History Curriculum

At New College, an AOC in History should include both survey and specialized courses in a wide range of fields. Students are normally expected to complete at least ten courses or tutorials in history, with at least two courses in each of the four fields of history offered regularly at New College:

• American History.
• Chinese/East Asian History.
• Medieval/Early Modern European History.
• Modern European History.

Other fields may be substituted with the approval of two or more members of the history faculty.

At least one of the courses taken in each area should be an advanced (reading/writing intensive) course. Students are encouraged to choose their advanced course work and tutorials with the goal of laying the foundations for future thesis work. In addition to the formal disciplinary requirements for the AOC, students are strongly encouraged to take courses in related disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, to study at least one foreign language to the advanced level, and to make use of study abroad opportunities.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in History:

The Age of Imperialism
This course will study the rise and fall of European overseas empires, primarily in Asia and Africa, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although broadly comparative, it will focus primarily on the British and French empires, by far the largest of their time. Topics covered will include the transition from informal control to formal rule, the motives and course of imperial expansion, the destruction of traditional societies in the colonial encounter, the role of religion and missionaries, the promotion of imperialism on the home front, the role of gender, race, and class boundaries in colonies, the development of nationalism in the colonial world, wars of decolonization, and the legacy of colonialism on newly independent societies.

American Culture and Politics: 1945 to Present
This course investigates key political, social, and economic developments in the U.S. from the end of World War II to the present. We will explore the period thematically and, for the most part, chronologically. General topics we shall cover include: The emergence of a new international system built around the UN and related institutions; the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, and the rise of the national security state; consumerism, unions, youth culture, and the construction of suburbia; the Vietnam War and emerging social/political movements on both the Left and the Right; the Civil Rights Movement as a global phenomenon; feminism and the sexual revolution; gay rights, immigration policy, deindustrialization, and Watergate; the “Reagan Revolution,” AIDS, and the “war on drugs”; the end of the Cold War and “the culture wars” of the ‘90s; globalization and its discontents; and 9/11, the “war on terror,” major U.S. military interventions in the Middle East, and the financial collapse of 2008/9.

American History Survey: Pre-Colonial to 1865
This course covers American history from the pre-colonial period to the end of the Civil War and serves as the first half of a year-long survey course. For both parts of the survey, we will focus on one crucial and pervasive theme: the contested meanings of freedom. How did differing concepts of freedom emerge, evolve, and give rise to conflicts over race, gender, property, labor, and the environment? How did these struggles pervade and influence the growth of a colonial society, a revolutionary generation, an early republic, and a national government in the throes of a civil war? We will also consider the conquest and settlement of “the frontier” across North America, the rise of a race-based system of slavery, the importance of religion and revivalism, and the contact points between the national polity and the everyday lives of Americans. The overall goals of this course are to develop your ability to engage with historical materials critically and to understand better the development of the United States as a nation and as a North American culture with imperial designs.

Chinese History to 1800
To truly understand China, one has to understand its past. Equally important, Chinese themselves are a historically minded people. They remember their past and react to it constantly. Therefore, this course is designed as the first of a two course-sequel of introduction to Chinese history. Major themes include the emergence of a distinctive form of bureaucratic absolutism, the development of Confucian ideology and other classical-age philosophies, the introduction and spread of Buddhism, the evolution of a hierarchical but fluid social structure, the great commercial booms in the tenth and sixteenth centuries, the growth of autocracy in the later imperial era, the rise of neo-Confucian orthodoxy, civil service examination culture and the rise of the gentry, the elaboration of the Confucian gender system, the development of folk religion, and the interaction between elite and popular cultures.

Contemporary French History
This course will examine the history of France from Napoleon's defeat in 1815 to the present. Topics covered will include the failure of two Restorations, industrialization and class conflict, the revolutions of 1830, 1848, and 1871, the rise and establishment of republicanism, imperialism, religion in the fin de siècle, the First World War, the interwar crisis, defeat and occupation in 1940, Gaullism and technocracy, decolonization and immigration, the May ’68 movement and its consequences, and today's French society.

Dissent in a Time of War
This upper-level, topical course on modern U.S. history explores the deep tensions and contradictions that have arisen when individuals and organizations chose to reject their nation’s call to arms. We will consider crucial moments throughout U.S. history when citizens refused to rally in support of a war, but we will pay particular attention to the anti-imperialists of 1898, political/intellectual resistance during World War I, the conscientious objectors of World War II, the cultural politics of the Vietnam era, and the role of the media after 9/11 and “the war on terror.”

East Asian Civilization
As a region that developed nearly independently of the West before 1800, East Asia sheds light on the variety of ways that human beings have found meaning, formed communities, and governed themselves, expanding our understanding of the human condition. This course introduces students to the histories of China, Korea, and Japan from the earliest states to the present. It offers the opportunity for students to engage in cross-cultural study of countries with long and rich historical records, extraordinary, enduring cultural achievements, and increasingly important roles in contemporary international affairs. Topics include: state formation and dissolution; the role of ideology and how it changes; religious beliefs and values; agriculture, commerce, and industry; changing gender roles and family relations and the impact and interaction with the West. The emphasis is on understanding comparisons and connections across East Asian societies, rather than on comprehensive coverage.

Historical Methods
What is history? What do historians do? How do they collect evidence, analyze it and share their ideas with others? This class will introduce students to the basic concepts, controversies, history and techniques of history as a discipline, from theoretical approaches to useful reference materials. We will discuss not only the nature of history and evidence but also the practice of history, focusing on the goals of contemporary historians as well as the challenges facing them. The class aims to prepare students to do advanced work in history; in consequence, a great deal of emphasis will be given research and writing skills. Historical Methods is required for History concentrators and thus strongly encouraged for all second- and third-years intending a History area of concentration. It is also open to all other students (including first-years and non-concentrators) with permission of the instructor.

The History of Music in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
This survey course introduces students to the history of European music during the Middle Ages and Renaissance (the period c. 600–c. 1600). It will examine not only the different types of music produced in this period, but also the historical, institutional and personal contexts in which that music was produced. Topics to be studied include Gregorian chant, medieval drama, the secular music of the Troubadours on the theme of courtly love, the development of music notation and theory, the beginnings of polyphony, choral music, the effects of the Reformation upon European music and the place of music in Medieval and Renaissance society. No prior musical training is required. The course will offer students the opportunity to explore an area of cultural history that was of central importance to the lives of Medieval and Renaissance societies.

Medieval Europe
This survey course introduces students to the formation of European civilization between the years c. 700 and c. 1350. It deals in particular with the history of western continental Europe, focusing on political and institutional developments, ecclesiastical and social history, the history of political thought and intellectual history. The course will trace how ideas, communities, and institutions in these various areas evolved and affected each another. Topics to be covered include the Carolingian Empire, feudalism, the crusading movement, the papacy, medieval government and the beginnings of democracy, medieval urban culture, heresy and intellectual life. Special emphasis will be placed on the study of primary sources—chronicles, charters, diplomas, law codes, lives and so forth—in order to illuminate the history of the period.

Modern European History I (1648-1870)
This course, intended primarily for first and second year students, is the first half of a year-long survey of modern European history, and will cover the period 1648-1870. Topics to be examined include the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, the Age of Absolutism, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Liberalism, nationalism and national unification movements in Central Europe, the Revolution of 1848, and the wars of German unification.

Modern European History II (1870 to present)
This course, intended primarily for first and second year students, is the second half of a year-long survey of modern European history, and will cover the period from 1870 to the present. Modern European History I, while useful, is not a prerequisite. Topics to be examined include industrialization and mass society, European imperialism, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Fascism and Nazism, the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Holocaust, Stalinism and the Cold War, European integration and Americanization, decolonization, immigration, and the fall of communism and the creation of a new Europe.

Modern German History
This course will examine the history of Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Topics covered will include the Napoleonic conquest of Germany and the subsequent rise of German nationalism, the Vormärz and the Revolution of 1848, the formation of the Second Reich, the Kulturkampf, industrialization and the rise of socialism and the welfare state, Wilhelmine society, the First World War and the November 1918 revolutionary movement, the Weimar Republic, the rise, development, and defeat of Nazism, the Cold War division of Germany and the consequences of reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Old Regime and the French Revolution
This course will cover the political, socioeconomic, and cultural history of France from about 1700 to 1815, with special emphasis on the causes and consequences of the French Revolution, one of the major turning points in European history. Topics to be examined include the political and social structures of the Old Regime, the plight of the rural and urban poor, the impact of the Enlightenment, popular culture, the outbreak and radicalization of the revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the meaning and legacy of the Revolution on modern French society.

Renaissance and Reformation Europe
This survey will cover the tumultuous age in European history between the Black Death and the end of the Thirty Years’ War (AD 1350-1650). Students will be introduced to key cultural, socio-political, and economic developments of the early modern period, including but not limited to: the Italian Renaissance, exploration and the opening of global trade, the Reformation, and the scientific revolution. We will also re-evaluate traditional interpretations of this period's pivotal role in European history: historians have long recognized the significance of innovations such as three-point perspective, the printing press, the nation-state, and proto-industrialism, but we will also consider to what extent such changes affected everyday people. Did peasants and women have a Renaissance? Was this really “progress” and/or the "birth of the modern world"?

Renaissance Italy
The Renaissance is one of the most hotly debated subjects in all of modern scholarship: what was it? how should we define it?—even, did it happen? This seminar will take an interdisciplinary approach to the history of Italy between 1350 and 1550, looking not only at intellectual trends traditionally identified as “Renaissance”—such as humanism, individualism, and classicism—but also how they reflected and affected contemporary politics and society during an especially turbulent time on the Italian peninsula, which included recurring plagues, religious upheaval, and almost constant war. The course will consider a broad variety of primary sources, from statutes and censuses to art, music, philosophy, and drama—keeping always in mind the arguments of historians across the ages about their meaning and significance for the development of Western civilization, and the usefulness of categories and periodization for the understanding of the past.

Twelfth Century Renaissance
The ‘twelfth-century renaissance’ is the name given by scholars to a momentous intellectual movement that witnessed startling new developments in the history of Western thought. This intellectual renaissance saw the rise in importance of cathedral schools, renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman literature, the use of that literature in the service of theology and the development of scholasticism. Yet, although many embraced these new ideas enthusiastically, others railed against the intellectual excesses of those who sought to know everything and to understand even the workings of God Himself. The period is thus also characterized by lively debates about the utility and purpose of education. This seminar will study the twelfth-century renaissance by focusing on the history of the movement as well as on the important new works written at the time. Each week different primary sources will be read in English translation, not only in order to study the ideas of their authors, but also the context and development of those ideas. The seminar will cover thought in disciplines such as logic, grammar, rhetoric, music, history, politics, astronomy and theology—in short, the school curriculum of the middle ages. It will also introduce students to the exciting currents of modern scholarship about the twelfth-century renaissance and encourage them to see established orthodoxies with well-informed and critical eyes. This course will give students the ability to work in great detail on their writing and oral presentation skills. It will be of particular interest to students in Medieval and Renaissance studies, history, art history, philosophy and religion.

The United States in the World
What kinds of national narratives have arisen to explain, question, and advance the rapid expansion of the U.S. in the world over the past century? This course introduces students to competing views on how and why the United States has shaped and been shaped by global encounters and increasing “entanglements” abroad since 1898. We will explore debates over the role of empire, global warfare, international markets, cultural and racial differences, and intellectual/social movements that have raged within and across national borders – and continue to do so today. This intermediate-level course places emphasis on regular response papers, active class participation, and individually defined research papers that allow independent investigation of any particular thread in these broader debates.

U.S. - Japan Relations in the Twentieth Century
When the Japanese navy defeated the Russian navy at Port Arthur in 1905, it was clear that the Japanese Empire had emerged as a world power. For the United States, the rise of the Japanese Empire posed a complex set of challenges that would only grow with time. How did US – Japan relations evolve as both nations vied for control of the Pacific Basin? Was war in the Pacific really inevitable? How and why did the war turn into a “race war”? What were the consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What kind of political, cultural, and economic relations developed during the postwar era? This course will pursue these and similar questions as we take a broad, survey-like approach to US – Japan relations over the past century.

Women and Gender in China
This course is designed to better our understanding of major ideas and issues related to women, gender and family in China from the ancient time to the present. Major themes include: Confucian gender doctrines and family ideals and its significant ideological impact; the varied social practices and gender customs in different regions of China Proper and its ethnic frontiers; the spread of religious beliefs, such as Buddhism, Daoism, and Christianity, and their influence on Chinese gender norms, family life, and sexuality; how gender ideals were utilized to be markers of class status and part of states’ moralizing and civilizing projects and tools of social control. Last but not least, it introduces the impact of Western concept of gender equality, the construction of modern independent “New Women” ideal, and the feminist movements in China, analyzing both the subsequent changes and continuities on gender in contemporary China.

The World of St. Francis
This intermediate course will take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Saint Francis of Assisi. Aiming for a broad understanding of the saint’s life and legacy, we will combine questions of theology with those of medieval art, politics, and economic life in an attempt to fathom the paradoxes of medieval Italian life: specifically, how did the rampant commercialism and gaudy competitiveness of the Italian cities produce the late medieval world’s greatest advocate of simplicity, poverty, and nature? How did such a person end up with perhaps the most expensive and elaborate church in medieval Italy as his sepulcher? We will consider not only Francis’ life and teachings but also his broader influence on late medieval European society, with its controversial and divisive “Franciscan question.”

For detailed requirements, check out our General Catalog and the History Academic Learning Compact.

For a complete list of courses, click here.

[Did you know?]

The Biennial New College Conference on Medieval & Renaissance Studies draws top scholars in history, literature, art history, philosophy and other fields from around the world. Students have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the scholars and attend conference presentations for free.

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