Overview of Courses

A Brief Guide to History Courses 

Do you want to take a history course but don’t know exactly where to begin?  The history department offers a number of different options for all Brown undergraduate students, whether they are interested in exploring beyond their usual comfort zone or are potential concentrators.  This page provides you with a brief guide to some of the history department’s course offerings for the Spring 2016 semester.  For a full list of our courses for this year, see Courses.


Over the few years, the History Department has begun to introduce a series of lecture courses numbered HISTORY 0150.  These are thematic courses on topics that cut across time and space and are open to all Brown undergraduates.  They introduce students to methods of historical analysis, interpretation, and argument.  We will be offering on in the fall of 2016:

HIST 0150C S01 Locked Up: A Global History of Prison and Captivity
A long history lies behind the millions of men and women locked up today as prisoners, captives and hostages. Beginning in antiquity and ending in the present, this course draws on materials from a variety of cultures across the world to explore incarceration's centuries-old past. In examining the experience and meaning of imprisonment, whether as judicial punishment, political repression, or the fallout of war, the class will ask fundamental questions about liberty as well. History 150 courses introduce students to methods of historical analysis, interpretation and argumentation. This course presumes no previous history courses.


History Department first-year seminars (FYS) and sophomore seminars (SYS) (restricted to first-years and sophomores) provide freshmen and sophomores an introduction to a topic and to historical methods in a small class setting.  In the Fall Semester of 2016, we will be offering the following first-year and sophomore seminars:

First-Year Seminars

HIST 0510A S01 Shanghai in Myth and History
“Fishing village”, “Paris of the East”, or “a waking dream where everything I could already imagine had been taken to its extreme?” In an iconic role, Marlene Dietrich bragged that “it took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily,” but the local song “Shanghai by Night” retorted, “To look at her/Smiling face/Who would know that she’s troubled inside?” We will examine why Shanghai has gripped the imaginations of so many, placing the material history of the city alongside dream and image, focusing on the four topics of colonialism, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and class. FYS.

HIST 0537A S01Popular Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean
From tango to plastic surgery, Donald Duck to reggaeton, this course places popular culture at the center of modern Latin American and Caribbean history. How, we will ask, did popular culture reflect and shape struggles over national belonging? How did foreign cultural products come to bear on international relations and transnational flows? In what contexts has culture served as a vehicle of resistance to dominant ideologies and systems of power? Far from a mere "diversion," popular culture instead offers a compelling lens onto the relationship between state and society in Latin America and beyond. WRIT FYS

HIST 0550A S01 Object Histories: The Material Culture of Early America
History is not just about people; it is also about things! Come explore the world of early America through the lens of objects--boats, dresses, plows, houses, wagons, watches, silver cups, wigs, blankets, land, gardens, hammers, desks--and the cultures that produced and consumed them. As a first year seminar, this course is designed to engagingly introduce students to the basic concepts of historical study. We will take several field trips to local historical sites, both on and off campus. Our primary focus will be specific objects and their contexts and histories. Enrollment limited to 20 first year students. FYS WRIT P

HIST 0551A S01
Abraham Lincoln: Historical and Cultural Perspectives
This seminar uses life, legacy, myth of Abraham Lincoln to explore central themes such as frontier in early republic, nature of political leadership, law/legal culture, and emergence of sectionalism, slavery, antislavery, Civil War. Frequent short writing assignments and research investigations allow students in-depth explorations of Lincoln’s works, the writings of his contemporaries, and modern non-fiction, fiction, and film. The course enables us to consider two larger themes: 1) the relationship between memory and history; and 2) the function of history in modern society. The course has no prerequisites and does not presuppose special knowledge of American history. WRIT FYS

HIST 0555B S01 Robber Barons
Today, the United States looks a lot like it did at the turn of the 20th century. Much like it is now, America's economy at that time saw tremendous growth interrupted by periodic financial crises. Moreover, both are periods of immense inequality. Whereas we have the one per cent, the late 19th century witnessed a small group of capitalists amass unprecedented fortunes, which provided immense political power. In this class, we will explore what the lives of these “robber barons” can tell us about the role of economic privilege in shaping America’s social, cultural, and political history. FYS WRIT

HIST 0556A S01 Sport in American History
This course covers the relationship of sports to aspects of American culture since 1900. Topics include gender, race, amateurism, professionalism, intercollegiate athletics, and sports heroes. Enrollment limited to 20 first year students. FYS WRIT

HIST 0557B S01 Slavery, Race, and Racism
This seminar will address the history of race and racism as it relates to the history of slavery in America. We will trace the emergence of slavery in the New World, with a heavy emphasis on slavery in the U.S. South. The course is broad in scope, beginning with the emergence of the slave trade and concluding with a look forward to the ways that the history of slavery continues to impact the way race structures our lives today. In short, this course provides an introduction to slavery studies and to the history of race in America. FYS DPLL

HIST 0559B S01
Asian Americans and Third World Solidarity
As historian Vijay Prashad puts it, “The Third World was not a place. It was a project.” During the 20th century struggles against colonialism, the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America believed that another world was possible. Here, too, in the United States, minorities and their allies dreamed of dignity, democracy, and justice. Looking through the experiences of Asian Americans, this course examines the domestic freedom movements in the context of global decolonization. Topics include: campus activism, immigration, capitalist labor regimes, neocolonalism, cultural hegemony, and Afro-Asian connections. FYS DPLL

HIST 0580M S01 The Age of Revolutions, 1760-1824
In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Americas belonged to a handful of European monarchies; within a few decades, most of the Americas was composed of independent republics, some of the European monarchs were either deposed or quaking on their thrones. Usually considered separately, revolutions in British North America, France, Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and Spanish America had diverse local circumstances yet composed a single cycle of intellectual ferment, imperial reform, accelerating violence and, forging of new political communities. We will examine revolutions that helped create the world we live in. Enrollment limited to 20 first year students. FYS WRIT P

Sophomore Seminar

  • HIST 0654B S01  American Patriotism in Black and White

    This course explores the different and sometimes conflicting definitions and meanings of patriotism and citizenship through the lens of African American history and military participation, using primary and secondary sources from the colonial period to the present, including political and legal documents, letters to editors, literary pieces, plays, speeches, and petitions. What are the many definitions of freedom and patriotism, and how have black people understood their realities as they chose to serve militarily? This social and political (not military) history focuses on the political implications of African Americans’ military service for/to the nation over three centuries. DPLL SOPH


History lecture courses address topics of broad interest chronologically, geographically and thematically defined. These courses are designed for History concentrators and non-concentrators alike.  Please see courses for a complete list of our courses for Fall 2015. To clarify our course offerings, our courses over 1000 are organized as follows:

  • 1000-1099 courses on Africa
  • 1100-1199 courses on East Asia
  • 1200-1299 courses on Europe
  • 1300-1399 courses on Latin America
  • 1400-1499 courses on Middle East
  • 1500-1599 courses on North America
  • 1600-1699 courses on South Asia
  • 1700-1799 Global courses
  • 1800-1899 Thematic courses


Courses numbered from 1960A to 1979Z are capstone seminars that provide students with an opportunity to delve deeply into a historical problem and to write a major research and/or analytical paper. These seminars are designed to serve as an intellectual culmination of the concentration.   First-Year students are not advised to take these courses and only rarely are sophomores allowed to enroll.


Students seeking to graduate with honors must complete three additional courses. These are:

History Honors Workshop for Prospective Thesis Writers (HIST 1992). Offered in fall and spring semesters. Recommended for juniors, although open to seniors who have been away during their junior year.

History Honors Workshop for Thesis Writers (HIST 1993/94). Offered in fall and spring semesters. Limited to seniors and juniors who have been admitted to the History Honors Program. All students admitted to Program must enroll in in HIST 1993 for one semester and then HIST 1994 in the subsequent semester.

Click here to download a complete outline of the new numbering system.