A few of the courses I’m teaching these days…
Eyewitness accounts of traumatic events have an urgent power. They can uncover hidden miseries and generate humanitarian action. They can illustrate important historical events and illuminate powerful lessons. Yet they can also be unreliable, prone to exaggeration or outright distortion. In this seminar, we will study a series of eyewitness accounts from far and near, accounts that bear witness to plague, war, atrocity, disease, disaster, and deprivation. Looking to examples from the Spanish conquest of the Americas to the Holocaust and to the Rwandan genocide and many more, we will consider profound questions. What words, what images will do in the face of suffering? How should we respond to these accounts of suffering? Are these accounts political acts? Can such accounts help to heal the wounds of conflict?
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, what do globally-engaged citizens need to know to understand our world? At our own historical conjuncture – a multi-polar world riven by ethnic, religious and national divisions, a global world of instantaneous communications and slow-burning environmental challenges, a world transformed by new technologies and bound by deep-seated traditions – we need history more than ever before. We need an awareness of the cultural traditions that define regions and peoples; we need knowledge of the historical legacies that shape the present and the future; and we need a broad understanding of the forces that make the contemporary world.
The Making of the Contemporary World (MCW) offers an introduction to the history of the present, with emphasis on the major events and powerful forces of the last one hundred years that shape the world today. The course is wide-ranging, taking in perspectives from across the globe, without worrying about complete chronological or geographical coverage. It provides a framework for making sense of the political, economic, social, and cultural developments of the contemporary world. Readings include a political history of the twentieth century, a thematic history of the twentieth century, and select primary and secondary sources. Requirements include weekly study questions, two papers, two short exams, two presentations, and the final examination. The course combines lecture, discussion, and small-group activities. The course will be taught on a three day a week schedule, with two days of mostly lecture (Mondays and Wednesdays), and one day of mostly discussion (Friday). We will break up into small groups for discussions on Friday.
History 10181 (Intro to History)—France in the Age of the Eiffel Tower
We will explore the history of France in the decisive years from 1870 to 1914, as an entryway to the study of history. These years have been remembered for: technological innovations and social transformations, the birth of mass culture and mass democracy, a lively culture of entertainment at home and a racist imperialism abroad, the rise of modern Paris, political scandal, and much, much more. This was the age of impressionism, the Eiffel Tower, the colonial war, anarchist bombings, the department store and the automobile. We will study this era in all its complexity, looking to science, art, literature, politics and more. Expect a heavy load of reading and writing and the pleasures of foreign travels.
History 20101 (The Craft of History)—The History of News
We live in a mediatized world, at a moment of profound change: online sources have undermined traditional news sources, the economic model of newspapers is in crisis, cable news has degenerated into sensationalism and opinion theater, new outlets for gossip and entertainment multiply. We’re wrapped up in debates over bias in the news. We’ve come a long way from the hallowed promise of the press as the fourth estate, the check and balance to kings and governments. How shall we understand our news world? A little bit of history may help us to make sense of it.
This course serves two functions. It is, first of all, an introduction to the history of the news in Western societies—from the newsbooks and ballads of the sixteenth century to the newspaper, broadcast news, the internet, and beyond. At the same time, this course is a practical introduction to the critical skills of the historian—including the analysis of primary sources, historiography, historical research and writing, and historical argumentation. A series of questions will guide our studies: What, in different societies, has counted for news? How have news media changed? What connections are there between the form and the content of news? What has been the social impact of news? Who controls the news? We will explore these questions through classic works on the printing revolution, the history of the press, the sociology of culture, and media criticism, together with newspapers, films, newsreels, and fiction.
History 20113 (The Craft of History)—Crime and Punishment in History
Our subject is the history of crime and punishment in broad perspective, centering our attention on violent crime and criminal punishment in Europe—especially Britain—from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, with some comparative looks to the contemporary United States. The course is structured around a series of questions. How have levels of violence changed over the longue durée and how have such changes been explained? How has the apparatus of criminal justice evolved? What have been the forms and the meanings of judicial punishments? How have definitions of crime and criminal changed over time? How has crime and justice been represented in literature and the press? In pursuing these questions, we will examine the analysis and debates of prominent historians together with accessible primary sources.
This course is also a practical introduction to the critical skills of the historian. Our goals: to learn how to analyze primary and secondary sources as historians, to learn how to do historical research, to learn how to think historically, to learn how to write history. The class will be run as a seminar. I’ll give occasional short presentations (as will students), but most of the time in class will be spent in discussion. This course is a writing course. It fulfills, in part, the writing requirement for graduation. A series of papers will cultivate the varieties of writing that Junior and Senior I.S. in History require.
History 20201 (History Workshop)—Documentary History (quarter credit)
This course will provide a theoretical foundation and practical training in historical documentary. We will spend part of our time discussion how historical documentaries work: What are their aims? When do they do well? When do they fail? How do they represent the past? The rest of our time will be devoted to the very practical: How should we go about making our own historical documentaries? We will study the essential techniques of historical documentary work, including camera and composition, script, sound, and editing.
This course is aimed at the History major who is interested in incorporating documentary video into his or her Senior I.S., but it is open to all students interested in history and documentary. If students have a video project in progress, they will be able to integrate it into the work of the course.
This is a quarter-credit course, which doesn’t amount to that much time. We will meet about two and a half hours a week for only six (non-consecutive) weeks of the semester
History 20800—Europe, 1890-1945: The Experience of History
This course examines developments in Europe politics, society and culture from about 1890 to 1945. It was an age of extremes, an age of anxiety, an age of terrors. These years were marked by pitched social conflicts, economic crisis, ideological struggles between liberal democracy, fascism, and communism, two devastating world wars, genocide. But it’s not all so bleak. This was also an age of exciting cultural and intellectual innovations and profound social transformations. The age of Hitler and Stalin was also the age of Einstein and Freud, Picasso and Eisenstein, the “new woman” and a newly empowered working-class.
There is too much history here to be exhaustive. We’ll focus on a set of central themes and center our attention on Britain, France and Germany, with detours to Italy, Spain, Ireland, Russia/the Soviet Union, Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Readings will include a rich set of primary sources—including feminist statements, science fiction, imperialist propaganda, reflections on war, documents on the Holocaust—and classic works of prominent historians. We will also give some attention to the powerful visual culture of the era—early cinema, photojournalism from the Spanish Civil War, classic European cinema, surrealist art, and more.
Class format will combine lecture and discussion.
History 20900—Europe Since 1945: History & Film
This course examines history and film in Europe from the immediate aftermath of the devastation of the Second World War to the present. Topics include: the reconstruction of Europe, the Cold War, the dilemma of Americanization, the expansion of the social welfare state, decolonization and immigration, student protest, the radical right, (the challenges of) European integration, and more. The course will be taught with a mix of lecture and discussion. A large part of our studies will be devoted to a consideration of how the larger political and social struggles of Europe have been refracted and interpreted in the art of cinema.
Throughout the semester, we’ll return to a set of central questions: How has Europe (and how have Europeans) recovered from the disaster that was the first half of the twentieth century? How have filmmakers reflected upon this history? How can film help to illuminate our understanding of history? How can history help to illuminate our understanding of film?
There will be (required) weekly film showings every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. We’ll watch important (and often challenging) films from postwar European cinema. I will schedule an alternate viewing time for students who have an ongoing conflict with the Thursday night session. Titles include: The Third Man, Rome: Open City, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Blow-Up, Blind Chance, Hate.
History 22300—Modern France
France has fascinated and puzzled Americans for more than two hundred years now. Leave behind the cable news clichés and Hollywood dramatizations. This course is a chance to explore the history of America’s oldest ally (and frequent critic) in all of its complexity.
This course is a survey of French politics, society and culture from the eighteenth century to the present. The political narrative—of the struggles that have culminated in the (current) Fifth Republic—provides the backbone of our studies. We will study several episodes of crisis in close detail—the French Revolution, 1848, the Paris Commune, the Second World War, the Algerian War, and more. We will analyze long-running developments in French society and culture—the emergence of class society, industrialization, the survival of the peasantry, movements in high culture, changing roles for women, colonialism and decolonization, immigration. Throughout, we will ask how French men and women of various social positions—the aristocrat, the peasant, the Paris shopkeeper, the Arab immigrant, the miner, the bohemian artist, to name just a few—experienced these events and these developments. We will also look to the ways in which this history has been reflected and recast in literature, art, film, and philosophy.
Readings include a mix of primary & secondary sources. A series of evening films are required viewing. The format of class will include lecture and discussion. There are no prerequisites.
History 275xx (Studies in History)—The Nineteenth-Century European City
A fourteen-week excursion through the industrial cities, the burgeoning capitals and the sprawling metropoles of Europe in the age of urbanization, from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. We will take extended stays in London, Paris, and Vienna, with visits to Manchester, Berlin, Rome, Barcelona, Prague, and points elsewhere.
On our journey we will ask a series of questions: How did these cities manage the ecological challenges of dense human settlement? What different forms did they take? How did these cities change? What kinds of struggles (political, social, and cultural) were played out in cities? How were these urban spaces experienced? What were their dangers? What fears did they awaken in city dwellers, government officials, writers and artists? And what was their promise? What new pleasures did they allow?
The course is an advanced history seminar. Most of class time will be devoted to class discussion based on the common readings, with occasional presentations. The course will require a significant time investment in reading to be prepared for discussion. Other requirements include: assembling a multimedia dossier of one European city at one moment in its history, a short book review, preparation of weekly discussion questions, and a final examination.
No prerequisites. Some familiarity with the study of history and with Europe (which might include a course in European history, a foreign language, foreign travel) would be helpful, but is not required.
History 30136 (History Colloquium)—The World in 1900
“The world has changed more in the last thirty years than it has since Jesus.”—Charles Peguy
This course is an upper-level seminar on the history of the world at the turn of the twentieth century, the period Jan Romein described as “the watershed of two eras.” It was a period of profound transformations in politics, society, culture, and ideas. I will argue that, in many respects, the world in 1900 looked more like our world than the intervening era of world war and cold war. After a brief survey, we will take up an important question each week, examining international relations, changes in everyday life, mass politics, consumer society, scientific innovations, new cultural movements, imperialism, and more. A heavy reading load (roughly a book a week) will include important new scholarship, classic historical accounts, and powerful primary sources. No prerequisites, but background in history will be helpful. Class format will be discussion.