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History 199 Descriptions: Spring 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 choose 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 Spring 2017 are:

  • Cities in the British World. An exploration of the idea of the city as well as actual cities in the nineteenth-and twentieth-century British world. Attention will be especially paid to cities as the sites of constant encounters—between men and women, whites and non-whites, the state and its subjects, social reformers and their objects of uplift. As the course examines utopian and dystopian urban reform projects, it will range broadly from Manchester to Kingston, Glasgow to Bombay.  But London, with its deep ties to the empire and the wider world, will be a special focus.
  • The Gilded Age.  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.
  • Liberty vs. Security: Free 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.
  • Nature in American History.  An examination of how Americans and their physical environments have shaped each other over time.  Topics include human migrations and settlement patterns; histories of disease and agriculture; the evolution of cities, suburbs and regions; important technological developments; and changing ideas about the meanings and values of nature.
  • Russia in Revolution.  An examination of Russia in revolution from the attempts at reform in 1905, through the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 and the subsequent consolidation of power under Lenin and Stalin. Special emphasis on the nature of "revolution" and questions of agency and contingency.
  • Slavery in Virginia. An exploration of the history of slavery in Virginia, 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.
  • Tobacco.  An examination of the rich and varied history of tobacco as a window onto the broader study of history.  Topics include tobacco's central place in the histories of European encounters with America, the American Revolution, slavery, labor and civil rights movements, popular culture, advertising, public health, and international business.
  • The U.S./Mexico Borderlands.  An examination of the socio-political, economic, and cultural history of the U.S.-Mexico border, a site for more than four centuries of peaceful encounters, violent clashes, and episodes that defy simple categorization.  How the border has affected the construction of racial/ethnic, gender and class identities will be investigated for what it can reveal about national and transnational histories.  Themes to be explored include capitalist development, rebellions, transculturation, immigration, narcopolitics, and militarization.