Information for New Students

The History Department welcomes you to Whitman College! We are one of Whitman’s largest departments, and offer a curriculum that is incredibly diverse for a school of our size. In small classes you will be able to explore historical phenomena across the globe and across time, in eight distinct fields. From Alexander the Great to the Arab Spring, our courses cover issues that inform the choices that we as global citizens need to make today. All of our 100- and 200-level courses (with the exception of 299), and some of our 300-level courses, are suitable for first-year students, and we invite you to peruse our offerings and contact faculty if you have any questions.

While a few of our recent graduates have gone on to become distinguished graduate students and then professors of history, Whitman history alums have succeeded in a great number of fields. Former Whittie historians are now working as physicians, attorneys (including an Assistant DA in New Orleans), archivists, and non-profit consultants, and one has even become one of the top young photographers in Washington, DC. Our rigorous program teaches comparative methodology as well as skills in critical reading and writing that translate to career opportunities as rich and varied as the field of history itself.

In what follows, you will find our course offerings for the fall semester, including contact information for faculty. At the end of the document is an overview of our major requirements and information about AP credit.  Please come talk to us—we are eager to begin the enquiry with you!


 Prof. John Cotts
Chair, Department of History


Courses for Fall Semester 2014

History 150A (Special Topic): Comrades Come Rally: Reading Socialist History

Why Socialism? Why Communism? Why did these ideas appeal to so many Europeans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? What happened to these ideas when socialists and communists came to power? In this course we read the original writings of socialists and communists (and their opponents) to understand their ideals and the realities as they played out in history. The course begins with the first, Romantic, socialists, and continues with an exploration Marx and his not-so-faithful followers, as well as Lenin and the Russian Revolution. It concludes ends with a brief exploration of contemporary European socialism. This is a primary-source based introduction to historical analysis on one of the most contested topics of contemporary history. The course is mainly discussion based with some lecture; assignments will take the form of short papers.

Prof. Sharp (
            4 credits, MTuTh 9:00-9:50am


History 150B (Special Topic): Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Natural Resources in Global Environmental History

This course will focus on the ways in which the search for and use of natural resources has profoundly affected human history. We will examine the work of environmental historians along with primary sources relating to the history of conflicts over access to resources, resource extraction and transportation, and the resulting pollution (organic, chemical, and radioactive). Using these sources, we will discuss how historians ask and answer questions about the ways that resource availability has shaped human societies and cultures worldwide, as well as how particular societies have had dramatic impacts on the distributions of water, forests and other ecosystems, minerals, and plant and animal populations. While there will be some brief lectures, this course is primarily focused on reading, writing, and discussion. Assignments include analysis of primary sources, short papers, and a final paper project with presentation to the class.


Prof. Arch (

4 credits, TuTh 1:00-2:20pm

-Can be applied to the Social Science coursework requirement for the Environmental Studies major



History 188: Modern Latin America

Latin America often exists in the North American popular imagination as a series of colorful stereotypes - suave Latin lovers, peasants sleeping under sombreros, wild-eyed revolutionaries in banana republics. This class will replace those myths with a view of the Latin Americans as people, not stereotypes. We will look at shared social, political, and economic problems while also appreciating the diversity of the region by examining the specific cases of various nations. The class, which covers the 19th and 20th centuries, beginning with independence from Spain, will be conducted by lecture and discussion.


Professor Lewis-Nouwen (

4 credits, TuThF 10:00-10:50am
Fulfills the College's Cultural Pluralism requirement



History 226: Ancient Mediterranean: Greece

This course surveys the history of the Greek-speaking world, from Bronze Age beginnings to the Roman occupation. Using a range of ancient sources, both archaeological and literary, we will examine the many definitions of "Hellenic" identity - from the Minoan and Mycenaean worlds, to the rise of the polis and the phenomenon of Greek colonization, to Alexander's conquests and "globalizing" visions of pan-Hellenism. At the same time, we will consider the reception of these Hellenic identities - not only in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but also in the modern world, in the often-problematic framing of what it means to be male, female, human, beautiful, "civilized," or "democratic."

 Prof. Davies (
4 credits, MTuTh 9:00-9:50am



History 235: The Arab Spring in Historical Context

The current wave of protests sweeping the Middle East inspires this critical examination of the historic roots of revolt. While mapping the sites of protest-Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and lesser known protests in Turkey and Iraq-students will examine the individual modern histories and politics prompting these revolutions. The course will also compare the economic, political, and social factors that have inspired the so-called Arab Spring. Students will study academic arguments about the origins of authoritarianism in the Middle East, the role social media plays in creating new sites of social protests, and the impact of neoliberal economic policies in creating the conditions for the revolution. Students will also be introduced to the cultural politics of the Arab World, including new forms of religious expression, contemporary hip-hop, and revolutionary art found in both Islamist and post-Islamist cultural spheres. Assignments include critical analysis of media coverage, short papers, and a final paper project.


Prof. Semerdjian (

4 credits, TuThF 10:00-10:50am
Fulfills the College's Cultural Pluralism requirement.



History 241: Early Japanese History

This class will trace the important socioeconomic, political and cultural developments in Japan from prehistory up to 1600. We also will examine evolving gender roles, the development of various schools of Buddhism, and their interactions with indigenous Shinto religion. We will discuss a variety of sources to become familiar with early Japanese views of their society and with modern scholars' interpretations of Japan's cultural and historical development.


Prof. Arch (

4 credits, MW 1:00-2:20pm
Fulfills the College’s Cultural Pluralism requirement.



History 259 (Special Topic): US Urban History

Surveying the urban history of the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this course explores cities as physical and symbolic constructions. Starting with the rise of industrial cities and boom towns, students examine interconnections between built and natural environments. Alongside urban designers' role in creating the identity and make-up of the city, this course takes up the everyday ways city dwellers experienced and altered their surroundings. As we enter the twentieth century, we'll consider suburbanization, urban economic decline, and narratives of urban "crisis" and recovery. Throughout the semester, we'll pay particular attention to spatial segregation and the ways it reinforced social hierarchies and shaped people's lived experiences.

Prof. Ferguson (
4 credits, MW 2:30-3:50pm



History 261: America in Vietnam

This course will trace the path of American involvement in Vietnam from the World War II era down to the fall of Saigon in 1975 and its aftermath. American policy will be examined in the context of the United States' overall post-1945 foreign policy, looking specifically at how the United States responded to the decolonizing Third World and the perceived danger of communist expansion and control in Southeast Asia. Attention will be given to the various pressures and influences on American policymakers as well as differing interpretations of the United States' action. In addition to studying American policymaking, this course will investigate the impact of the war on American politics and society. Teaching materials will include both primary and secondary readings along with films.

 Prof. Schmitz (
             4 credits, MWF 1:00-1:50pm


History 283 (Special Topic): Latin American Urban History: From the Aztecs to Favelas

From the beginning of the colonial period to the present, cities have exerted an outsized role on the history of their respective countries as centers of government, religion, education, and culture. The course begins with an examination of the initial organization of cities, the role of the colonial state, and the ways that class, race, and gender dictated a person's location within the urban center. As we move into the modern period, we will continue to explore status and its markers along with the outcomes of migration, industrialization, population growth, and environmental change. Most of our focus will be on the cities of Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro, each of which offers a different view of how race and class interact in an urban environment.

Prof. Lewis-Nouwen (
            4 Credits, MTuTh 11:00



History 320: Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Kingdoms

By the age of 33, Alexander had conquered an empire that extended over most of the eastern Mediterranean world, but he would not live to rule it. At his death, his empire fractured, re-emerging more than 20 years later as the four great kingdoms of the Hellenistic Age. From the meteoric career of Alexander, through the bitter power struggles of his successors, culminating in the dramatic last stand of Cleopatra, this course will examine the way in which this Graeco-Macedonian expansion reshaped the Mediterranean world even as the conquerors themselves were altered by the very peoples they had subjugated. Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between foreign conqueror and subject culture, the creation of royal dynasties, the development of ruler-worship, and the question of "Hellenization."

Prof. Davies (
4 credits, TuTh
Interested first-year students should contact Prof. Davies.



History 332: Conversion, Crusade, and Conquest: European Cultural Encounters, c.400-1600

Medieval and early modern Europe was not a monolithic or entirely isolated civilization but an uneasy synthesis of alternative cultural possibilities. This course considers moments of cross-cultural contact, conflict, and negotiation during the millennium up to and including the "age of discovery" that was inaugurated by Columbus' voyages. Topics to be studied include the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the Norse expansions into the Atlantic, and various forms of interaction between Western Europe and the neighboring Byzantine and Islamic civilizations, with special attention to the Crusades. The course will conclude with the European response to the exploration and colonization of the "New World."

Prof. Cotts (
            4 credits, MTuTh 11:00-11:50am
Open to first-year students with a solid background in History.




History 339: Modern Germany: Imagining a Nation?

More than any other Western European nation, Germans have struggled to identify what it means to be a citizen of a nation. The course begins with a look at central Europe prior to 1848, when "Germany" was a collection of minor states fought over by Prussia and Austria. We'll look at liberal nationalism as a unifying force and explore the way Bismarck created a nation while bypassing that same nationalism, then move to explore the nation that Germany became. From struggles over socialism in the late 19th century, through World War I, revolution, and struggles over culture and fascism in the early 20th century, German people and government often saw themselves as striving to maintain and/or create a powerful nation. The last segment of the course explores both East and West Germany after World War II, as the East turned to Communism, and the West surged to the forefront of the European Union during the Cold War. We conclude with a glance at reunited Germany as it emerged in 1990.

Prof. Sharp (
4 credits, TuTh 1:00-2:20pm

Not recommended for first-year students.



Advanced Placement

Advanced placement credit for the College Board Advanced Placement Tests in history is granted as follows: students with a grade of 5 on the American History Test will be considered to have completed the equivalent of History 105 and 106 and receive eight history credits. Students majoring in History may only apply four of those credits to the major. Students with a score of 5 on the European History Test will be considered to have completed the equivalent of History 183 and receive four credits in history. Students with a score of 5 on the AP World History Test will be granted four credits, but they will not be considered the equivalent of any course. A student has the option of repeating a course for which AP credit has been granted, but with a commensurate reduction in the advanced placement credit.

The History Major

The history major consists of a minimum of thirty-six credits in history, including History 299 (formally 201), History 401, a “comparisons and encounters” course, and a 400-level seminar. No more than 6 credits at the 100 level will count toward the major. The department offers courses in seven geographical areas: Ancient Mediterranean, East Asia, Europe, Islamic World, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. The major program must be planned by the student and adviser to include at least one course in each of four of these areas at the 200- or 300-level (three areas for students graduating in 2013 or 2014), at least one course treating the pre-modern period (at any level), and two related courses within one geographic field (at 200 or 300 level). In addition, college

The history major is organized to provide, within the limits of the department's size, breadth of knowledge, a base in historical method, and a depth of understanding in a particular area. The major culminates with comprehensive written and oral exams.

At the introductory level, the department offers broad survey courses in Ancient Mediterranean, East Asian, Environmental, European, Islamic, Latin American, and United States history. These courses introduce students to historical evidence, the ways historians have interpreted such evidence, and the writing of history papers. A student's coursework in the major may include up to two of these classes.

The majority of credits in the major will be earned in courses at the 200 or 300 level. Most such courses are organized regionally or nationally and chronologically (e.g. The US Since 1945, 19th-Century Europe, Modern China) or thematically within a region (e.g. courses on gender, environment, revolution, etc). Some are organized comparatively or with a focus on encounters between cultures. All majors must take one class exploring a period before 1500CE (at 100, 200, or 300 level).

Early in the major, but after completion of at least one course at the 200 or 300 level, all History majors study historical research methodology, historiography, and the use of theory in history in History 299 (formerly 201). This course explores various "types" of history (e.g. political, social, oral, quantitative), as well as the "how to" of the discipline, culminating in a major research paper using primary source material.