History & Literature

Stack of novels

The History & Literature concentration provides a structured, interdisciplinary education to ensure that students acquire knowledge of broad historical periods, major works, and key themes in their fields, as well as focused study of particular texts, events, authors, or themes according to students' unique areas of interest. 

Director of Studies: Lauren Kaminsky
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Associate Director of Studies: Angela Allan
Associate Director of Studies: Duncan White

Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

HIST-LIT 10: Introduction to American Studies
Phil Deloria

American Studies is an interdisciplinary effort to understand the complicated social and cultural lives of people in—and in relation to—the United States, both past and present. The intersections of History and Literature shape much of American Studies, but the field has also been marked by forays into music, arts, ethnic studies, economics, anthropology, journalism, and even forestry and climate science. This course will introduce students to the history and methods of the field, exploring evocative cases with a range of guest faculty.

HIST-LIT 90FH: Witchcraft and Magic in the Atlantic World
Arianne Urus

Magic had long been an integral part of how people made sense of the world around them, but between 1450 and 1750 some 80 to 100,000 people (mostly women) were executed under charges of witchcraft in western Europe alone. During the same period, a literal witch hunt threatened the lives of elderly or widowed women, peasants, Indigenous healers, and West African Muslims. In this course we will explore what magic and witchcraft meant and how the charge of witchcraft came to be so deadly in western Europe, North America, colonial Latin America, the Caribbean, and West Africa in the world before 1800. Such fears of witchcraft might seem odd or alien to us now, but understanding witch hunts can help us interpret the social and cultural ramifications of the host of significant changes that ushered in the modern world. Through a variety of readings we will reflect on the way conceptions of magic and witchcraft intersected with ideas of gender, race, and colonialism. Grappling with the history of the early modern witch hunt can help us make sense of things like the rise of conspiracy theories in the present day. Texts for the course will include Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and Monty Python, as well as records from the colonial Inquisition, testimonies from witch trials, healing manuals, treatises on demonic possession, and guidebooks on how to catch a witch.

HIST-LIT 90DZ: Too Soon? Comedy in Europe's Tragic Twentieth Century
Kathryn Brackney

In the first half the twentieth century, Europe was the site of two wars that depleted the world’s population, dislocated millions, and stripped once diverse regions of the continent of their minority populations. Later, even as Europe managed to rebuild, progress occurred under the shadow of two hegemonic superpowers in possession of weapons capable of incinerating not just both sides of the Iron Curtain but the entire planet. In a 1966 profile of Bertolt Brecht for The New Yorker, Hannah Arendt wrote of “the terrible freshness of the post-war world”—in which all that poets could do in the rubble was laugh at the sky that remained. As Europe destroyed and reinvented itself through the twentieth century, how did humor serve as a tool for working through all this tragedy? This course will draw on sources in various media to examine how comedy can be a means of not just coping with history but investigating it. We will consider humor as a tool of political critique, historical analysis, and mourning and pay particular attention to the boundaries and historicity of taste. Assigned readings and films include works by Terry Eagleton, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Karel Čapek, Ernst Lubitsch, Milos Forman, and Yasemin Şamdereli.

HIST-LIT 90DV: Red Scares
Steve Biel and Lauren Kaminsky

The specter that haunted Europe when the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 continues to shape American political discourse to this day. “From the very get-go,” wrote a Mississippi newspaper columnist as the pandemic entered its second year, “COVID was used by the leftists in this country to seize power, fundamentally change our nation and usher in totalitarian socialism.” This course reveals how charges of fealty to radical “foreign” ideologies have operated as rhetorical and political strategies for much of U.S. history. The so-called First Red Scare, precipitated by World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, followed on fears and persecution of anarchists, socialists, and other labor radicals in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. In the Second Red Scare after World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Senator Joseph McCarthy, the FBI, and others conducted widespread investigations of suspected communists and purged “subversives” from all levels of government, the entertainment industry, public and private schools, colleges and universities. Beginning with mid 19th-century fears that revolutionary uprisings could spread from Europe to the United States, “Red Scares” explores anxieties about subversion and perversion in American politics and culture. Readings will include texts by Karl Marx, Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, Eugene V. Debs, Sacco and Vanzetti, John Dos Passos, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Lillian Hellman, as well as films such as On the WaterfrontMy Son JohnSalt of the Earth, and The Manchurian Candidate.