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

Ancestry 101

GENED 1014: Ancestry: Where do we come from and why do we care?
Maya Jasanoff
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: What do our DNA, genealogy, and 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. By the end of the semester, you will have a sharper sense of the role played by ancestry in the terms we routinely use to describe ourselves, as well as in policies and practices shaping everything from citizenship law to college admissions. We will pay close attention to different kinds of evidence (particularly genetic and genealogical), the kinds of questions they answer or raise, and what happens when they collide. We will also explore in depth the implications of genetic ancestry testing for concepts of race, ethnicity, and nationality. You will leave this course better able to uncover implicit assumptions in qualitative and quantitative data alike. Most of all, this course will prepare you to reconsider your ideas about ancestry and identity in your life outside the classroom and beyond Harvard.

Deep History 101

GENED 1044: Deep History
Daniel Smail/Matthew Liebmann
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: When does history begin, and how do we understand the entirety of the human past?

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. The material presented through lectures, discussions, and activities will not only guide you through a collaborative exploration of human experience, but will also encourage you 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.

US & China 101

GENED 1068: The United States and China
William Kirby
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: What can we learn about the present and future of U.S.-China relations in light of their past?

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 this subject to propose a solution to a central challenge in the Chinese-American relationship.


War 101

GENED 1095: Is War Inevitable?
Derek Penslar
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: Why is there war, and what can we learn from wars throughout history?

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? Ranging from antiquity to the present, this course seeks to answer these questions. Beginning with the socio-biological roots of human aggression and altruism, we will focus 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 liberated 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.

Nature 101

GENED 1117: Nature
Joyce Chaplin
This course's listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: What is nature, and how should we respond to urgent environmental crisis?

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.

Capitalism 101

GENED 1159: American Capitalism
Sven Beckert
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: 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. The 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.

Vietnam War 101

HIST 1001: The War in Vietnam
Fredrik Logevall
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: Why did the Vietnam War begin, and what does its 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.

The American Century 101

HIST 1002: The 20th-Century United States: Politics, Society, Culture
Lisa McGirr
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: How did the US become the most powerful country in the world during the twentieth century?

This course charts key developments in the history of the 20th century United States beginning with United States emergence as a leader of global capitalism. Topics include World War I, twenties culture wars, the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, sixties social movements, neo-liberalism, and the rise of mass incarceration. The contest over the meaning of American freedom at all levels of American society—from Congressional debates to the picket line—forms a central theme. The course includes discussion of high and low politics, political economy, and shifting patterns of culture. The course has two goals: First, to provide you with the foundational knowledge about past political struggles that will help students understand the roots of issues still wrestled with today; and second to introduce you to historical thinking and interpretation through the analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Modern Europe 101

HIST 1004: Modern Europe, 1789 to the present
Carla Heelan
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: What is so “modern” about Europe between 1789 and the present, and how does this affect our own understanding of the world in which we live?

To many Europeans over the past two centuries, their modernity was evident in every aspect of their lives, from musical innovation to industrial development, from expanding educational opportunities to new technologies of warfare. Yet how exactly did Europeans understand modernity—and, for that matter, how do we—and how does the period from the French revolution to the present cohere? Many, in fact, experienced these two hundred-odd years as arguably a time of conflict and rupture rather than coherence. Yet historians nonetheless describe the many changes of these centuries—urbanization; nationalism; mass migration; political transformation; war; imperial expansion; cultural turmoil—as various aspects of the modern experience. In class you will engage with written records, and visual and aural sources, in order to make your own claims about European modernity and its lasting influence on our world today.

Japan in the World 101

HIST 1023: Japan in Asia and the World
Andrew Gordon/David Howell
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: How did a collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean become an Asian empire in the twentieth century and a global cultural powerhouse in the twenty-first?

Japan is a collection of islands, but its past and present unfolds through continuous interaction with wider worlds. This course places Japan in contexts of Asian and global history. It begins with the people, institutions, and ideas of premodern Japan, from the emergence of a court-centered state 1500 years ago to a warrior-dominated society centuries later. We then examine the tumultuous process of change from the 19th century through the present and explore how people in Japan have dealt with the dilemmas of modernity that challenge us all.

Byzantium 101

HIST 1035: Byzantine Civilization
Dimiter Angelov
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: How did the eastern Roman empire develop its own culture and civilization between 400 and 1453 C.E.?

The Byzantine—Eastern Roman—Empire outlived the fall of Rome by a thousand years. In this course, you will explore how Byzantium preserved the institutions and politics of imperial Rome even as it became a different entity as a medieval civilization. Key to this development were the professional armies, able diplomats, and brilliant intellectuals of Byzantium, who ensured its survival and renewed expansion, and whose stories we will discover throughout this semester as we trace the history of the Byzantine Empire between c. 600 and 1453, and contextualize it in terms of medieval and world history.


American Populisms 101

History 1433: History of American Populisms
Brett Flehinger
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

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.

East Asian Environments 101

HIST 1610: Environments: China, Japan, Korea
Ian Miller
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: How have the countries of East Asia—China, Japan, the Koreas—transformed the natural world and how do they understand their role in the global environmental future?

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.


Harvard 101

HIST 1636: Intro to Harvard History: Beyond the Three Lies
Zachary Nowak
This course’s listing in the my.harvard course catalog is located here:

The Big Question: Who made Harvard what it is today?

Harvard’s history is a story of professors, students, courses, and research that has led to world-changing innovations. But it is also a story of student unrest, gender unease, and the exclusion of women and minorities, enslaved people, Native Americans, and working-class people. All of them made Harvard and left traces in its archives, libraries, and museums, its buildings, and even in its soil. Some Harvard stories have been told; others have been forgotten. In this class, we will uncover Harvard’s past. There will be several field trips to Harvard’s archives and museums and other places on campus most students will never visit. If you wish, the University Archives will preserve your final paper on Harvard history for perpetuity.

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All of the course names within the PDF are clickable links.

101 Course Map Spring 2021

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

Grid of History Courses for Spring 2021


 DUS Remote 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