This spring the UC History Department is offering two provocative new courses for freshman that are designed to offer students new ways of studying and thinking about history. The courses are small – no more than 25 students, with a heavy emphasis on discussion and real debate over meaningful historical questions.
“Cuba and the United States,” to be taught by Professor Vanessa Walker, will offer a close-up view of the long and often tense relationship between the two countries, which extends deep into the eighteenth century, well before either one gained independence. Key issues the class will explore include questions of race, economic relations, national security, ideology, revolution, and identity.
Meanwhile “Women and Social Change in the ‘New’ South Africa,” to be taught by Professor Holly McGee, will explore the place of women in the political and economic struggles of South Africa during the twentieth century, with a special focus on the history of apartheid and its effects on women’s experiences. The last part of the class will also carry the topic forward to our time, looking at the challenges and opportunities that South African women have faced since the dismantling of Apartheid in 1994.
Both Walker and McGee are excited to be teaching these innovative courses. As Walker put it in a recent interview, “I’ve designed my class to address not only traditional approaches to international relations, but also to help students understand how music, sports, art, literature, film and even TV shows like ‘I Love Lucy’ can be used to understand the historical interconnections between countries at multiple levels.” Walker hopes that the class will offer freshman new ways to think about the study of history, while also raising interesting questions about what “foreign relations” actually look like, both past and present. McGee’s course is crafted to offer a similar mix of traditional and unconventional sources to help students look into the remarkable lives of South African women in a tumultuous time, bringing history alive in the process.
The poet Ezra Pound famously exclaimed “Make it New!” as a battle cry for literature in the modern age. The same goes for good history teaching. These courses are helping UC students and history professors alike keep it new as they study the past.