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 past year, 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 two in the spring of 2016:

HIST 0150B S01
The Philosophers' Stone: Alchemy From Antiquity to Harry Potter

Professor Tara Nummedal, M/W/F 11:00-11:50

Alchemy today conjures Harry Potter or Full Metal Alchemist, not the serious scholarly tradition that captivated Isaac Newton and Carl Jung. We will explore alchemy’s long history, examining how it has endured and adapted to different cultural, social, intellectual, economic, and religious contexts. What did alchemists do? How did they explain their art? And why has alchemy come to represent fraud and folly in some circles and wisdom in others? Students will answer these questions by conducting research in the Hay. HIST 0150 courses introduce students to methods of historical analysis, interpretation, and argument. Presumes no previous history courses. WRIT

HIST 0150D S01
Refugees: A Twentieth-Century History
Professor Vazira Zamindar, M/W/F 12:00-12:50

Refugees are arguably the most important social, political and legal category of the twentieth century. This introductory lecture course locates the emergence of the figure of the refugee in histories of border-making, nation-state formation and political conflicts across the twentieth century to understand how displacement and humanitarianism came to be organized as international responses to forms of exclusion, war, disaster and inequality.


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 2015, we will be offering the following first-year and sophomore seminars:

First-Year Seminars
HIST 0522G S01

An Empire and Republic: The Dutch Golden Age
Professor Hal Cook, Thursday 4:00-6:30

Between about 1580 and 1690, a new nation emerged in Europe that became a bastion of liberty, ideas in ferment, fine art, military power, science and technology, and global economic reach: the Dutch Republic. A nation that thought of itself as peaceful, yet was constantly at war; as Protestant, yet was composed of people of many faiths; as personally aspirational, yet derived much wealth from the conquest and slavery of others. Its people and institutional arrangements greatly influenced Britain and America on their paths to power, too. Its rise and eclipse may be instructive.. Enrollment limited to 20 first-year students. FYS WRIT P

HIST 0574A S01
The Silk Road, Past and Present
Professor Cynthia Brokaw, Monday 3:00-5:30 

The Silk Road has historically been the crossroad of Eurasia; since the third-century BCE it has linked the societies of Asia—East, Central, and South—and Europe and the Middle East. The exchange of goods, ideas, and peoples that the Silk Road facilitated has significantly shaped the polities, economies, belief systems, and cultures of many modern nations: China, Russia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and India. This course explores the long history (and the mythologies or imaginations) of the Silk Road in order to understand how the long and complex pasts of the regions it touches are important in the age of globalization. FYS WRIT


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.