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

American Food 101

GENED 1147: American Food: A Global History
Joyce Chaplin
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3jPmnHr

Big Question: If we are what we eat, what does the history of American food tell us about the past, present, and future of the United States?

Food has been central to American history, from Indigenous domestication of maize (now the world’s most common food staple) to European invasion in search of spices, and from the starving time in early Virginia to debates about fatness and health in the United States today. But what--if anything--is American about American food? What does food tell us about the American past and what might that past indicate about food today? How have food and eating changed over time? How have individual food choices and national food policies connected Americans to the larger world, both the social or political worlds of other human beings and the natural world of all other living beings? Readings will include primary (raw) and secondary (cooked) sources, and assignments will include two short papers, a mid-term exam, and either a final exam or an individual research paper or project.

Archaeoscience 101

HIST 1056: The New Science of the Human Past: Case Studies at the Cutting Edge
Michael McCormick
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3COp7gG

Big Question: How can DNA, ice cores, and ancient coins help us recreate the distant historical past?

Science is powering History into a revolutionary age of discovery through microarchaeology. We will learn how ancient DNA reveals our ancestors’ migrations out of Africa and across the globe and recovers ancient pathogens and their impact from Rome to the Black Death and 16th-century Mexico; how paleoclimate science reconstructs ancient environments from ice cores and historical records; and how IT changes everything from shipwrecks to Roman coins, via medieval manuscripts. We’ll explore the new archaeoscience as the discoveries unfold by reading, discussing, and doing—from ancient genomes to tree rings, from Roman coins to ancient pots, and more.

China 101

GENED 1136: Power and Civilization: China
William Kirby and Peter K. Bol
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3jLwMUw

Big Question: China was the most powerful country in the world and will be, again. What does its past mean for its (and your) future?

In China today we see a new country built on the bedrock of an ancient civilization. China’s re-emergence as a global economic power and political model has deep roots. From Rome to the Romanovs, from Byzantium to the Ottomans, on to the global empires of the West, all the great multiethnic empires of the world have come and gone, while a unitary, multi-national, Chinese empire has endured. The ancient Chinese ideal of a single, unified civilized world has had consequences. It was, and still is, a grand vision: all peoples unified under a single ruler and an integrated social order that finds a place for every person in security and harmony. It created the first centralized bureaucratic state; it institutionalized meritocracy; its economy became the world’s greatest market; its philosophies provided models of humane governance; its inventions spread across the globe. And yet in practice it has also been a story of conflict and control, of warring states and competing peoples. We will discuss how the choices China has made in the past bear on the challenges it faces today, when a modern “China model,” with ancient roots, competes with the United States for global leadership.

Colonial Latin America 101

HIST 1520: Colonial Latin America
Tamar Herzog
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here: https://bit.ly/3AKqJXf

Big Question: What was it like to live in an early modern colonial Latin American society?

What was the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized? This course is an introductory survey of colonial Latin American history, spanning the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. Organized chronologically and thematically, it will examine developments in Spanish and Portuguese America by reading both secondary and primary sources (available in English translation).

Deep History 101

GENED 1044: Deep History
Dan Smail and Matt Liebmann
This course's listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/39CkRTZ

Big Question: How can we understand the entirety of the human past, from the long ago to the present day?

When does history begin? To judge by the typical history textbook, the answer is straightforward: six thousand years ago. So what about the tens of thousands of years of human existence described by archaeology and related disciplines? Is that history too? This introduction to human history offers a framework for joining the entirety of the human past, from the long ago to the present day, in a single narrative that stretches across many disciplines. We will explore a series of interrelated themes each of which invites questions that travel across time and space. The material presented through lectures, discussions, and activities will not only guide students through a collaborative exploration of human experience, but will also encourage them to contemplate how such experiences mirror and contrast with their own. To help anchor ourselves in the timeline of past and present, we will engage with the world-class collection of artifacts in Harvard’s museums, giving students a unique, hands-on opportunity to experience human history through material remains.

Democracy 101

GENED 1002: The Democracy Project
Jill Lepore
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3jSzOX5

Big Question: How does the founding of the United States help us understand contemporary challenges and threats to the democratic order?

The United States is founded on the idea of equality but equality has always been elusive and has only ever been achieved through struggle, argument, and action. This course examines American history—especially the history of race, immigration, and constitutional justice—through historical analysis, democratic deliberation, and public-minded projects. It’s a history course—but a history of the present.

Early Islamic History 101

HIST 1208: Introduction to Islamic History: From the Rise of Islam to the Mongol Conquests, 620-1258
Cemal Kafadar
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/2VS2oQo

Big Question: How can we best understand the rich history of the early Islamic world?

The course will examine Islamic history from the emergence of Islam in Western Arabia in the early 7th century to the Mongol conquests and the subsequent fall of Baghdad in 1258. It will introduce students to early and medieval Islam in its Near Eastern setting and explore the subsequent advent of Islam in such geographies as North Africa, Spain, India and Central Asia. Select primary sources in translation will be used to illuminate our understanding of the cultural, intellectual, and social history of Islamic societies, including relations between different ethnic and sectarian groups, the roles of women, sexuality, as well as tensions and interactions with the non-Islamic world.

Early Modern Europe 101

HIST 1155: Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789
Tamar Herzog
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3g0YewB

Big Question: How did Europe transform from a provincial backwater into a dominant global power during these three critical 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.

Global Cold War 101

HIST 1220: The Global Cold War
Johanna Folland
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/2XgJZgo

Big Question: What did the sweeping transformations of the global Cold War entail and what were their effects?

The Cold War permeated seemingly every aspect of global politics in the latter half of the twentieth century, and its legacies are still with us today. This conflict, moreover, extended far beyond the Soviet-American nuclear rivalry at its core. In this course we will examine the origins, vicissitudes, and lasting impacts of the Cold War with an emphasis on the view from the decolonizing world. Using a wide range of course materials including cutting-edge scholarly research as well as declassified documents, macroeconomic data, memoirs, films, popular music, archival radio broadcasts, and graphic novels, we’ll look at the ways in which Cold War divisions shaped – and were shaped by – the course of globalization, geopolitics, science, technology, art, diplomacy, environmental governance, and revolutionary movements around the world.

The Great Migration 101

HIST 1222: The Great Migration: The Exodus that Transformed Black America and the United States
Aaron Bekemeyer
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3xOt7dn

Big Question: What were the causes and consequences of the Great Migration?

This course explores the history of the Great Migration, in which millions of African Americans moved from the U.S. South to the urban North and West during and after World War I and World War I. You will trace the Migration from its origins to its completion and reversal in the 1970s. You will learn how it transformed not only Black life and culture but also American society and politics, from the Black Freedom Struggle to the rise of mass incarceration. Finally, you will explore the connections between the Great Migration and other forms of migration within the African diaspora.

Greco-Roman Antiquity 101

HIST 1300: Western Intellectual History: Greco-Roman Antiquity
James Hankins
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here: https://bit.ly/3sdssBf

Big Question: How does the Greco-Roman world influence the way we think today?

The impact of the Greeks and Romans is visible in our world today, from the architectural styles of federal buildings to the vocabulary of our political system. But they also remain tremendously important for how we think. This course is a survey of major themes in the intellectual history of the Greek and Roman World. We will pay special attention to metaphysics, psychology, ethics and the philosophic life. Class readings include selections from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Epictetus, Cicero, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, Augustine, and Boethius.

Modern France 101

HIST 1206: Empire, Nation, and Immigration in France since 1870
Mary Lewis
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3jRlKwY

Big Question: How was modern French democratic culture crafted, and when and how has this culture failed?

As a nation and empire, nineteenth- and twentieth-century France was under as much construction as the Eiffel Tower. This course explores the history of France from the foundation of the Third Republic to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Topics include the advent of modern left-wing, right-wing, and anti-Semitic politics; France’s empire in Asia and North Africa and its consequences; the devastating impact of the First World War; the tumultuous interwar era; the Second World War and the politics of resistance, collaboration with the Germans, and memory; decolonization; the May 1968 student revolt; and immigration from France’s former colonies and identity politics since the 1970s.

Modern Germany 101

HIST 1265: German History from Bismarck to Hitler
Alison Frank Johnson
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3iHBovu

Big Question: How can German history help us understand both the German past and our world today?

German History loomed like a specter over the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, Americans have been debating the relevance and legitimacy of comparisons between German history and our contemporary world. How useful is German history for understanding our current moment? How might our present-day concerns distort what we see in the past? This course will examine the history of Germans in Europe and elsewhere, starting with the revolutions of 1848 and ending with the separation of Austria, West Germany, and East Germany following the Second World War. Themes will be war, insurrection, and terrorism, revolution and counter-revolution, gender and sexuality, reform, violence, anti-Semitism, racial thinking and racism, and migration.

Postwar Japan 101

HIST 1026: Rise and Fall of Postwar Japan 
Andrew Gordon
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3xLBNkK

Big Question: How can we understand the history of Japan after 1945?

From the literally devastated landscape of August 1945, Japan has been likened to the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, becoming a global economic power by the 1970s with a large and optimistic middle class. Then, from the 1990s, the stock market crashed, the economy stagnated, the population began to decline, and social inequality increased. The natural catastrophe of one of history’s largest earthquakes then brought on social and environmental disaster whose consequences are still unfolding. Yet describing this history as a rise and fall fails to capture many essential aspects of the history of postwar Japan. In this class, by contrast, we will explore the wide range of experiences and understandings held by the Japanese throughout this period, focusing, for example, on differences of city and country, and of gender and social class within Japan, and on divergent understandings of Japan’s modern past both inside and outside of Japan.

Modern South Asia 101

HIST 1036: Modern South Asia 
Sugata Bose
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/3CDQ0nA

Big Question: How do we understand the global role of modern South Asia?

This course provides the historical depth in which to understand modern and contemporary South Asia in broad Indian Ocean and global contexts. It explores the history, culture, and political economy of the subcontinent, which provides a fascinating laboratory to study such themes as colonialism, nationalism, partition, the modern state, democracy development, religious identities, and relations between Asia and the West.

Texts 101

GENED 1034: Texts in Transition
Ann Blair
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here: https://bit.ly/2Ue8oSG

Big Question: How does written language survive and change over time, today and in the past?

We live in a new world of digital communication. This means that the written word can last much longer—or disappear in a second. Moreover, the attitudes and tools we have for preserving our culture seem more complex and fluid. This course studies how written language—text— travels through time and across media. We will ask: How well does the written word capture, transmit, and preserve human experience? How have texts come down to us from the distant past? How do we ensure that what we write today will survive into the future? As we investigate contemporary approaches to cultural preservation, we will consider how pre-modern European cultures transmitted and transformed texts, and created institutions that we still rely on today, including museums, libraries, and archives. Each week you will observe or apply methods of preservation, restoration, destruction, translation, and transmission in an attempt to preserve a personal artifact. We will also read works of literature that reflect on questions of durability, ephemerality, and written memory. Students will work through weekly assignments toward a final project focused on studying, curating, and preserving a textual source of their choice.

U.S. Empire 101

HIST 1511: Latin America and the United States
Kirsten Weld
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is here: https://bit.ly/37GHoOU

Big Question: How we can understand the complex relationship between Latin America and the United States?

Latin America and the United States have been described as “distant neighbors”: occupying the same hemisphere, but uneasily, and with a notable absence of mutual comprehension. To understand why, we will examine more than two centuries’ worth of history in the Americas, exploring the complex power dynamics at play in the relations between Latin American nations and the juggernaut to their north. We will consider inter-state diplomacy, military intervention, cultural exchange, migration, state formation, travel and tourism, images and stereotypes, and political economy. On the one hand, the two regions have had a profoundly ill-balanced relationship, with the economic and military might of the United States occupying an outsized role in Latin American affairs. But the flow of influence has been far from unidirectional. Rather, Latin America—as an imperial laboratory, a cultural producer, a concern, an attraction, and a dynamic force in its own right—has deeply shaped the U.S. experience. Indeed, the primary and secondary sources used in this course suggest that it is impossible to fully grasp the histories of either Latin America or the United States independently of one another or of the relationship between them.



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Picture of 101 Course Map



Click the image below to be redirected to a PDF file, or click the following link: https://bit.ly/2W61H60
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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