through the centuries has meant its gold coinage is considered to have been the ‘dollar of the Middle Ages’. We shall study its art, culture and belief-systems (from the Orthodox icon to Fermat’s Theorem), seeing how these continue to influence aesthetics, religion, and science today. And we shall consider its society’s distinctive approach to fundamental questions of identity – such as race and ethnicity, gender, and disability – in order to understand why later eras of colonialism and imperialism dismissively renamed the civilization "Byzantium" and engaged in the erasure of its history.


HIS 212 Europe in the World: From 1776 to the Present Day

Instructor: David Bell

M/W 1:30 - 2:20

Revolution. Total War. Industrial Capitalism. Feminism. Socialism. Communism. Fascism. Imperialism. Decolonization. Romanticism. Modernism. Existentialism. Postmodernism. To understand these things, the history of Modern Europe and European empires is an indispensable starting point. Learn about it in HIS 212, with lectures Monday and Wednesday at 1:30.


HIS 280 Approaches to American History

Instructors: Beth Lew-Williams & Peter Wirzbicki

M/W 1:30 - 2:50

T/Th 1:30 - 2:50

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.


HIS 294 Science and Medicine in the Early Modern World

Instructor: Jennifer Rampling

M/W 11:00 - 11:50

Join HIS 294 to explore how new developments in science, medicine, and technology shaped European cultures during three crucial centuries, from 1400-1700. During this period, knowledge of nature was transformed by the rediscovery of ancient texts, the invention of new technologies, and encounters with new lands and peoples. Political upheaval, religious Reformation, and the expansion of global commerce and colonization also affected how science was carried out, and by whom. From medicine and mechanics to alchemy and magic, we’ll examine the interplay between natural knowledge and human culture. 


HIS 307 The Spanish Empire

Instructor: Yonatan Glazer-Eytan

M/W 9:00 - 9:50

How did a relatively poor and politically-fragmented land become home to one of the biggest empires in world history? How did a multi-religious society introduce to the world the Spanish Inquisition and turned Catholicism into a religion practiced from Lima to Manila? How did chocolate and tobacco become commodities consumed across the globe? And what kind of impact did the empire have on the nation-states and societies that emerged after its demise? 

The Spanish empire played a key role in the emergence of the modern world as we know it. At its height, this empire claimed dominion over the entire Iberian Peninsula and vast territories in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It was central in making Catholicism a world religion and in turning Spanish into one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It extracted immense riches from the earth in order to sustain certain ways of life, transformed the environment and the animal world, and created new social structures and hierarchies at home and abroad. It brought together the four ends of the globe in communication, paving the way to many of the social, cultural, biological, and economic realities of our present world. 

The history of the Spanish empire is undoubtedly marked by violence, exploitation, and exclusion. Yet it is also a history of cross-cultural encounter, adaptation, and fusion. Spanish achievements are inconceivable without collaboration with local powers. Monarchs, viceroys, bishops and inquisitors sought to impose their control over the population, but subjects -- including non-Europeans -- often resisted and found ways to manipulate the system. Criticism and attempts at reform were frequent in this centuries-long empire, as were crises and rebellions. 

This introductory course offers a historical overview of the Spanish empire, from its emergence in the late fifteenth century to its eventual dissolution in the nineteenth century. We will examine the nature of Spanish imperial rule, the societies and cultures that were forged in the process, and the asymmetric connections that it facilitated across the globe. Students will analyze a wide variety of primary sources, ranging from an account of a "native" conquistador to a short story about two tricksters on their way to Seville, hybrid religious images from the Philippines, Andean declarations of revolt, and reports on Christian captives in North Africa.

HIS 361 The United States Since 1974

Instructor: Julian Zelizer

T/Th 11:00 - 11:50

The U.S. Since 1974 takes students into a historical journey to understand the roots of our current times. Taking a deep dive into the politics, economics, culture, technology, media, and social movements of the past half century, Professor Julian Zelizer explores how the nation ended up so deeply divided over the basic issues of our times. The class starts with the dramatic resignation of President Richard Nixon from office and ends in the first months of 2024. 

HIS 372 Revolutionary America

Instructor: Michael Blaakman

M/W 10:00 - 10:50

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 United States’ revolutionary origins: 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 Native, 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 a fractious republican “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. 

HIS 393 Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America

Instructor: Keith Wailoo

T/Th 10:00 - 10:50

This course examines ebbs and flows in U.S. drug policy, and how issues of race and identity inform the creation, implementation, impact, and dismantling of substance control policy. From “Chinese opium” in the 19th c. to “Hillbilly heroin” (as OxyContin was once labeled) and from “crack” cocaine to menthol cigarettes and marijuana, we examine the forces shaping drug policies, how policies are transformed, why they change, and what drug laws reveal about society. We also examine how social, political, and economic circumstances shape drug policies, and the US built a vast system governing people and the substances they can and cannot use. 

HIS 396 History of Biology

Instructor: Angela Creager

M/W 10:00 - 10:50

What is life, and how do we know? This course examines the emergence of a science of life since 1750, paying attention to the different ways biologists have understood and studied living organisms. We will also consider how beliefs about human race, sex, and gender (sometimes related to religion, sometimes not) have shaped representations of the world’s creatures, including us.

HIS 407 History Behind the Headlines: Native America in the News

Instructor: Elizabeth Ellis

T 1:30-4:20

This course examines the deep histories behind contemporary issues in Indigenous North America. In this class we will dive into the past to uncover the policies, laws, and experiences of Native peoples that have shaped our contemporary moment. Each week we’ll focus on a specific recent headline case in Native America. Throughout this course students will be asked to think about the coverage of Indigenous issues, and to focus on what gets left out of these stories. Over the course of the class, students will select their own topics to research, and they will work on these investigative stories throughout the course. Students will produce a magazine-length piece, podcast, or mini- documentary on a contemporary topic in Native America that focuses on the history behind the headlines. 

HIS 411 World After Empire

Instructor: Gyan Prakash

Th 1:30 - 4:20

George Floyd’s murder in 2020 by the police sparked a global conversation on race and inequality. This seminar turns to the modern history of empire and race to place this conversation in a historical perspective. We will look at writers and activists ranging from W.E.B. Dubois to the current Black Lives Matter movement, and from Gandhi to Frantz Fanon. Our aim will be to examine how they understood systemic inequality produced by colonial and racial enslavement, and how they imagined and advocated for a world free of imperial and racial domination. 

HIS 427 Being Human: A Political History

Instructor: Edward Baring

Th 1:30 - 4:20

Over the past 250 years, few political gestures have been more ubiquitous or powerful than the appeal to our common “humanity.” It has been used to challenge forms of oppression and exclusion, and, in the guise of “human rights,” it has come to dominate debates over international relations. But a politics based on the human self (or, as it once was, “man”) has often been accused of harboring prejudices that undercut its claim to be universal. More recently, the reference to the peculiar dignity of the human species has been brought into question by studies into the cognitive and emotive capabilities of other animals and developments in computing, while environmental activists have argued that the privilege we grant to the human has allowed the destruction of the natural world.

In this course, we will examine the emergence of the human self as a master concept in politics. But we will also track the criticisms of this concept by feminists and anti-colonial writers, and consider how scientific and technological developments over the past seventy-five years have troubled the sharp line between humans and other creatures that a humanist politics would seem to require. In addition to political and philosophical texts, we will engage with depictions of the human in popular culture in order to raise in new ways that perennial question: What does it mean to be human?

HIS 450 Abolition and Fall of American Slavery: Antislavery Movements in the United States

Instructor: Sean Wilentz

M 1:30 - 4:20

Abolitionism -- the movement to eradicate slavery -- has arguably been the greatest social and political movement in modern history. An international movement, abolitionism had its origins in the British American colonies, where it took hold during the American Revolution, then inspired antislavery radicalism throughout the Atlantic World and culminated in the Civil War and U.S. slavery's destruction. How did it happen? What were the abolitionists up against? Who were the abolitionists, in all of their variety? How did Blacks, enslaved and free, come to play a central role in the movement? What were the artistic as well as political expressions of abolitionism? Looking at a wide range of primary materials, including poetry, fiction, and song as well as proclamations and personal narratives, and including some materials undiscovered until now, History 450 will provide a comprehensive examination of a revolutionary force that continues to shape politics and culture across the globe. 

HIS 474 Cultural History of the Modern Nile Valley

Instructor: Lacy Feigh

T/Th 1:30 - 2:50

From globally-renowned writers and singers to everyday artisans and people, cultural history provides a lens through which to view complex formation of societies, ideas, and identities. An artist can use song to oppose an autocratic government, all the while creating a popular national anthem. As a region positioned within and between Africa and the Middle East, the Nile Valley is a useful place to examine the fluidity of cultural production and how it can be simultaneously localized, nationalized, or globalized depending on individual actors and historical contingency. Through this course, students will examine the cultural impact of broader political and economic forces of imperialism, capitalism, nationalism. Students will explore how modern states and empires mobilized culture to create a national identity and how everyday citizens embraced cultural production and consumption to articulate their own place in the world.