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History 199 Descriptions: Fall 2017

The purpose of this course is not to cover a certain amount of ground, but to introduce students to the nature of historical interpretation. To do that, individual instructors will chose a topic that will show students the various ways historians interpret their evidence and allow them to practice interpretation on their own. Whatever the topic, the central aim is for students to come away from the course with a better understanding of the nature and limits of historical evidence, the various legitimate ways of approaching it, and the art of making persuasive claims about it.

The individual course titles for Fall Semester 2017 are:

  • The Crusades. An examination of the roots of the Crusading Movement in Western Christian societies; the ways the crusades brought three world cultures (The West, Byzantium, Islam) into contact and confrontation; the vitality of the crusading idea in Western Europe; the different perspectives on the crusades found in contemporary sources; and the movement of crusade history from a very Christian-centered view to one taking into account the experiences of non-Christians encountering the crusaders.
  • The Gilded Age.  Galgano. An exploration of aspects of U.S. history in the last third of the nineteenth century.  Often called, after Mark Twain, the “Gilded Age,” it conjures simultaneously images of splendor and corruption.  Life in the United States was contradictory, at once imperial, reformative, corporate, urban, optimistic, violent, recreational, regressive, innovative, and disillusioned.  The course examines the transformative effects these contradictions had on people in America and what people did to create or combat these transformations.  A leading question will be that posed by Twain about the period: “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.”
  • The Great War in the Middle East. An exploration of the social, cultural, political, and medical history and consequences of the Great War (1914-1918) on soldiers and civilians in the Middle East. The conflict destroyed the Ottoman order; and, while it led to the end of the Caliphate and the emergence of nation-states across the region, it also transformed concepts of identity, notions of religion, and patterns of authority.
  • Health in American History.  An exploration of how historical perspectives on illness and wellness can illuminate such questions as: What is health?  Is American society more or less healthy today than in the past?  Topics will include the social histories of disease; the development of medical institutions; professionalization and its impact upon doctor-patient relationships; the evolution of the relationship between health and social structure; and popular ideas about the body and healing.
  • Liberty vs Security: Political Speech from Jefferson to Lincoln.  An examination of how the meaning of free speech in America changed from the Revolution to the Civil War, when  Americans argued about the proper role of dissent in a republic and grappled with how to determine whether speech was acceptable or endangered the nation.  Topics addressed will include the role of dissent, the limits on speech (written and spoken) in times of peace and war, and the efforts to balance liberty with order, and security.
  • Lincoln.  A study of Abraham Lincoln’s life in the broader historical perspective of the western movement, social mobility, party politics, the legal profession, the sectional crisis, and the Civil War.  Roughly equal time is devoted to Lincoln’s pre-presidential and Civil War years. 
  • Slavery in Virginia. An exploration of the history of slavery in Early America, from the beginnings of African chattel slavery through gradual emancipation in the United States. In the first half of the course, students will consider the varied kinds of evidence that historians have used to tell the story of slavery, from ships logs and plantation records to slave narratives and material culture. The second half will be devoted to applying this knowledge to an in-depth study of primary sources related to slavery in Virginia. Throughout the course, primary and secondary sources will be paired to show how historians locate, interpret, and write about slavery’s archive.
  • Stalin’s Terror.  An investigation of one of the most controversial and daunting questions in Soviet history. Of particular interest will be such issues as political, social and cultural history; the role of personality and ideology; and historical questions of contingency, inevitability, intentionalism and structuralism.