History

Undergraduate

History is a critical and analytical method of inquiry into our collective past based on our cumulative experience, informed understanding, and careful judgment.

Program Overview

Using evidence from the past, historians investigate the relationship between cause and effect and between agency and responsibility to understand better how things change over time. These general habits of sorting through the past allow us to appreciate the profound differences between ourselves and others and to imagine (and to some degree experience) the world as men and women have in times now lost and in places we shall never see.

If you wish to major in history you would typically declare your intention sometime in the fourth semester of College. The requirements for a major in history emphasize both a broad exposure to different time periods and regions of the world, as well as a rigorous engagement with the practice of history as a discipline grounded in the use of primary sources.

Historians can be found in many guises, including in other departments: Geoffrey S. Sumi, Professor of Classics, Lauret Savoy, Professor of Environmental Studies and Stan P. Rachootin, Professor of Biological Sciences are all faculty affiliated with the history department.

Taking history courses offered through the five college campuses and the Hampshire Colleges History Department, Amherst College Department of History, Smith College Department of History  and the University of Massachusetts Amherst Department of History also offer many additional opportunities.

Why study history?

There are as many answers to this question as there are stories to be told of the past, but the American Historical Association’s “Tuning Project” – developed with the help of Mount Holyoke College history alum professor Anne Hyde ‘82 — offers a clear and compelling statement on the value and skills of historical thinking.

Alum Connections

Stories from History alums

Ruth A. Miller '97 Professor of History

Claire Ricker ’95 Senior City Planner

Our courses

We offer courses at several levels. More advanced levels do often involve heavier reading and writing assignments, but critical reading and clear writing are valued in all history courses, and the distinction between levels is often as much about the kinds of questions asked as the level of rigor involved. Many courses can be taken without any prerequisites.

First Year Seminars are only open to first-year students and introduce history as a field of inquiry and stress the development of basic writing, arguing and research methods.

100-level regional surveys focus on particular geographic areas; they have no prerequisites and are open to all students.

200-level courses examine particular times and places in history and range in size from large survey courses to small seminars. All students are welcome to enroll.

300-level courses (colloquium and research seminars) offer opportunities to examine topics in depth; some do have prerequisites or require permission of the instructor. If permission is required, please complete and submit the 300-Level Application Form

Take one history course and you will undoubtedly want to take more!

Selecting your first history course

You may prefer to start with the kind of broad introduction available in a survey, to learn about the diversity of peoples, places, and ways of living that have come before us and out of which the world as we know it has emerged. Or you may prefer to dive into an area of history that seems particularly intriguing or relevant to your interests, and perhaps turn to one or another survey later to gain a broader understanding of the past. Since history always involves the interplay between broad contexts and particular places in time, you can begin on either end of the spectrum. You are not required to begin at the 100 level.

Selecting courses in your first year

These fall courses are recommended for first-year students:

Surveys

  • HIST-124-01 Modern South Asia
  • HIST-137-01 Modern East Asia
  • HIST-138-01 Modern Jewish History
  • HIST-151-01 Modern & Contemporary Europe
  • HIST-170-01 The American Peoples to 1865
  • HIST-180-01 Introduction to Latin American Cultures

Topical Course

  • HIST-224-01 Busy Silk Roads
  • HIST-227-01 Ancient Greece
  • HIST-260PW-01 Postwar Societies
  • HIST-281-01 African American History
  • HIST-283MC-01 We Didn't Start the Fire

Theses course have no prerequisites.

Courses and Requirements

Generally speaking, history courses are reading and writing intensive. To succeed as a student of history, you must, therefore learn to read actively and write clearly.

Learning Goals

Students of the History department can expect to:

  • Understand the dynamics of change over time, the complexity of human experience across time and space, and the ways people both shape and are shaped by the particular worlds they inhabit.
  • Evaluate a wide range of historical materials for their credibility, position, and perspective, and for the clues they offer about past worlds and experiences. Discern from such fragmentary evidence meaningful patterns that illuminate our understanding of the past.
  • Develop empathy for the people whose lives we seek to understand and a respectful appreciation of the range and diversity of human experience.
  • Generate significant, open-ended questions, and devise research strategies to find suitable evidence to answer such questions.
  • Engage in lively, meaningful conversation about the nature of historical inquiry and conflicting understandings of the past. Work cooperatively with others to develop positions that reflect deliberation and differing perspectives.
  • Write effective and logical prose that describes and analyzes the past, and consider a range of media best suited to communicating a particular argument, narrative, or set of ideas.
  • Develop a disciplined, inquiring stance and outlook on the world that demands evidence and sophisticated use of information. Apply historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues.

Requirements for the Major

A minimum of 36 credits:

36 credits in History, comprising a course of study that meets all of the following requirements.36
The major must include:
One course each from three of the following different regions: Africa, Asia (including the Middle East), Europe, Latin America, and North America.
One course with substantial content in a period prior to 1750.
A minimum of three 300-level courses, to include:
At least one 300-level research seminar, taken in the department (any course numbered between 302–394), and
Two additional 300-level history courses, of which only one may be HIST-395.
Four courses that comprise a topical, chronological, or geographical concentration within the major. 1,2
No more than half the 36 credits may be at the 100-level.
Total Credits36
1

One concentration course may be from a field other than history, if the student otherwise meets the requirement of 36 credits for history

2

The advisor must approve a statement of this concentration during the second semester of the student's junior year.

Additional Specifications

  • The department encourages students to pursue independent work at the 300 level during the senior year. Students who intend to pursue independent work in the senior year should plan to complete their research seminar during the junior year. Students interested in senior independent work, who also plan junior years at institutions other than Mount Holyoke College, will need to take special care to meet this requirement.

Requirements for the Minor

A minimum of 20 credits:

One research seminar, taken in the department (any course numbered between 302–394)4
Four other courses above the 100 level16
Total Credits20

Course Offerings

First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars taught by History faculty introduce history as a method of inquiry, analysis, and interpretation concerned with understanding the variety of past human experience and with communicating that understanding clearly. The limited enrollment of these course permits a concentration on the close reading and analysis of secondary and primary texts, and on the process of writing and revision. The substantial concentration on writing qualifies such seminars as writing-intensive courses. All first-year seminars are listed together under First Year Seminars.

100-Level Regional Surveys

The department’s 100-level survey courses are designed both for students seeking an introduction to a particular geographic area new to them and, equally, for students wishing to pursue intermediate or advanced work in a particular field. Students interested in pursuing American or European history, for example, are advised to take the pertinent survey as preparation for more advanced work, just as those interested in Africa, Asia, or Latin America should take the survey in their chosen area of interest.

HIST-124 History of Modern South Asia, 1700 to the Present

Fall. Credits: 4

This course will explore the history of South Asia between the eighteenth century and the present. Using a combined chronological and thematic approach and against a historical canvas that engages such diverse issues as gender, political economy, conquest, resistance, state formation, economic exploitation, national liberation, and identity politics, the aim of this course is to interrogate the impact of British colonialism and South Asian nationalisms on the state, society, and people of the subcontinent. Using primary and secondary sources, we will address both the most significant historical moments of modern South Asian history and the historiographical debates that surround them.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
S. Yaseen

HIST-137 Modern East Asia, 1600-2000

Fall. Credits: 4

A comparative history of China, Japan, and Korea from the early seventeenth century to the present, with strong focus on regional interaction. After an introduction to early modern histories and cultures, we will examine the struggles of these countries to preserve or regain their independence and establish their national identities in a rapidly changing, often violent modern world order. While each of these countries has its own distinctive identity, their overlapping histories (and dilemmas) give the region a coherent shape. We will also look at how individuals respond to and are shaped by larger historical movements.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
L. Wu
Notes: Required for East Asian Studies majors. All readings are in English. Meets history department pre-1750 requirement.

HIST-141 Introduction to Modern African History

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course provides an introduction to African history over the past three centuries. Venturing beyond the stereotypes, we will explore the complex histories that constitute a diverse continent. Special attention is given to spotlighting the voices of African people through a range of primary and secondary sources, including memoirs, film, music, cartoons, speeches and photography. Students will gain knowledge of African geographies and histories, develop the skill of primary source analysis, and be able to connect events in -- and narratives of -- present-day Africa to a deeper historical past.

Crosslisted as: AFCNA-141
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
The department

HIST-142 Introduction to Pre-colonial African History

Fall. Credits: 4

This course surveys the social, political and economic history of Africa from earliest times to 1750. We will consider developments in early significant units of the continent such as Ethiopia, Kush, Zimbabwe, and Egypt. We will focus on themes such as human origins, agriculture, migration, Islam, gender, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. By the end of the course, students will have a sound understanding of key developments in African history from ancient times to the eve of European expansion in Africa.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
A. Abdulraham

HIST-151 Modern and Contemporary Europe

Fall and Spring. Credits: 4

Surveys the major movements and developments in Europe during the era of European expansion and dominance--from the devastations of the Thirty Years War to the Second World War--and up to the current era of European Union. Topics include: the French Revolution and the birth of nationalism; the scientific and industrial revolutions; the modern history of international relations; imperialism, fascism, the Holocaust, the two World Wars, and the present and potential roles of Europe at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
D. Fitz-Gibbon, J. King

HIST-161 British Empire and Commonwealth

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course is an introduction to the expansion, consolidation, and eventual disintegration of the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will examine this history with an eye to understanding the causes and legacies of empire. We will discuss British attitudes and policies toward empire and the imperial foundations of the British economy. Cutting an arc of territory from the Caribbean to Africa and from South Asia to the Pacific rim, we will consider the role of culture and gender in informing anticolonial resistance. We will interrogate how legacies of colonialism manifest in the contemporary period by shaping post-colonial identities and perceptions of the world.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
A. Medhi

HIST-170 The American Peoples to 1865

Fall. Credits: 4

This course surveys the history of Indigenous worlds, colonial projects, enslavement, and the contested transformation of lives and communities in North America through the U.S. Civil War. How did settler political and economic strategies shape the land and life upon it? How did Native people and people of African descent claim sovereignty, create new bonds, and partake in the creation of new nations in landscapes of violence and subjugation? Topics include cross-cultural encounters; competing religious and social visions; the formation of the United States and the evolution of its political system; gender and sexuality; the development of racial capitalism; and the coming of the Civil War.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
M. Renda
Notes: meets history department pre-1750 requirement

HIST-171 The American Peoples Since 1865

Spring. Credits: 4

This course introduces the history of Native North America and the United States from the latter half of the 19th century to the present. Themes include the consolidation of the U.S. nation and of the reservation system; struggles over land, settlement, and citizenship; the transformations of the federal government and of capitalism; the evolution of racial, gendered, and class hierarchies; and changing forms of domestic life, work, politics, social protest, and cultural expression from Reconstruction through the coronavirus pandemic. How have ideas about democracy, heritage, blackness, immigration, and criminality shaped the possibilities of national existence and self-determination?

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
M. Renda

HIST-180 Introduction to Latin American Cultures

Spring. Credits: 4

Examines the confrontation, assimilation, and transformation of Amerindian, African, and European cultures in Latin America from the sixteenth century to the present. Focuses on the processes in which distinctive self-images emerged in the region and how these images have been challenged and changed over time. Uses films, literature, and folk traditions to complement scholarly analysis of the emergence of a New World mentality.

Crosslisted as: LATAM-180
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
A. Pitetta

200-Level Courses: Themes and Periods

The department’s 200-level courses offer focused and intensive studies of particular times and places. They include a variety of courses, ranging from large survey courses to small, limited enrollment reading courses or seminars.

HIST-208 The Consumer Revolution: A History of Shopping

Fall. Credits: 4

This seminar surveys the history of shopping from the seventeenth to early-twentieth century. From its origin as a term for wastefulness, consumption is now understood as an essential feature of prosperity in modern society. How did shopping change over this period to occupy such an important place in our world? Using primary, secondary and material sources, students will examine the commodities, shopping habits, business strategies, consumer politics, marketplaces, and identities that shaped and sustained the rise of retail. Set primarily in a European context, the course will also emphasize the global and imperial dimensions of consumption and the systems of power that enabled it.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
D. Fitz-Gibbon

HIST-226 Bread and Circuses: The Politics of Public Entertainment in Ancient Rome

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Bread and circuses (panem et circenses) was a catchphrase in the Roman empire that described the political strategy of controlling an unruly populace through free bread and public entertainment. Against a backdrop of Roman social and political institutions, this course focuses on the imperial ideology, aristocratic ethos, and cultural practices that underpinned this catchphrase, as well as questions concerning the careers of entertainers--gladiators, charioteers, and actors--who were at once celebrities and social outcasts; the rules of spectatorship at the games; the use of these games as a form of social control; and the logistics of feeding the city population.

Crosslisted as: CLASS-226
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi
Notes: meets history department pre-1750 requirement

HIST-227 Ancient Greece

Fall. Credits: 4

This course will trace the emergence and expansion of Greek civilization in the Mediterranean between the Bronze Age and Alexander the Great. Among themes to be explored are political structures, trade, slavery, gender relations, and religion, as well as the contributions of ancient Greeks to literary genres (drama, rhetoric, historiography, philosophy) and to the visual arts. Throughout we will consider how the history of the ancient Greeks can speak to modern concerns. Sources will include works of ancient Greek literature and history (e.g., Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plutarch) as well as archaeological and epigraphic evidence.

Crosslisted as: CLASS-227
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi
Notes: meets history department pre-1750 requirement

HIST-228 Ancient Rome

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Ancient Rome and its empire can be viewed both as a measure of human achievement and a cautionary tale of the corrupting effects of unbridled power. This course covers the history of Ancient Rome from its mythologized beginnings (753 BCE) to the rise and spread of Christianity under the Emperor Constantine (312 CE). Topics include the creation and development of Rome's republican form of government as well as its eventual transition to monarchy, the causes and consequences of the acquisition of empire, the role of the army in administering the provinces and defending the frontiers, the image of emperor, the economy, and religion.

Crosslisted as: CLASS-228
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi
Notes: meets history department pre-1750 requirement

HIST-229 The Tyrant and the Gladiator: Bad Roman Emperors from Caligula to Commodus

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Caligula was a god (or so he thought); Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Commodus dressed as a gladiator and fought man and beast in the arena. The history of the Roman empire is replete with scandalous stories about eccentric and even insane emperors whose reigns raise questions about the nature of the emperor's power and his role in administering the empire. In this course a close study of Roman imperial biography and historiography--the source of so many of these stories of bad emperors--will be weighed against documentary and archaeological evidence in order to reveal the dynamic between the emperor, his court, and his subjects that was fundamental to the political culture of imperial Rome.

Crosslisted as: CLASS-229
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi
Notes: meets history department pre-1750 requirement

HIST-239 Topics in Asian History

HIST-239CR Topics in Asian History: 'Costs of Resistance: History Through Film'

Fall. Credits: 4

Through films and documentaries about sites with contentious histories and ongoing political conflicts, this course will examine the solidarities and fractures that resistance against colonial and foreign control brings about in struggling societies. We will particularly engage with themes around sovereignty and self-determination, nationality and belongingness, and history and memory. Such questions not only have real-world stakes for peoples' survival and political identities, but also shape in profound ways the imaginations and practices of resistance and solidarity across the globe. Course materials will revolve around struggles of Palestinians, Irish, Kurds, and Kashmiris, among others.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
S. Yaseen
Restrictions: Course limited to sophomores, juniors and seniors

HIST-239EN Topics in Asian History: 'Empire, Nation, and the Making of Tribes in South Asia'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course will explore the history of colonial and post-colonial encounters with various 'tribal' communities in South Asia. In colonial and post-colonial settings, the tribe has served as a category for military surveillance and pacification, legal regulation, economic development, and political resistance. Drawing mainly on examples from South Asia and engaging theoretical frames from the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and Canada, we will consider how colonial and post-colonial governments, missionaries, and tribal populations themselves have invoked tribe. Readings for the course will include scholarly monographs and articles, ethnographic accounts, and missionary records.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
A. Medhi

HIST-239GF Topics in Asian History: 'Global Food and Local Tastes in Modern East Asia'

Spring. Credits: 4

This 200-level history seminar studies the changing relationship between people and food on a global scale, but the main regional focus is East Asia. Course materials include but are not limited to the following topics: how does food define and transform social and cultural attitudes and everyday life? What role have governments and markets played in shaping what humans grew in the field? What has impacted local tastes in a given region? How has the emergence of restaurants, fast food, and supermarkets shaped the way humans have thought about food and nutrition? Can you recreate a dish from a recipe?

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
L. Wu
Notes: All readings are in English. This course fulfills the History Department's pre-1750 requirement.

HIST-239HH Topics in Asian History: 'History of Humans and Other Living Beings'

Spring. Credits: 4

This course investigates the relationships that humans have developed with other living beings in history. Course materials explore how humans have interacted with wild animals, domesticated some, imagined them in literary works, exploited animal labor, used them in scientific research, trained animals to perform, and co-lived with some as pets. These topics will help us think about how humans have developed ideas about animals and humans ourselves. The course will introduce histories worldwide with a specific focus on East Asia. Students who take this course must do research projects on East Asian topics, though comparative themes are welcome.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
L. Wu
Notes: All readings are in English. This course fulfills the History Department's pre-1750 requirement.

HIST-239MC Topics in Asian History: 'Borderlands and Ethnicity in Modern China'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This seminar investigates the processes through which borderlands were imagined and ethnicities were made in twentieth-century China. Drawing from texts and films about and by the people living on the borderlands, students in the seminar are to explore the intersecting relation between the two pressing issues and how Chinese states dealt with them. Furthermore, how did all these concerns originate? To that end, the seminar begins by examining how the central state in early modern China formed a multicultural empire in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
L. Wu
Notes: All readings are in English.

HIST-239ME Topics in Asian History: 'Cities in Modern East Asia'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course asks: what are cities in the history of modern East Asia? Cities were cosmopolitan, centers of commerce, and sites of social movements in late imperial China, Tokugawa Japan, and late Chosǔn Korea. How did the roles of cities change in the nineteenth century when East Asia became more integrated into the global system? How was urban life affected in the first half of the twentieth century when the central states dealt with domestic turmoil and external pressures? How did the state work to redefine cities and urban culture in the postwar era? To answer these questions, this seminar encourages students to position cities historically and comparatively.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
L. Wu

HIST-240 The Holocaust in History

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

An attempt at understanding the Nazi-led assault on Europe's Jews. Course units include an exploration of origins, both German and European; an analysis of the evolving mechanics of genocide (mobile killing squads, death camps, etc.); comparisons (Germany proper vs. Poland, the Holocaust vs. other instances of state-sponsored mass murder); legal dimensions; and an introduction to the politics of Holocaust remembrance since 1945.

Crosslisted as: JWST-240
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King

HIST-244 European Public Policy, West and East

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

In 1968, the USSR commenced a strategy of consumerist depoliticization in its European satellites. Around the same time, states on the other side of the Iron Curtain saw the postwar era of rapid economic growth and social consensus close. This course, reaching across the revolutionary break of 1989 up to the present, raises questions of convergence and continuity in European public policy, West and East. Paired case studies from a variety of countries in fields such as energy, the environment, minority rights, and housing serve to clarify rules and patterns to the politics of policy, from Cold War to European Union and beyond.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King

HIST-245 Topics in African History

HIST-245EU Topics in African History: 'European Expansion in Africa'

Fall. Credits: 4

Between the 1870s and 1910s, Africa was conquered by and divided among European powers. Why were European powers interested in informal and formal control of Africa? Why were they in competition with one another? How did Africans respond to European conquest and rule? What were the impacts of colonial rule in Africa? This course answers these and many other questions. The course is divided into two phases. The first focuses on the activities of the European powers in the late nineteenth century. The second examines the post-conquest period and examines African responses to the European conquests and rules in the early twentieth century.

Crosslisted as: AFCNA-241EU
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
A. Abdulrahman

HIST-245SV Topics in African History: 'Slavery and Emancipation in Africa'

Fall. Credits: 4

Slavery and emancipation is a broad theme in the history of the modern world. The study of this theme has usually been centered on the Atlantic world and the focus has always been on the enslavement of Africans in the Americas. Yet, slavery was a global phenomenon. Slavery has been one of the most common historical settings in all regions of the world. This course focuses on Africa and examines the meanings and nature of slavery, methods of enslavement, slave use in Africa, internal and external slave trades, the place of women, slave resistance, abolition, and the persistence of slavery in Africa during the colonial rule. We will compare slavery in Africa and other regions of the World.

Crosslisted as: AFCNA-245SV
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
A. Abdulrahman

HIST-246 20th Century Europe

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

A survey of European events, themes, and trends between 1900 and the new millennium, centered on discussion of a rich mix of primary sources that include fiction and film. Students will range from the Balkans to the Baltic, from the Urals to the United Kingdom, from death camps to the welfare state, from Bolshevism to neoliberalism, from European civil and cold war to European Union. This course complements History 151, does not repeat high school history, and pays close attention to developing historical consciousness and analytical skills.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King
Advisory: HIST-151 or equivalent recommended.

HIST-247 Mountains and Modernity

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

From the Himalayas in South Asia to Mexico's Chiapas and from North Carolina's Grandfather Mountain to the Uluru in Australia's Northern Territory, mountains represent more than just a geographical feature. They have been long viewed as transcendental spaces, served as a canvas for epic struggles between humans and nature, shaped cultural attitudes and been at the heart of political struggles. This course traces the history of various political and cultural meanings attached to mountains. Using examples from around the globe, it seeks to argue that rather than a metaphor for remoteness and primitivism, mountains are constitutive to our understanding of modernity.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
A. Medhi

HIST-249 The Environment and South Asian Lifeworlds

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Cyclones, drought, and earthquakes have claimed many lives in South Asia in recent decades. Millions living along its vast coastline face the imminent danger of being reduced to climate refugees. In such times, how might we understand the longer history of environmental change in South Asia? This course traces shifts in how people in the region have understood the environment -- as a source of sustenance, a resource ripe for domination, and an entity in need of saving. Drawing from histories of agriculture, public works, and forestry, it interrogates how transnational forces such as colonial capitalism and geopolitics have shaped local interactions between humans, nature, and animals.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
A. Medhi

HIST-252 History of Money and Finance

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

What is money? Is it the same in all times and places? If money could speak, what stories would it tell of the past? This course is about the history of money and money as an object of history. Using primary and secondary sources, students will learn about the social, political and cultural meaning of money at different times in the history of the western world. In addition, students will interpret the history of money using a variety of coins and money-related objects held in the MHC Art Museum. This is a course on the history of money, not the economics of money, but it will be of interest to anyone curious to learn more about the meaning of money in the past and today.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
D. Fitz-Gibbon

HIST-253SP Topics in History: 'The Spartans: Myth and History'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

In contrast to democratic Athens, oligarchic Sparta was renowned for its secrecy and skillful use of propaganda. Thus, it presents difficult challenges for historical study. In this course we will try to peer behind the "Spartan mirage" to determine how much the Spartans really differed from other ancient Greeks. We will then try to understand the use of Spartans as models for later polities and for groups like the Nazis and Alt-right. Topics: government, education, and citizenship; the role of women, eugenics, and slavery; the use and misuse of the image of Sparta. Readings will include Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, and modern scholarship on specific topics.

Crosslisted as: CLASS-253
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities

HIST-255 Ideas and Society in Europe

HIST-255DE Ideas and Society in Europe: 'Decentering Europe: An Introduction to Critical European Studies'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Europe embodies crossroads of multiple cultures, memories, migrations, and political demarcations. Taking a critical view of conventional paradigms of European nation states and "master" narratives, we study shifting European cultures and identities through multiple perspectives across time and space. What remains of the ancient and modern regimes? How have global movements, historical upheavals, and shifting boundaries within and adjacent to European borders, from early empires to contemporary global networks, affected the transformation of lives? Where is Europe heading today? Faculty from across the disciplines will join us to discuss Europe as a subject of global imagination and networks.

Crosslisted as: GRMST-205, CST-249DE
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
K. Remmler

HIST-257 City Life in Modern Europe, 1750-1914

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

"Our age is ... the age of great cities," wrote Robert Vaughan in 1843. Many Europeans questioned whether the greatness of cities was such a good thing, but most agreed that the history of nineteenth-century Europe could not be written without them. We will examine that history from the perspective of Europe's largest cities between the mid-eighteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Readings will explore the process of urban transformation, the new forms of experience and identity that emerged in city life, and the efforts of governments, social reformers, planners and engineers to control and discipline the new urban masses.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
D. Fitz-Gibbon

HIST-258 Travel, Self, Identity between Europe and South Asia

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

With the discovery of a maritime route between Europe and India in 1498, an increasing number of Europeans traveled to South Asia, for commerce, on missionary activity, to collect plants, and as part of colonial enterprises. From about 1600, South Asian elites, and, later, anti-colonial leaders, soldiers, and students, among others, journeyed in the opposite direction. Tracing a long history of cross-cultural contact, this seminar examines the role of travel in fashioning notions of self and "other". It asks how travel narratives visualize place and people, in what ways gender mediates experiences of travel, and how these encounters help reveal what is common and different between cultures.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
A. Medhi

HIST-259 Mary Lyon's World and the History of Mount Holyoke

Fall. Credits: 4

What world gave rise to Mary Lyon's vision for Mount Holyoke and enabled her to carry her plans to success? Has her vision persisted or been overturned? We will examine the conditions, assumptions, and exclusions that formed Mount Holyoke and the arrangements of power and struggles for justice that shaped it during and after Lyon's lifetime. Topics include settler colonialism and missionary projects; northern racism and abolitionism; industrial capitalism and the evolution of social classes; debates over women's education, gender, and body politics; religious diversity; and efforts to achieve a just and inclusive campus. Includes research based on primary sources.

Crosslisted as: GNDST-206MA
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Renda
Restrictions: Course limited to sophomores, juniors and seniors
Prereq: Either 8 credits in history or 4 credits in history and 4 credits in either gender studies or critical social thought. All other interested students may apply with an email to the instructor.
Notes: Available for 300-level credit

HIST-260 Topics in the Recent History of Europe

HIST-260HH Topics in the Recent History of Europe: 'The Habsburgs, Hitler, and the Law'

Fall. Credits: 4

This course explores the complex, often comic, and ultimately tragic history of Bohemia, a territory located today in the Czech Republic, but previously a part of the Habsburg Monarchy, then of Czechoslovakia, and then of Hitler's Third Reich. Students will complement historical studies with autobiographical material and contemporary fiction, beginning with the Revolution of 1848, progressing through the achievements and worrisome trends of Emperor Francis Joseph's 68-year reign, and concluding with the world wars. Emphasis on the interplay among Czechs, Germans, Jews, and other pivotal players: the House of Habsburg and its supporters, and the political elites of neighboring countries.

Crosslisted as: JWST-225HH
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King

HIST-262 Stalinism in Central Europe

Spring. Credits: 4

This course explores the use of revolutionary terror by the state. More specifically, it examines policies of terror pursued by Communist dictatorships in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the early years of the Cold War. Who did what to whom, and why? What insights do secret police work and public propaganda, knitted together in macabre show trials, allow us into Stalinist rule, European politics, and maybe ourselves? How did memories of terror shape politics after Stalin's death? Students should deepen their understanding for the discipline of History, improve their reading and writing, and develop a working knowledge of Central European politics at the middle of the twentieth century.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King

HIST-276 U.S. Women's History Since 1890

Spring. Credits: 4

This course considers the historical evolution of women's private lives, public presence, and political engagement within and beyond the borders of the United States, from the 1890s to the present. How have U.S. racism, consumer capitalism, immigration, and changing forms of state power shaped women's experiences and possibilities? How have regimes of gender, sexuality, bodily comportment, and reproduction evolved in relation to national and global changes? Emphasis will be placed on the experiences and perspectives of working-class women, women of color, and colonized women.

Crosslisted as: GNDST-206US, CST-249US
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
M. Renda

HIST-277 History of Energy

Spring. Credits: 4

We live in an age of energy crises, in which the future of energy is questioned in countless headlines and Twitter feeds. These concerns often include other assumptions about energy's past, in particular the idea that social change invariably follows the discovery of new energy technologies. From food to fuel cells, this colloquium charts a more complicated and interesting history, a history in which people have continually shaped and made meaningful the energies that fuel the modern world.

Crosslisted as: CST-249HE
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
D. Fitz-Gibbon
Prereq: 4 credits in history.
Advisory: This course will be of particular interest to students in history and environmental studies and to those interested in the social study of science and technology.

HIST-280 Topics in North American History

HIST-280DD Topics in North American History: 'Diversity, Inclusion, and Daily Democracy in US History'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

How have Americans -- and those contending with America -- envisioned and reached for more just and inclusive communities? What historical circumstances have opened opportunities for more robust democratic forms to emerge in the face of oppression? We will consider structural barriers to meaningful inclusion, involving racism, wealth, poverty, property, citizenship, gender, sexuality, disability, and dissent, as well as efforts to overcome them through concerted action and cultural struggle in the arts and public humanities. What public stories shape our connections with one another? What can we learn about the possibilities for sustaining democracy through daily life and culture?

Crosslisted as: CST-249DD
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
M. Renda

HIST-281 African American History, Precolonial to Emancipation

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course will examine the cultural, social, political, and economic history of African Americans through the Civil War. Topics covered include the African background to the African American experience, the Atlantic slave trade, introduction and development of slavery, master-slave relationships, the establishment of black communities, slave revolts, the political economy of slavery, women in slavery, the experiences of free blacks, the crisis of the nineteenth century, and the effect of the Civil War.

Crosslisted as: AFCNA-241HS
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
The department
Notes: meets history department pre-1750 requirement

HIST-282 African American History from Emancipation to the Present

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course will examine the social, cultural, political, and economic history of African Americans from emancipation and Reconstruction through the present. Emphasis will fall on postwar southern social and economic developments, the rise of segregation, northern migrations, black class stratification, nationalism, the twentieth-century civil rights movement, and current trends in African American political, social, and economic life.

Crosslisted as: AFCNA-282
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
The department

HIST-283 Topics in the Recent History of the United States

These courses are designed for students with a background in American history who wish to focus attention on developments since the late nineteenth century.

HIST-296 Topics: Women in History

HIST-296CG Women in History: 'Women and Gender in China'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This 200-level seminar introduces students to gender relations in the history of China. It offers students a broad historical narrative of women's lives from early China through the imperial period, and concludes with the power dynamics of gender relations in modern China in the twentieth century. The course is organized chronologically with thematic focus on the politics of marriage and reproduction; the state's shifting perspectives on women's social roles; and how women interpreted and responded to the changing cultural landscape.

Crosslisted as: GNDST-206CG
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
L. Wu
Notes: All readings are in English. This course meets the history department pre-1750 requirement.

300-Level Colloquia

A colloquium is a 300-level class concentrating on advanced readings in secondary sources and on the analysis and construction of an historical argument. A colloquium may be centered on a broad historical theme, issue, or problem that is likely to affect the world into which current students will graduate. Regardless of topic, they share the common course number History 301. Please note that admission to some 300-level history courses is by written application and permission of the instructor. Students may apply online.

HIST-301 Colloquia

HIST-301CS Colloquium: 'Capitalism in South Asia'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

The recession of 2008 has drawn scholars to the subject of long-term capitalist transformation around the globe. Examining the phenomenon that is 'global capitalism,' they have studied its effects on markets, structures of government, and increasingly, the environment. A global approach, however, is inadequate for understanding the particular lifeworlds shaped by capitalism at the local and regional levels. This colloquium uses examples from South Asia to emphasize how capitalist transition in the region was entangled with developments elsewhere, yet asserted a quite distinctive influence in areas of trade, agriculture, property norms, law, labor relations, migration, and consumption.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
A. Medhi
Restrictions: Course limited to sophomores, juniors and seniors
Instructor permission required.
Prereq: 4 credits in History.
Advisory: Application and permission of instructor required.

Research Seminars

A 300-level class requiring students to engage in primary and secondary source research in the history of particular times and places, resulting in a substantial piece of historical writing. The research seminars are the History courses numbered between 302–394.  Please note that admission to some 300-level history courses is by written application and permission of the instructor. Students may apply online.

HIST-317 Perspectives on American Environmental History

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

We explore the history of human-environment interactions in North America from precolonial times to the present from different cultural perspectives. How have such human activities as migration, colonization, and resource use depended on or modified the natural world? How have different cultural perceptions of and attitudes toward environment shifted through time and helped to reshape American landscapes? Case studies include ecological histories of Native America and Euro-America, slavery and land use, wilderness and conservation, and environmental racism and social justice. In addition to historical documents, we also consider scientific studies, literature, visual records, and oral tradition.

Crosslisted as: ENVST-317
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
L. Savoy
Instructor permission required.
Advisory: You must apply for admission to this course by completing the online application form. Please try to apply during advising week. Priority given to juniors and seniors in ENVST, HIST, and GEOG.

HIST-323 Germans, Slavs, and Jews, 1900-1950

Spring. Credits: 4

This course explores relations among Germans, Slavs, and Jews in Central and Eastern Europe before, during, and after the First and Second World Wars. Emphasis lies on tracing continuities and ruptures in nationalist and racist ideologies and policies, from late imperial Germany and Austria through the interwar republics and then on to the Third Reich and the post-Nazi regimes. Topics covered include the Holocaust, Nazi treatment of Poles, and the expulsion of millions of ethnic Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia after 1945, but also mutual accommodation, assimilation, liberal group rights, and the ambiguities of who was German or Slavic or Jewish in the first place.

Crosslisted as: JWST-350GE
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King
Instructor permission required.
Advisory: 300-level application form required.

HIST-331 Topics in Asian History

HIST-331AP Topics in Asian History: 'Anticolonial Perspectives from South Asia'

Fall. Credits: 4

This seminar will examine anti-colonial perspectives that influenced not only the twentieth century movements for decolonization and independence, but also profoundly shaped struggles for equality and justice within South Asian societies. We will do a close reading of seminal works of political leaders and underground revolutionaries, reformists and radicals, poets and intellectuals. In doing so, the course will think through entanglements between individual and collective liberation, religion and secularism, and ethics and politics, across the intersections of caste, gender, and religion in rapidly modernizing societies.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
S. Yaseen
Restrictions: This course is open to juniors and seniors
Prereq: 8 credits in History.

HIST-332 Environmental History of China

Fall. Credits: 4

This course offers a sweeping history of how the people in China have interacted with the natural world. Students will investigate historically specific social, economic, and political forces that have shaped environmental transformations in China. The course is organized thematically within a chronological framework. The course concludes with a closer look at the development of environmental practice in the modern era.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
L. Wu
Restrictions: Course limited to sophomores, juniors and seniors
Prereq: 8 credits in History.
Notes: Meets the history department pre-1750 requirement. All readings are in English.

HIST-333 Research Seminar in American Women's History

HIST-338 History, Race, and the American Land

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Environmental justice is a key concern today. Yet ties between "race" and environment in what is now the U.S. have existed for centuries. In this research seminar we will explore how this country's still-unfolding history, and ideas of race and nature, have marked the land, this society, and each of us as individuals. We will consider Indigenous, colonial European, and African senses of Earth; origins of placenames; contested terrains; migration and displacement; and other topics revealing the place of race. We'll examine often-unrecognized connections, such as the siting of the nation's capital and the economic motives of slavery. None of these links is coincidental and all touch us today.

Crosslisted as: ENVST-338
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
L. Savoy
Restrictions: This course is open to juniors and seniors
Instructor permission required.
Prereq: ENVST-317.
Advisory: You must apply for admission to this course by completing the online application form. Priority given to juniors and seniors in ENVST, HIST, and GEOG.
Notes: This course is reading intensive

HIST-341 Topics in African History

HIST-357 History of British Capitalism

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This is a research seminar, designed to introduce students to classic and recent debates on the "history of capitalism" and to support original research on a broad array of topics related to the social and cultural history of economic life. Rather than take British capitalism as exemplary of modernization we will situate that which was particular about the British case against the pluralities of capitalism that have evolved over the past three centuries. Topics include revolutions in agriculture, finance, commerce and manufacturing; the political economy of empire; the relationship between economic ideas, institutions and practice; and, the shaping of economic life by gender, class and race.

Crosslisted as: CST-349BC, EOS-349BC
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
D. Fitz-Gibbon
Restrictions: This course is open to juniors and seniors

HIST-365 Topics in Modern Europe: The Twentieth Century

HIST-381 Topics in Recent American History

Independent Study

HIST-295 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 4

The department
Instructor permission required.

HIST-395 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 8

The department
Instructor permission required.

Contact Us

The History Department helps students to appreciate the profound differences between ourselves and others and to imagine (and to some degree experience) the world as men and women have in times now lost and in places we shall never see.

Holly Sharac
  • Academic Department Coordinator

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