Recent History Shows Its Relevance

A grey-haired gentleman wearing a fur hat and black overcoat, raises his hand in a wave.

On December 31, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin resigned as head of state, leaving the presidency to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. (Image by ITAR-TASS, from the website of the President of the Russian Federation.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Back in November, we told you about a novel history course in which MIT students built a printing press out of a single beam of wood following a 16th-century design. The idea was to get students involved in a hands-on project so they could have an insider’s view of a technology that revolutionized the world, while keeping in mind the ways digital technology is reshaping the world today.

21H.343J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today is but the latest of a string of OCW publications from MIT’s Department of History that have deep, one might even say, haunting relevance for the problems we confront today. A glance at any day’s news will make clear the value of setting current events in historical context.

Here is a sampler of recent OCW course sites from History, with brief descriptions from their syllabi. These courses all have detailed reading lists, and most have links to further help, including web resources, original documents, and films:

21H.108J Sexual and Gender Identities, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Caley Horan
wgs-110js16-thThis introduction to the history of gender, sex, and sexuality in the United States traces “the expanding and contracting nature of attempts to control, construct, and contain sexual and gender identities, as well as the efforts of those who worked to resist, reject, and reform institutionalized heterosexuality and mainstream configurations of gendered power.”

21H.211 The United States in the Nuclear Age, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Caley Horan
21h-211s16-th“The dawn of the nuclear age and the ensuing Cold War fundamentally altered American politics and social life. It also led to a flowering of technological experimentation and rapid innovation in the sciences. Over the course of the term, students will explore how Americans responded to these changes, and how those responses continue to shape life in the US today.”

21H.245J Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, 1917 to the Present, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Elizabeth A. Wood
21h-245js16-th“As Russian President Vladimir Putin once said, ‘Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.’ But what was the Soviet Union? How did it develop out of Imperial Russia? What happened in the Russian Revolution? What were the various efforts at reform, sometimes moderate (the New Economic Policy), sometimes violent (the purges of the 1930s)? How did the country deal with WWI and WWII? How did it deal with nationalities? What led to the rapid transformation under Gorbachev and the breakup of the USSR in 1991? How has the country continued to evolve under Yeltsin and Putin?”

21H.381J Women and War in the 20th Century, as taught in Fall 2015 by Professor Lerna Ekmekcioglu
21h-381jf15-th“This seminar examines women’s experiences during and after war, revolution, and genocide. The focus of the course is mostly on the 20th century and on North America, Europe and the Middle East.” Topics include War as Daily Life, Perpetrators, Soldiers, Rape as a Weapon, Peace Activism, and 9/11’s Gendered Aftermath.

21H.382 Capitalism in the Age of Revolution, as taught in Fall 2016 by Professor Malick Ghachem
21h-382s16-th“The novel instruments of credit, debt, and investment fashioned during this period proved to be enduring sources of financial innovation, but they also generated a great deal of political conflict, particularly during the revolutionary era itself. We will examine the debates surrounding large-scale financial and trading corporations and consider the eighteenth century as a period of recurring financial crisis in which corporate power came into sustained and direct contact with emerging republican norms.”

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