Teaching

International and Global History 2.0

This course will cover the same ground as a standard survey of the world since 1945, including the Cold War, decolonization, and struggles over globalization. But it will give students the opportunity to explore these subjects through the largest database of declassified documents ever assembled outside government. It will offer hands-on experience in developing and testing new research tools and techniques, including named-entity extraction, topic modeling, and data visualization. At the same time, students will learn how to frame research questions and interpret the results by reading and discussing classic works of history. Discussion sections will also serve as lab sections, where we will collaborate in conducting experiments and designing ambitious projects that will extend beyond the life of the course.

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Secrecy, Privacy and Surveillance

To many, the growth of official secrecy and state surveillance in the U.S. and other countries threatens to undermine the whole basis of open and accountable government. Theorists suggest that secrecy is intrinsic to bureaucracy, while others celebrate transparency as an unmitigated good. In this course, students will consider whether such theories can actually predict the future by testing them against the evidence of the past, especially as it relates to enduring debates about individual rights and international security. We will examine how history has already witnessed many periods when the perceived growth of secrecy and surveillance inspired public outcry and attempts at reform. We will also consider how the actual practice of collecting, classifying, mining, and releasing information varies both between states and within government departments. And we will analyze why norms about secrecy — especially when it comes to personal privacy — vary over time and across cultures, from the ancient world to the information age.

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Hacking the Archive

Historians now have access to unprecedentedly large and rich bodies of information generated from the digitization of older materials and the explosion of “born digital” electronic records. Machine learning and natural language processing make it possible to answer traditional research questions with greater rigor, and tackle new kinds of projects that would once have been deemed impracticable. This course aims to create a laboratory organized around a common group of databases in international history which can be used for multiple research projects. Students will begin by learning about earlier methodological transformations in literary, cultural, and historical analysis, and consider whether and how the “digital turn” might turn out differently. They will then explore new tools and techniques, including named-entity extraction, text classification, topic modeling, geographic information systems, social and citation network analysis, and data visualization.

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The Future, as History

This undergraduate seminar explores how people have thought about their future and tried to change it. It examines the philosophical aspects of studying history and the future, and how they are related. It begins with the origins of future thinking in eschatology and millenarian movements, the enlightenment challenge to revelation and religious authority, and fictional accounts of utopia and dystopia. Classic texts and scholarly analyses will illuminate modern approaches to the future, such as socialism, imperialism, and “modernization” theory, and areas where they have had a particular impact, including urban planning, eugenics, and space exploration.

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