Beginning this fall, Yale’s History Department is introducing a sequence of undergraduate lecture classes that, instead of focusing on a specific region or event, will develop global history and perspectives around a particular time period.
The offering of classes will be organized chronologically, and the first of these classes, “The World Circa 1000,” is currently being taught by history professors Valerie Hansen and Anders Winroth.
The development of this sequence reflects in part the direction of the academic study of history. As the public has shifted toward thinking in terms of global and transregional trends and themes, so has the study of history within the academy. Incorporating such a tendency is not entirely new to the department because, as history professors interviewed acknowledged, Yale has previously offered history classes that were organized thematically. However, many of those were more advanced classes whereas the new sequence is designed as a survey course for students with less exposure to history classes.
Although specialized and regional history continues to be significant, department leaders told the News that the new undergraduate series is meant to reflect global history’s growing prominence.
“It is our attempt to address one of the major innovative trends in the study of history and scholarship in the historical profession, which is to look at global trends, to be transregional in approach and to not be limited to just country histories,” said Alan Mikhail, the department’s director of undergraduate studies. “This is a very important trend in the historical profession, to think globally and transnationally.”
Professors Hansen and Winroth bring different areas of expertise to the course. Hansen’s specialization is in Chinese history, and her primary fields of interest are China until the 17th century, Chinese religious and legal history, and the history of the Silk Road. For the last five years, Hansen has also been working on her next book, titled “The World in the Year 1000: When Globalization Began.”
Winroth specializes in medieval European history in addition to legal history and the Viking Age. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003 and is the author of half a dozen books.
Mikhail said that each class in the sequence will all be team-taught by two faculty members who specialize in different regions of the world, giving students broader coverage than one could expect from a single professor.
The precursor to the undergraduate lecture Hansen and Winroth now teach was a graduate seminar offered in fall 2014 and spring 2017 called “Circa 1000.” Professor Mary Miller, who specializes in Mayan and art history in the Americas prior to 1492, provided yet another area of expertise in the graduate seminar.
Teaching the graduate seminar inspired the professors to teach an undergraduate course on a similar subject. Although Miller’s commitments this semester prevent her from co-teaching again with Hansen and Winroth, she will deliver two guest lectures for the course.
The History Department has a wide reach in Yale College. Although there is no formal requirement to enroll in any particular history class, Mikhail noted that the department prides itself on frequently teaching the largest number of undergraduate students of any department.
The global perspectives sequence was designed with maintaining and expanding the wide reach of the department in mind, according to Mikhail. No experience, background or prerequisites are expected of students enrolled in the lecture. Instead, the entire sequence of classes is designed as an introduction to comparative history, giving students the opportunity to think about history beyond the structures of states and equipping them with the writing skills needed to succeed in any history class at any level.
“The history department has never had a clear gateway to the major,” Hansen wrote in an email to the News. “We very much hope that the Circa classes will serve this role, giving first- and second-year students a chance to learn about historical method and the department. Our goal is to prepare students to do well in subsequent history classes, and we hope that they will take many of them.”
Next semester, the sequence will continue with a class focused on global history around the year 1500.
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