The professors of Historical Studies B have reason to be teaching scared. If the planned overhaul of the Core Curriculum replaces Historical Studies B with a more flexible set of distribution requirements, they fear students won’t turn up for their antiquarian history classes. The Core currently forces much of the student body to be exposed to classical, medieval, and early modern history, while new distribution requirements would almost assuredly make it easier for students to escape the distant past, if not the study of history entirely.
The declared intent of Historical Studies B is to acquaint non-concentrators with the methodology of the historian by exploring a completed historical event. While the definition of “completed” and its implications for the time period studied may get fudged a little, you may still have to delve a little deeper, Joe Science-Concentrator. Occasional courses on World War II or Vietnam notwithstanding, you’ll be studying the 19th century or earlier.
As you do your delving, you’ll be doing so alongside people who have some experience in the field. As is the case in Historical Studies A, beware of concentrator-heavy classes. History concentrators are starved for relevant courses, they automatically get concentration credit for these cores, and they’re aware that non-concentrators often make them look like hot stuff (easing the unspoken section curve.)
History B-06, “The Roman Games,” while not an “Images of Alexander the Great”-style gut, is nevertheless a crowd-pleaser among the non-concentrators. “Staged beast hunts” in the course description? Straight money. Among other antiquarian choices, Professor Christopher P. Jones’ History B-09, “The Christian Revolution” is well regarded (but not taught this year). Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine History Angeliki E. Laiou will lecture on the Crusades in B-11. Guessing the Greek-bred Laiou’s least-favorite Crusade should be easy (hint: it’s probably the Fourth!).
Early modern history offers the Historical Studies-B student a renaissance and a reformation, though neither is being offered this year. Among the most popular courses from this period is B-19, “The Renaissance in Florence.” Taught by mustachioed oenophile and Renaissance intellectual historian James Hankins, “Renaissance in Florence” is big enough and draws enough sweatshirt-wearing, non-concentrator athletes to be an attractive out for students trying to slip through the cracks of the Core. And beware the notoriously irrelevant lecturing of McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History Steven Ozment, who leads B-18, “The Protestant Reformation.”
If major historical events interest you less than the everyday lives of dull, dead people, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s B-40, “Pursuits of Happiness: Ordinary Lives in Revolutionary America” receives consistently high marks. And if that’s not enough of a specific year for you, there’s another; B-34, “The World in 1776,” team-taught by visiting professor Emma Rothschild, Richard Tuck, and Sugata Bose. But heed the word on the street that this class should be avoided—the three professors do little to coordinate their lectures, and topics that one would expect the class to focus on (the American Revolution, perhaps?) rarely come up.
Fudging the “completed historical event” label is Historical Studies B-49, “History of American Capitalism,” which will be taught by Professor Sven Beckert, a nineteenth century Americanist with a predilection for nakedly Marxist historiography. Keep a lookout for B-45, a new course on the Darwinian Revolution, as the department’s few core offerings grow increasingly controversial and relevant.
Then for the twentieth century: the most violent events in human history, represented in Historical Studies B by a rare few classes on wars. B-54, “World War II” is taught by History professor Charles Maier. (In case you don’t know, he’s kind of a big deal.)
Professor Jorge Dominguez’s B-64, “The Cuban Revolution, 1956-1971: A Self-Debate” burst onto the Historical Studies B scene last year, with its innovative pedagogy succoring any students’ doubts over its suggestive course title. Grading was dependent on self-debating ability, but you’re probably already a chronic, compulsive self-debater anyways. You’ll have to wait until next year to take this one though, because it’s not being offered this year.
The jury is still out on Historical Studies B-68, “America and Vietnam: 1945-1975,” team taught by Hue-Tam Ho Tai and Ernest May, but bank on it being a popular class. There are only so many courses in this Core field, and, unfortunately, so many fewer that you’ll ever have a chance to take.