Recommended Courses for First Year Students

Welcome to the History Department! On this page, you'll find a subset of our spring semester courses, nicknamed the "101s,"  which are particularly welcoming to non-concentrators. None of them have any prerequisites, and all of them will provide you with the tools you need for other History courses, introduce you to basic historical research, and improve your writing ability. You can see the full list of 101 courses in the my.harvard course catalog  and in map view (all the course names are clickable links). You can also see a pre-filtered list of all Spring History Courses open to undergraduates (101s, other lectures, and seminars) in my.harvard course catalog and on a day/time grid (all the course names are clickable links). See the bottom of the page for suggested career clusters of History courses and contacts for any questions.

101 Courses

American Populisms 101

HIST 1433: History of American Populisms
Brett Flehinger
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2PYQkWw

The Big Question: Everyone uses the term ‘populist’—but what does it really mean?

This course studies the American Populist tradition that defines the common “people“ as the foundation of American economic and political life and thrives on opposition between the people and “elite“ interests. The class places the formal Populist movement of the late nineteenth century in broader context, from Jeffersonian tradition through the rise of anti-elitist and anti-government movements characterized by George Wallace, Sarah Palin, the Tea Parties, and the political rise of Donald Trump.

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Ancestry 101

GENED: 1014 Ancestry
Maya Jasanoff
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2sH2BXO

The Big Question: What do our DNA, genealogy, family stories tell us about who we are as a species, as a social group, or as an individual?

Everyone comes from somewhere. This course looks at ancestry from a range of perspectives: biology, anthropology, genealogy, history, law, and memory—from the origins of human populations to the origins of you. Departing from two central assumptions—that the study of ancestry is the study of identity, as well as it is the study of evidence—you will broaden your understanding of ancestry to include different kinds of data, ranging from biological to archival, asking what stories these data tell, and what questions they do and do not answer. You will leave this course better primed to uncover implicit assumptions in qualitative and quantitative data alike. Beyond giving you historical skills, this course will prepare you to reconsider your ideas about ancestry outside of the classroom.

This class fulfills the General Education requirement in Histories, Societies, Individuals or Science & Technology in Society.

Business of China 101

GENED 1101: The Business of China
William Kirby
This course's listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2s5vHjo

The Big Question: What can we learn about China—its economy, its government, its culture—from its transformative enterprises?

China will become the world’s largest economy by 2030.  Chinese firms have transformed business landscapes at home and now seek a  global role. What can we learn about China—its people, its government, its culture—from its transformative enterprises?  This course uses business as a lens through which to study modern China and its global impact. Using Harvard Business School case studies, we explore the drivers of China’s growth: traditional family firms and internet startups; state-owned enterprises and private-sector challengers; and the catalytic role of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and foreign enterprise in shaping contemporary China.  We study the role of the Communist Party and government (local and national) in business and society. The course puts special attention on how U.S.-China relations are shaped by business in the era of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. Can China lead? Will the 21st century be “the Chinese century?“ At the end of this course you will be able to make well-informed judgments.

This class fulfills the General Education requirement in Histories, Societies, Individuals.

Capitalism 101

GENED 1159: American Capitalism
Sven Beckert
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2RvVl9I

The Big Question: How did capitalism emerge, expand and transform daily life in North America over the past 500 years?

What is capitalism? Is capitalism the inevitable product of history? Was slavery capitalist? What is the relationship between capitalism and the state, between capitalism and equality, and between capitalism and culture? How did capitalism emerge, expand and transform daily life in North America over the past 500 years? In this course, students will learn how the modern structures of capitalism that so powerfully shape our lives are the product of centuries of human struggles and aspirations. This understanding of the history of American capitalism is an essential foundation for contemporary decision-making in our global economy.

This class fulfills the General Education requirement in Histories, Societies, Individuals.

Energy & Environment 101

HIST 1610: Environments: China, Japan, Korea
Ian J. Miller
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2S9CbZw

The Big Question: What was energy? What is our energy future? How have some of the world’s most important economies—China, Japan, the Koreas—reconciled the demand for energy with the need to protect the natural environment?

The future is not what it used to be. Nowhere is this more evident than in the natural world, where climate change and fading biodiversity, energy anxieties and environmental disasters have undermined the bedrock of history: the assumption of a stable continuity between past, present, and future. This class visits East Asia—China, Japan, and the Koreas, vibrant economies and agents of historical change, to explore the transformation of the natural world in modern times. We will analyze nuclear power plants and cruise rivers, explore industrial ruins and debate public policy as we define Asia’s role in the global environmental future.

 

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Environment 101

HIST 1054: From the Little Ice Age to Climate Change: Introduction to US Environmental History
Zachary Nowak
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2Q4Pvf3

The Big Question: Is there a problem with wilderness?

 

What’s the problem with wilderness? Or the environmental movement? Or invasive species? This course examines how humans thought about and used the natural world over the centuries—and the consequences of both use of and thoughts about nature. Topics include food, climate change, pollution, conquest and resistance, environmentalism, and energy. This course actively seeks to show the importance of the material world and the contributions of a broad spectrum of historical actors to US history, among them Native Americans, enslaved people, women, working people, and outlaws, as well as the climate, microbes, and animals.

 

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Founding Europe 101

HIST 1155: Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789
Ann Blair
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2Q0Ry3z
Past evaluations for this course can be found here: http://bit.ly/HIST1155Evaluation

The Big Question: How did Europe go from being a provincial backwater of Western Asia to the dominant region of the world in three centuries

 

This course is an introductory survey of European Early Modern history, from the fifteenth to the late eighteenth century. Organized chronologically and thematically, it examines developments from the late Middle Ages to the Age of Revolutions, including the passage from feudalism to urban institutions, the Renaissance, European Expansion overseas, the Protestant and the Catholic Reformations, the Scientific Revolution, the Rise of Absolutism, slavery, the Enlightenment, and Revolutions. Meetings will alternate between lecture and discussion of primary sources (available in English translation).

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Germany and the Holocaust 101

HIST 1049: Germany and the Holocaust
Brandon Bloch
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2RvVl9I

The Big Question: How do totalitarian states gain power?

This course examines the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust against the backdrop of antisemitism, colonialism, racial science, and economic crisis. Major themes include the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany; the sources of Nazi antisemitism; the role of race, gender, and disability in the Nazi state; the origins of World War II; the decision to annihilate European Jewry; collaboration and resistance during the Holocaust; the relationship between statelessness and genocide; and postwar legacies. Special attention will be paid to primary sources and methods of analyzing testimonies by Holocaust perpetrators and victims.

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Latin America 101

HIST 1513: History of Modern Latin America
Kirsten Weld
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2sIglRY

The Big Question: Why did Latin American revolutionaries like Che Guevara become global icons?

Putting today’s Latin America in historical perspective, this course explores how various types of inequality—economic, racial, environmental, gendered, and social—have shaped life in the region. Students will gain an understanding not only of key events in modern Latin American history, but of how and why history gets made, and of what Latin America’s complex past might suggest about its future.

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Nature 101

GENED 1117: Nature
Joyce Chaplin
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2ExXZWr

The Big Question: If nature is good, what good are humans?

The planet is in crisis; we live in a state of emergency. Our emergency circumstances encompass a range of daunting environmental problems that make inaction simply not an option. We need to think clearly and calmly about this crisis to craft the best possible solutions. But the kind of clear, calm thought we will need to use requires two kinds of understanding. First, we must think with precision about what nature is, especially in its ethical dimensions. Second, we will need to understand how to deal with the inevitable tradeoffs any solutions to our environmental crises will bring with them. How, in short, is it possible to craft solutions that will be as just as possible, to as many people as possible? And if that justice should extend beyond the human community, to include the nonhuman parts of nature, how will this be accomplished? This class is designed to give you an intellectual, verbal, and ethical toolkit for dealing with the important debates over imperiled natural resources and competing human needs that will only become more urgent as the years go by.

This course fulfills the General Education requirement in Ethics & Civics.

Russian Empire 101

HIST 1240: Artifacts of the Russian Empire
Megan Duncan Smith
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2MbOpgf

The Big Question: What can we learn about the history of the Russian Empire from church bells, wooden toys, orthodox icons, landscape paintings, and satirical cartoons?

This survey course will explore the history of the Russian Empire through its cultural artifacts - the images, objects, and words that the Empire’s inhabitants produced and possessed. Artifacts will include elements of high and low culture, material culture, print culture, and the built environment. Visual culture will be emphasized, but we will also listen, taste, touch, and smell.

About 25% of the course will be dedicated to the thousand years before 1700, 25% to the eighteenth century, and 50% to the nineteenth century, ending with the revolutions of 1917.

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

Vietnam War 101

HIST 1001: The War in Vietnam
Fredrik Logevall
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/2PBeEik

The Big Question: Why did it happen, and what does the outcome mean for us today?

The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the 20th century. How did it happen? Why did first France and then the United States wage large-scale war there, and why did both powers fail in their effort to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces? And what is the legacy of the struggle for our world and for U.S. foreign policy today? This course examines these and related questions, with particular attention to the long period of direct American involvement.  The events will be considered in their relationship to Vietnam's history, to American politics and society, and to the concurrent Cold War.

This course fulfills the Distribution requirement in Social Sciences.

War 101

GENED 1095: Is War Inevitable?
Derek Penslar
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here:  http://bit.ly/35B3Nuo

The Big Question: Why is there war? Will there always be war?

The current crisis between the United States and Iran reminds us of the ever-present threat of war. What is war, and why has it been nearly constant throughout history? Why do wars start, how can they be stopped, and what can be done to prevent them? This course seeks to answer these questions. It ranges from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the last 250 years. Beginning with the socio-biological roots of human aggression and altruism, the course focuses on selected wars as case studies of different types of conflict. We distinguish wars fought within and between states, within a single region or spread across the globe.  We compare wars fought to advance or crush revolutions and those that spread colonial power or liberate a colonized people. We examine wars’ effects on fighters and non-combatants, the role of morale in sustaining wars once undertaken, and the possibilities for post-war reconciliation between adversaries. We measure the effectiveness of international humanitarian law, organizations like the League of Nations and United Nations, and anti-war protest movements. By studying why wars start, what it takes to end them, and what measures have worked better than others to restrain or prevent conflict, we will better understand ourselves, our societies, our current crisis, and the prospects for humanity’s future.

This course fulfills the General Education requirement in Histories, Societies, Individuals.



Click the image below to be redirected to a PDF file, or click the following link: http://bit.ly/2NCiI0m.
All of the course names within the PDF are clickable links.

Picture of Spring 101 Course Map



Click the image below to be redirected to a PDF file, or click the following link: http://bit.ly/362Rwhx.
All of the course names within the PDF are clickable links.

Picture of 101 Course Grid

Professional Clusters of History Department Courses

Gathering data from lots of sources. Synthesizing it quickly. Making an argument about it.  Communicating it in an effective way. These are the basic tasks of historians. They’re also what lawyers, businesspeople, consultants, non-profit directors, journalists, public policy leaders, government officials, and people in many other professions do. A small minority (less than 10%) of History concentrators go on to become professional historians. Most use the skills they learned in Robinson Hall—to gather evidence and make an argument about it narrative form—in other professions. Historical research skills prepare you for the job you think you want now as a first-year student, as well as the three or four jobs you will actually have during your career. We’ve drafted six clusters of History courses below. The courses listed are not a definitive list for that cluster, but rather some of the 2019-2020 History courses that would prepare you in some way for a career in that area.

Law

Historians use fragmentary data from the past to make arguments in a format anyone can understand. The ability to parse a variety of sources—contracts, depositions, photographs, business accounts—and integrate them with a specialized body of secondary sources (case law) is important for lawyers. Think about a cluster of History courses to prepare you for a career in law.

HIST 1300 Western Intellectual History: Greco-Roman Antiquity  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1921 The History of Law in Europe  (Fall 2019)

HIST 84G  Harvard and Slavery    (Spring 2020)
HIST 14S Genocide, War Crimes & Human Rights  (Spring 2020)

plus
PHIL 10: Philosophy of Law
GOV 94OF Law and Politics in Multicultural Democracies

Business & Consulting

Historians use fragmentary data from the past to make arguments in a format anyone can understand. The ability to find a variety of sources—both quantitative data like sales numbers but also focus groups, market reports, and other incomplete information—is important in business. Think about a cluster of History courses to prepare you for a career in business.

HIST 13T Women in Economic Life  (Fall 2019)
HIST 83A Markets & States: The History of Economic Thought Since 1750  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1028 Race, Capitalism, and the Coming of the Civil War (Fall 2019)

GENED 1159  American Capitalism  (Spring 2020)

plus
ECON 10a: Principles of Economics
STATS 104 Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Economics
ENG-SCI 238 Introduction to Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Government & International Relations

Historians use fragmentary data from the past to make arguments in a format anyone can understand.The ability to find a variety of sources—both quantitative data like census numbers and scientific data and also social science research, and other incomplete information—is important in government. Think about a cluster of History courses to prepare you for a career in the public sector or public policy.

FS 40J Advice to Young Leaders  (Fall 2019)
GENED 1136 Power and Civilization: China  (Fall 2019)
HIST 14L The Crisis of Social Democracy: Its History and its Future  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1017 The 20th Century United States: Politics, Society, Culture  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1125 Reasoning from the Past: Applied History and Decision Making  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1465 The United States and World Order since 1900   (Fall 2019)

HIST 12D Histories of the Third World: Asia, Africa, and Internationalism   (Spring 2020)
HIST 82F The Origins of the Cold War   (Spring 2020)
HIST 97M “What is International History?”   (Spring 2020)

plus
ECON 10a: Principles of Economics
MIT 15.703  Leading with Impact

Journalism & Writing

Historians use fragmentary data from the past to make arguments in a format anyone can understand. The ability to find a variety of sources—interviews, government documents, and court records but also quantitative data like the census and non-profit reports—is important in journalism as well. Think about a cluster of History courses to prepare you for a career in journalism or writing.

GENED 1034 Texts in Transition  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1902 Narrative History: Art & Argument  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1903 How Societies Remember (and Forget)  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1993 Introduction to Digital History   (Fall 2019)

HIST 1932 Fictions of Adultery  (Spring 2020)
HIST 1945 Slavery and Public History   (Spring 2020)

plus
ENGL CIJR Introduction to Journalism
DPI 675 Digital Platforms, Journalism, and Information

Environment & Environmental Policy

Historians use fragmentary data from the past to make arguments in a format anyone can understand. The ability to find a variety of sources—both quantitative data like pollution and reforestation numbers but also non-profit reports and other incomplete information—is important in environmental policy. Think about a cluster of History courses to prepare you for a career in an environment-related field.

HIST 1056 The New Science of the Human Past  (Fall 2019)
HIST 1010 The History of Energy  (Fall 2019)

GENED 1117 Nature  (Spring 2020)
HIST 97D What is Environmental History?  (Spring 2020)
HIST 1054 From The Little Ice Age to Climate Change  (Spring 2020)
HIST 1610 Environments: China, Japan, Korea   (Spring 2020)

plus
ESPP 78 Environmental Politics
ESPP 77 Technology, Environment, and Society

Activism, Human Rights, & Service

Historians use fragmentary data from the past to make arguments in a format anyone can understand. The ability to find a variety of sources—both quantitative data like sales numbers but also focus groups, market reports, and other incomplete information—is important in in activism and non-profit leadership. Think about a cluster of History courses to prepare you to lead the world (or your community) to a better place.

FS 40J Advice to Young Leaders (Fall 2019)
HIST 14M “Black Indians”: The Making of an Identity (Spring 2020) 
HIST 84H The Northern Side of the Civil Rights Movement (Fall 2019)
HIST 1330 Social Thought in Modern America (Fall 2019)

GE 1095 Is War Inevitable? (Spring 2020)
GE 1108 Global Gandhi: Nonviolent Resistance (Spring 2020)
HIST 1913 Dirty Wars & Peace Processes (Spring 2020)
HIST 1945 Slavery and Public History (Spring 2020)
HIST 14N The Uses and Abuses of the Past: History in American Public Life (Spring 2020)
HIST 14S  Genocide, War Crime Trials, and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Spring 2020) 
HIST 1001 The War in Vietnam​​​​​​​ (Spring 2020) 
HIST 1919 Capital Punishment (Spring 2020) 

plus
ECON 980DD Globalization and Inequality
MIT 15.703  Leading with Impact

Director

DUS Office Hours sign up:
Prof. Lisa McGirr, DUS Robinson Hall 208

Assistant Director

Carla heelan

Carla Heelan

Lecturer on History
Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies