HIST 1200/1201: History and Trump
Professor Cameron Blevins
Northeastern University, Fall 2017
456 Ryder Hall, Mon/Wed 2:50-4:30pm
Welcome to Northeastern’s history department! This course will introduce you to the practice of studying history: analyzing sources, evaluating arguments, interpreting evidence, writing and communicating, and conducting original research. You will learn these historical skills from a very modern starting point: Donald Trump and his presidency. This class is not a biography or history of Trump specifically, but rather the longer historical context behind some of the themes and topics related to his presidency. We will use current events as a jumping-off point to learn how to study the past. How does the promise to “build the wall” between the United States and Mexico echo earlier attempts to curtail immigration? In what ways is it a departure from the past? When Trump proclaims himself the “law and order” president, how does this situate his presidency within a longer history of mass incarceration? Over the course of the semester students will become detectives, learning the skills of a historian to uncover the backstory behind current events and the ways the past continues to shape the present world.
There are two overarching goals of this class. The first goal is to learn the concrete skills, methods, and approaches to practicing history. You will learn how to locate, read, and analyze both primary and secondary sources. You will learn to approach history as an act of interpretation, how to compare and evaluate different arguments about the past and understand the ways those interpretations get used today. You will learn how to communicate as a historian, to advance a clear message or argument and provide compelling evidence to support it. You will learn how to conduct your own original research by formulating an investigative question, gathering sources, and putting together a prospectus.
Taken together, all of these skills will allow you to achieve the second learning goal of this class: the practice of historical thinking. This will make you a more informed and thoughtful citizen. Historical thinking is fundamental to making sense of the modern world. The ability to study context, complexity, change over time, and causality will help you understand events in both the past and the present. In an age of punditry and partisanship, analyzing sources and arguments with a critical eye will help you form your own conclusions about difficult issues. And historical empathy – the ability to study the past through from the perspective of people who lived back then – will also help you see today’s world through the eyes of people with radically different backgrounds, beliefs, or points of view. The practice of historical thinking that you will learn in this class will continue to serve you long after you graduate from Northeastern.