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History 199 Descriptions: Spring 2019

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 Spring Semester 2019 are:  

Cities in the British World.  An exploration of the idea of the city as well as actual cities in the 19th and 20th century British world.  We will attend especially to cities as the sites of constant encounters, including between: men and women, whites and non-whites, the state and its subjects, social reformers and the objects of their uplift.  As we explore utopian and dystopian urban reform projects we will range broadly across the British world from Manchester to Kingston, Glasgow to Bombay.  However, London, with its deep ties to the empire and wider world, will be a special focus.

The Gilded Age.  Professor 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.  Professor Yanikdağ.  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: Free Speech from Jefferson to Lincoln. Professor Halperin.   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.

Nazi Germany.  Professor Kahn.  An exploration of the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, World War II, and the Holocaust, emphasizing how Hitler’s rise to power impacted society, culture, and everyday life in Germany. Topics include: political and economic turmoil; international conflict, militarism, and warfare; the persecution of Jews, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, and other minority groups; the role of women under Nazism; art, architecture, and propaganda; and postwar representations of the Nazi period in museums, monuments, films, and popular culture.

The Scottsboro Trials.  An examination, in its historical context, of a famous 1931 legal case in which nine black teenagers were falsely accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama.

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.

The U.S./Mexico Borderlands. Professor Meyer.  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.