Foundations Courses

Welcome to Harvard University. All History courses—both lectures and seminars—are open to first-year students; none have prerequisites. This page lists a subset of the Fall courses. These “101” courses are those that the History Department considers particularly appropriate for first-year students. All of them will give you 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 (already filtered) 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 Fall 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

Borders 101

GenEd 1140: Borders
Mary Lewis

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3KmXSOp

Big Question: How have borders been formed historically, and what are the ethics of border construction, defense, expansion or transgression?

As a society, we pay particular attention to borders when violent events remind us of their existence and function: children separated from their asylum-seeking parents; tear-gas being used to deter entry; members of the mounted border patrol whipping migrants with their reins. But seldom do we stop to think about what a border is, or when and why some borders are defended more aggressively than others. This course looks at the modern history of borders, broadly construed, from clashing “frontiers,” to national boundaries between sovereign countries, to supranational agreements such as the European Union. It considers how borders are erected and dissolved, both legally and materially. And it queries the legal, diplomatic, social, and ethical considerations that ensue from drawing a line between one side and another, and defending that line. We will also consider how actors within societies create internal (often racialized) boundary lines such as “gated communities” or “redlined zones,” that are sometimes extra-legal or even illegal, but have profound effects on the everyday lives of individuals and groups.

Capitalism 101

GenEd 1159: American Capitalism
Sven Beckert

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/34Uu0IH

Big Question: What is capitalism and how has it unfolded in American history?

How did capitalism emerge, expand and transform daily life in North America over the past 500 years? In this course, you will gain an in-depth understanding of how North America turned from a minor outpost of the Atlantic economy into the powerhouse of the world economy; how Americans built a capitalist economy; and how that capitalism, in turn, changed every aspect of their lives. In the process, you will come to understand how contemporary capitalism is the result of centuries of human engagement, struggle, and aspirations. Topics range from the structure of Native-American economies to the economic consequences of the Civil War; from the impact of capitalism on gender relations to the changing structures of American businesses; and from the position of the United States in the world economy to the role of the government in channeling economic development. Boston merchants and Georgia sharecroppers, enslaved cotton growers and reforming statesmen, workers at the Ford assembly line and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will all appear in the story. This course will put particular emphasis on the global context of American economic development and situate it deeply in political and social changes. By the end of the semester, you will understand how the contemporary capitalism that so powerfully shapes all of our lives has emerged over the course of several centuries, and how the tools to understand the history of American capitalism can be applied to understanding our contemporary situation.

Coffee 101

History 1018: Coffee and the Nighttime: History and Politics, 1400–2020
Cemal Kafadar

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3FJMet6

Big Question: What can we learn from a history of the nighttime?

Since the fifteenth century, individuals and societies in different parts of the world adopted a gradually but unmistakably quickening tempo in their everyday lives and started to make more uses of the nighttime—for socializing, for entertainment, and for work. In this reconfiguration of the architecture of day and night, people turned to various psychotropic substances such as coffee to help them better manipulate times of activity and repose. They also created new social institutions such as coffeehouses, which turned into public spaces for engagement with new forms of arts and politics. This course offers a history of these developments and follows them into the present day. Biological aspects such as addiction and pressures on our circadian rhythms will also be explored in the context of histories of sleep and nocturnal activity.

Crusades 101

GenEd 1088: The Crusades and the Making of East and West
Dimiter Angelov

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3Kr4Q4R

Big Question: How did we come to think of the world as split into East and West?

The course explores the birth of the civilizational categories of East and West during the era of the Crusades, one of the most significant and deeply symbolic events in human history. A series of wars in the Middle Ages fought between Latin Christians and the perceived enemies of Christendom, the Crusades saw the first experiments of European colonization, the rise of Western commercial capitalism, and the emergence of new cultural identities and boundaries across Europe and the Mediterranean. Students will learn about the origins of the Crusades, the most important expeditions, and the long-term consequences. This course is about the Crusades both in history and in memory, about communities in war and peace, and about stories and memories that have endured to the present day.

Early Modern Britain 101

History 1029: Early Modern Britain, 1485–1714
Flynn Cratty

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3FLiNXQ

Big Question: What’s so “modern” about early modern Britain?

The history of Tudor and Stuart Britain is filled with dramatic personalities and frequent
catastrophes. It is no wonder that the period has inspired so many novels, films, and television
shows. In addition to bodice rippings and beheadings, however, the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries also witnessed the formation of British political, religious, intellectual, and economic
institutions that would eventually be exported across the world. This course will survey these
developments with special attention to the ways men and women sought to imagine new worlds in
times of instability. Topics include the English and Scottish Reformations, magical and scientific
cultures, Puritanism and Arminianism, the Civil Wars, the growth of the public sphere, and the
evolving British political constitution. 

Early Modern Philosophy 101

History 1301: Western Intellectual History: The Prehistory of Modern Thought
James Hankins

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3nGD6iT

Big Question: How do medieval and early modern thinkers continue to shape our world today?

A survey of major themes in medieval and early modern intellectual history. Readings in Anselm, Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, Petrarch, Machiavelli, Thomas More, Martin Luther, Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes. History 1300 is not a prerequisite for History 1301.

Economic Thought 101

History 1067: An Introduction to the History of Economics
Ian Kumekawa

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3InIUWC

Big Question: What is the history of economic thought?

The course provides an introduction to the history of economic thinking, from Huan K'uan through Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Paul Samuelson, to Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. It explores economic concepts in historical perspective, from the state and the market to natural resources and financial crises.

First Empires 101

History 1039: First Empires: Power and Propaganda in the Ancient World
Gabriel Pizzorno

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3nINkz8

Big Question: What do we know about the ancient history of the Near East and how do we know it?

This course traces the continuum of socio-political and cultural developments in the Near East that led, over the course of three millennia, from stateless societies to the emergence of Assyria as the first empire in history. The class focuses on the long-term history of power centralisation, and the role of ideology and propaganda in overcoming resistance to this concentration of authority. The course material covers a broad evidentiary and chronological range. We will employ textual, visual, and archaeological sources to explore the evolution of the political and cultural landscape in the Near East and the Mediterranean, from the emergence of the first city-states in the late fourth millennium BCE to the early development of Roman imperial ideology around the start of the Common Era.

Foreign Policy 101

History 1217: U.S. Foreign Policy in a Global Age
Fredrik Logevall

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3rsDmTI

Big Question: How did the U.S. become the most powerful player on the international scene?

The United States is the most powerful player on the international scene today, and is unlikely to relinquish that position any time soon. Understanding how and why this condition arose, and what it means for world affairs today, is our concern in this course. The emphasis is on U.S. policymaking over the past century, with due attention to the international and domestic political context in which decisions were made. Issues to be explored include the tension between isolationism and interventionism and between unilateralism and multilateralism; the emergence of the U.S. as a superpower; the Soviet-American confrontation; the rise of presidential power in foreign affairs; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the nature of American power in today’s world.

Getting Medieval 101

GenEd 1160: Harvard Gets Medieval
Daniel Smail

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3qLceQR

Big Question: How did our world come to be suffused with medieval images and motifs, and what do we learn about the past and ourselves as we begin to explore the fascinating time on the other side of the stereotypes?

Starting in the late nineteenth century, Harvard got medieval. Through direct purchase and through the collecting activity of numerous alumnae/i, we began collecting all sorts of texts and artifacts generated by the medieval world of Arabic, Greek, and Latin civilizations. The things that arrived in Harvard’s collections came in many forms, ranging from great architectural monuments and motifs to little stuff such as belt buckles, pilgrims’ flasks, and fragments of pottery.

Why did we want medieval stuff? And what have we since learned about the world from which it came? This is a course about objects and their meaning, focusing on the objects in Harvard’s collections that derive from western Eurasia and North Africa between the fall of the Roman Empire to the eve of contact with the New World. The six modules, each lasting two weeks, begin by exploring the biography of a medieval object that traveled from western Eurasia to the Boston area at some point in the fairly recent past and now resides in the collections of Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Over the course of the semester, these objects serve as portals into the past, allowing us to travel through time and touch upon aspects of the fascinating world that created them and inspired future collectors. Through lectures and readings, we explore a variety of themes that touch upon each of the objects, and additional activities introduce students to sample relevant sources and to acquire conceptual tools. A major course-long assignment invites students to make their own discoveries in Harvard’s collections.

Modern Middle East 101

History 1009: The Making of the Modern Middle East
Rosie Bsheer

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3qHiskp

Big Question: What was, and what is today, “the Middle East”?

How did a part of the world become known as “the Middle East”? What were the major local, regional, and global events that have most profoundly affected the realities of the region since the mid-eighteenth century? Throughout the semester, we will draw on interdisciplinary readings to think about the challenges of studying the modern Middle East. We will discuss the politics of modernity, the reforms of the Ottoman Empire, the formation of modern nation states, the impact of colonialism and imperialism, social and intellectual movements, petro-states in global perspective, and Islam and politics.

Modern Southeast Asia 101

History 1037: Modern Southeast Asia
Sugata Bose

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3rxE6qP

Big Question: How did Southeast Asia become a vibrant partner of the Indian ocean region?

The course begins by considering the pre-colonial structures of state and society in Southeast Asia and concentrates on analyzing changes that occurred under Western colonial rule and its aftermath. Themes to be discussed include colonialism, nationalist movements, peasant resistance, communism, the impact of the 1930s Depression and World War II and post-independence developments. A comparative and connective perspective throughout informs the study of British, French, Dutch, and American colonial rule as well as the society, economy and politics of Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines. While recovering the subjecthood of the peoples of Southeast Asia from an older strand of scholarship that saw them simply as recipients of civilizational gifts from China and India, this course will be attentive to the interweaving of economic and cultural flows that made Southeast Asia a vibrant part of an Indian Ocean inter-regional arena.

Modern West Africa 101

History 1701: West Africa from 1800 to the Present
Emmanuel Akyeampong

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3tPYk1s

Big Question: What is the global history of West Africa since 1800?

This course explores the internal dynamics of West African states from 1800, and West Africa's relations with the wider world. The 19th century opened with the continuation of Islamic jihads in West Africa that had begun during the 18th century age of revolutions, coupled with the European abolition of the export slave trade. These seismic events would set the stage for modern West African history. Innovations in science, technology and finance made the 19th century an era of social and economic opportunity and of political experimentation. Increasing integration of independent West African states into the global economy from 1800 would result in European colonization, redefining the existence of West African states and their relations with Europe. The course examines African perspectives on colonialism, the two world wars, pan-Africanism, nationalism, and the transfer of political power. We will review post-colonial political economies and the search for workable political and economic models. The course ends with Africa in the 21st century tapping into its youth bulge and emerging technologies to envision a new future based on knowledge economies, tackling global pandemics and planetary challenges like climate change.

Postwar Germanies 101

History 1221: Postwar Germanies
Hanna Folland

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3qJk9y4

Big Question: How can we explain Germany’s remarkable trajectory from defeated Nazi regime in 1945 to global powerhouse in 2022?

In 1945, Germany lay in ruins. Within a few short years, however, two distinct postwar German states emerged in East and West, their reconstruction efforts fueled by Cold War imperatives. This course will follow divided Germany through four decades of upheaval and change, with special attention to the transformations experienced both by the liberal democratic West and by the state-socialist East in an increasingly multicultural Europe and a rapidly globalizing world. We’ll then consider the history and politics of the reunified Berlin Republic since its emergence in 1990, with an eye toward understanding Germany’s role in our present-day world.

Postwar U.S. 101

History 1223: The American Century? A History of the United States since World War II
Aaron Bekemeyer

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3tICHR0

Big Question: How can we understand the tumultuous past 75 years of American history as a coherent whole?

The decades after the end of World War II marked an exceptional era in American history, the dawn of the so-called “American Century.” The American government emerged from the war as the most powerful in the world: arguably the United States has never been so uniquely powerful as it was in 1945. That global position also underwrote a period of historic prosperity and low inequality for the residents of the United States. But this apparent power and prosperity also masked underlying tensions and contradictions. At home, ceaseless conflict in the home, the workplace, and in politics constantly redrew the bounds of citizenship and the distribution of economic power. And decolonization and the Cold War complicated and challenged America’s global power from the earliest moments of the postwar era. The American Century was real, but it was subject to challenge. In this course, we will explore the history of the United States since it became the world’s preeminent economic and military power. Since 1945, the country moved from a “Golden Age” of capitalism to the neoliberal era of inequality and erratic growth; from immigration restriction to attracting people from across the world; from the hegemony of liberalism to the ascendance of conservatism; and from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

U.S. & China 101

GenEd 1068: The United States and China
William Kirby

This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3GPAjeL

Big Question: Are the United States and China destined for conflict or can they lead the world in addressing common challenges?

The United States and China are global economic and military powers. They have a rich history of commerce, friendship, alliance, and antagonism, and both countries have been shaped and re-shaped by the nature of their mutual relations. Their relationship, however, is in crisis, the outcome of which will do much to define the world of the 21st century. In this course, you will explore a series of critical questions about U.S.-China relations: What are the enduring patterns and issues in China’s relations with the United States? How have these two countries perceived each other over time? How has trade defined the relationship from the Opium War to Huawei? How has war shaped experiences in the United States and China, and what are the risks of military confrontation today? What are the prospects for cooperation on global crises such as climate change? What is the role of American and Chinese universities, such as Harvard and Tsinghua, in shaping mutual relations in a time of global pandemic? By the end of the semester, students will apply their new expertise on these subjects to propose a solution to a central challenge in the Chinese-American relationship.

U.S. Occupation 101

GENED 1017: Americans as Occupiers and Nation-Builders
Andrew Gordon and Erez Manela
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/33ToIMY

Big Question: How have perceptions of racial difference shaped US military occupations abroad, such as the Philippines, Japan, and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq?

With the recent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the question of the United States as an occupier and nation-builder has again been in the headlines. In fact, the United States has launched numerous projects of military occupation and nation-building in foreign lands since the late nineteenth century. These have been contradictory enterprises in at least two ways. Americans have often sought to make other peoples more like them, while at the same time insisting on their difference.  And in the name of enabling freedom, Americans have often imposed policies by direct military force or in collaboration with hand-picked leaders. In this course we seek to explain how these contradictory aspects of “Americans as occupiers and nation-builders” played out over the past century-plus, and how they remain relevant to us now.

This course assesses the meanings and legacies of these projects by examining the ideas, strategies, policies, and outcomes of occupations ranging from the Philippines and Haiti early on to Japan, Germany, Korea, and Vietnam in mid-century to, most recently, Afghanistan and Iraq. The course focuses on American activities and ideas but also examines the responses of the occupied.

 



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Picture of 101 Course Map



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Course Grid Spring 2022

Director

Ian J. Miller

Ian J. Miller

Professor of History
Director, Undergraduate Studies
Faculty Dean of Cabot House

Academic Office Hours | Thursdays, 3:00 - 5:00pm (In-person at CGIS S421, or Remote)
Click here to sign up for academic office hours. 

Cabot Office Hours | Mondays, 4:00 - 5:00pm
Click here to sign up for Cabot office hours.

 

Assistant Director

Carla heelan

Carla Heelan

Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies
Lecturer on History