Why does history matter? HS 100 Encountering the Past explores why the study of the past is essential for understanding our present. Through the lens of a single historical topic that varies by instructor, students are introduced to what it means to think like a historian and weave compelling stories. Along the way, students learn to ask critical questions, to evaluate evidence, to make persuasive arguments, and to write clearly and cogently. The course introduces students to how and why histories are produced, but more than that, it sets out to provide new ways of thinking about the human experience and about our place in the world today.
Below you will find information about individual topics, sections and professors.
Encountering the Past: The World of Margery Kempe (HS 100.01S, HS 100.02S, HS 100.09)
Dr. Brandon Parlopiano
This section explores why History matters through the eyes of Margery Kempe, a fifteenth century English woman. Margery came from a prosperous merchant family, she married and gave birth to fourteen children, and she occasionally ran her own businesses. She also had intensely emotional visions of communicating directly with Jesus, Mary, and other Biblical figures. We'll use her exceptional life to explore how historians think about religious identity and practice, gender roles, and travel experiences (among others) in the Middle Ages.
Encountering the Past: The Taiping Rebellion (HS 100.03S, HS 100.10, HS 100.28)
Dr. Austin Parks
This section will focus on the causes and consequences of the “Taiping Rebellion”—the largest rebellion in human history—in China’s long nineteenth century. We will discuss, among other topics, nationalism, imperialism, religious rebellion, ethnicity and identity, and revolution through our critical engagement with text-based and visual primary and secondary sources.
Encountering the Past: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in Africa (HS 100.04T, HS 100.25T)
Dr. Oghenetoja Okoh
In this course, students will develop the skills necessary for understanding and producing histories, which include the critical evaluation of sources and the ability to write cogently and persuasively about events in the past. It also asks students to think about why the study of history is important to our lives today. We will engage these topics and questions by exploring the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as a practice and institution in Africa. The development of this economic system was critical to the making of the modern world. We will explore the conditions that led to its development, consider the humanistic contradictions inherent in its evolution, the debates over abolition, and its legacy on our modern world.
Encountering the Past: The Weimar Republic (HS 100.05T, HS 100.06T)
Dr. Willeke Sandler
Emerging after Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) saw vast social, political, and economic changes before being dismantled and replaced by the Nazi dictatorship in 1933. Was Germany’s first experiment with democracy doomed to fail? Did it bring about radical change of its own or simply unleash currents already underway? What were the legacies of total war for this society? How “modern” were the gender politics, ideas about sexuality, and cultural movements of the Weimar Republic? Exploring the Weimar Republic allows us to trace many of the changes and tensions of the 20th century that emerged out of the First World War and that still shape the world we live in today.
Encountering the Past: The French Revolution (HS 100.07T)
Dr. Andrew Ross
This section will use the French Revolution as our case study. The French Revolution was many things. An absolute monarchy was overthrown. An effort at democracy descended into terror. Women made new claims to citizenship. Enslaved people in Haiti overthrew their masters and founded an independent state. A European empire emerged that brought new hierarchies and the rule of law to other countries at the same time. The French Revolution thus proves an apt event with which to explore how historians debate and understand the past because the French Revolution offers to pat answers to the questions it raises: How should we organize our politics? Why have democracies struggled to ensure equity, especially for women and people of color? How is the law used to perpetuate inequality? By exploring how historians have debated the meaning of the French Revolution we will, turn, debate some of the most important questions facing us today.
Encountering the Past: The Middle East in Myth and Reality (HS 100.11, HS 100.12, HS 100.13, HS 100.27)
Dr. Bahar Jalali
This course will explore myths and realities about the Middle East. The term Middle East is loaded with implications, stereotypes, projections and clichés. Often defined as a “cradle of civilization,” the region has not only been the setting for premodern events and narratives of lasting impact upon the world at large; it has also been mythicized from outside like few other places in the modern era, and remains globally contested both in myth and in reality. In this course, students will be introduced to the Middle East as region where its real-life experiences often clash with past and present expectations and prejudices.
Encountering the Past: Beyond the Great Patriotic War: The Soviet Experience in WWII (HS 100.16, HS 100.17)
Dr. Alan Roe
With more than 27 million citizens dying in the Second World War, the Soviet Union experienced more significant human losses in this conflict than any state in the history of war. Today, the government Russian Federation celebrates the Soviet victory over Hitler and Nazi Germany to promote patriotism among Russian citizens, who, in large numbers, point to victory over Nazi Germany in the "Great Patriotic War" to argue that Russia was a force for good in the world during the 20th century. Without question, the USSR was the state most responsible for defeating Hitler. However, the official Russian state narrative and popular understanding obscures the diverse ways Soviet citizens experienced this war, ignores the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe while in a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, and largely disregards the USSR’s military engagements and strategy in the Far East. Using a wide range of primary sources that shed light on the human tragedy and triumph, the geopolitical dimensions and implications, and the historical legacy of this conflict, this course aims to acquaint students with the extraordinary complexity of this war.
Encountering the Past: Civil Rights and the History of the Present (HS 100.21, HS 100.22)
Dr. Sam Klug
This course examines how the civil rights movement has shaped the modern United States. On issues ranging from voting rights to the minimum wage, contemporary political conflicts often reflect divisions forged during the civil rights era, and contemporary political debate often invokes the civil rights movement’s legacy. In this class, we will explore the histories of the civil rights and Black Power movements, their lasting effects on Black politics, activism, and thought, and their impact on the development of American society since the middle of the twentieth century. We will further interrogate the ways the midcentury Black freedom movement is remembered and invoked in contemporary public discourse, in order to investigate the relationship between history, mythmaking, and memory. A central emphasis of this course will be the critical analysis of the uses to which history is put in the present.
Encountering the Past: Legacies of Modern Empire (HS 100.23, HS 100.24)
Dr. Sam Klug
Far from being a relic of the ancient world, empires existed across the world well into the twentieth century, and some people would argue they still exist today. This course will explore the legacies of modern empire with a focus on two questions. How did colonial empires leave their mark on the contemporary world? And what were the consequences of the fall of modern empires and the rise of independent nation-states—a process sometimes called decolonization? Rather than taking a survey approach, we will investigate these questions through two case studies: Ghana, which gained its independence from the British Empire in 1957; and Puerto Rico, which remains an unincorporated territory of the United States. These very different cases are useful lenses for looking at how historians interpret the past, because they shed light on historical debates about what defines an empire, how (and whether) empires should be compared, and what happens when empires end. As we examine these debates, we will also discuss how the legacy of empire has influenced contemporary ideas about democracy, citizenship, migration, race, gender, and capitalism.