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What is History 299?

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HIST 299 is a course students take at the beginning of the major, usually sophomore year. Students work on cutting-edge topics related to their professor’s research in small, seminar-like settings. They are introduced to key terms and concepts, and ways of working and thinking characteristic of our discipline. HIST 299 strives to convey a sense of the fascination, passion of discovery, and joy historians (such as your professors!) associate with the study and writing of history.

Each iteration of HIST 299 focuses on a discrete theme, rather than a long chronology or narrative “History of X.” Content per se is not the goal. Rather, HIST 299 is about process, ideas, and engagement. Students become experts on a discrete, relatively small, and carefully selected body of materials dealing with an interesting theme.

We faculty are eager to share with students what we find so compelling (and necessary) about what we do.

Here are a few of the HIST 299 courses faculty have taught recently or will teach soon:

Dr. Matthew Gillis
Vengeance and Violence in Dark Age Worlds

This course introduces the history of violence in early medieval Europe (c. 400—c. 1000 CE), a period known especially for its conquerors and invaders—Attila the Hun, the Emperor Charlemagne, and the Vikings to name just a few examples. Not only do students in the course develop a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the early medieval European past, but they also cultivate the discrete set of skills, practices, perspectives and understandings that make up the historian’s art. The course focuses especially on using a disciplined historical imagination to create experiences, understandings, insights, and stories of the past from surviving source materials. 

Dr. Jacob Latham
“Are You Not Entertained?!” Gladiator Combat, Chariot Racing, and Theater Shows in Ancient Rome

As it turns out, Russell Crowe, or rather Maximus, unwittingly stumbled upon a central problem concerning the Roman games, especially gladiatorial combat: how could an audience willingly watch murder? Were all ancient Romans so bloodthirsty or inured to death? What did they think of the chariot races, which may have drawn crowds of up to 250,000 at a time? Moreover, these spectacles, as the Romans called them, were all religious events, gifts to the gods — even, eventually, to the Christian God. In this course, we will tackle a wide variety of ancient perspectives and types of evidence to see how we might imagine and make sense of the Roman games. How do we look past the glitz and glamor or the blood and horror? Or rather, how do we think historically about what the games meant to Rome’s diverse people, when their thinking seems so different from ours?

Dr. Julie Reed
“Histories of the University of Tennessee”

Everything on the University of Tennessee’s campus has a history: from its name, buildings, architectural styles, landscapes, and employees to its departments, streets, publications, and student groups. The University of Tennessee is also an archive. Focusing on subjects related to the university’s history and using its vast archive, this course will introduce majors to the 5 C’s of historical study: change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency. We will also read a variety of histories written about the university and experiment with writing the university’s history for a variety of audiences.

Dr. Charles Sanft
Knowing Confucius

This course delves into the nexus of certainty and uncertainty that is Confucius, China’s most famous philosopher. Participants will consider ancient and modern accounts of him, focusing on points of contention and doubt. We will consider how Chinese and other historiographical traditions work with and evaluate historical evidence. The goal will be to assess what we know, don’t know, and can’t know about Confucius, and how we as historians should decide those things.

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