Random history course generator

La Historiann guidant le peuple

In my exchange with Tom in the comments to the previous post, “A manifesto against ‘coverage,'” I said fliply, “I have an idea: let’s just pick dates out of a hat, and design courses that way. How much more random could it get?”  There must be a better way, right?  So, mad genius that I am, I went to random.org, and used their random sequence generator.  I plugged in the dates of recorded human history:  -7,000 for 7,000 B.C.E., and +2009 for the end point of our common era (so far).  I then went down the list (starting with the first number, 687), and found the next number on the list that was higher than that number (in this case, 1855). 

So, herewith are some randomly generated timespans for possible future history courses:

Course #1:  687-1855

Course #2:  788-1786

Course #3:  3470 B.C.E.-1751

Now, realistically, most university-level history courses don’t spend too much time on the years before 3,000 B.C.E., and since most departments have only one ancient historian (if that) and one or two medievalists, most faculty specialize in post-1400 history.  So let’s plug in the dates where we’ll find the majority of undergraduate history courses right now, 1400-2009, and see what we get:

Course #4:  1917-1940 (I think there’s a course at Baa Ram U. with almost these exact dates!)

Course #5:  1536-1915

Courses #6 and #7, a two-semester sequence:  1824-1964 and 1964-1970

Readers, the rest is up to you.  You must select one of the random time spans above and craft a title and a short course description for what that course would cover (geographically, thematically, topically, etc.)  Bonus points for offering a sample short bilbiography of primary and secondary sources, films, artifacts, etc.!  If you really outdo yourselves, I’ll do a follow-up post to highlight the best answers. 

Friends, I smell a revolution coming.  Can you smell it too?  (Or is that just the toast burning?)

0 thoughts on “Random history course generator

  1. This is hilarious — especially since we one had upper level U.S. history courses that were nearly that random. I used to teach 1933-present. This was all fine and dandy when the course was designed in 1965, but by the early 1990s I was covering over half a century. Meanwhile, the Gilded Age/Progressive Era guy was supposed to be doing 1870-1932, but barely made it to WWI. So, my course ended up being 1918-present. Might as well have been a survey course.


  2. “Course #2: 788-1786”

    This is very nearly the first half of the British Literature survey, as Brit Lit is taught in a two semester sequence at virtually every university in the country. Thank you 2-volume Norton Anthology!

    (I subsrcibe to an 8th-century date for Beowulf–788 is close enough, and certainly plausiable for Offa’s Mercia) but many others do not agree on that date.)


  3. Thanks, Tom and Knitting Clio. I should have made it clear that lit people are welcome to chime in and use these dates for their survey courses too, so I’m glad you jumped in. But I will point out, Tom, that history is a more expansive topic than literature in one language. Most historians who cover a millienium do so for at least one if not several continents, and not just literature!

    The 1917-1940 course is I think probably a pretty common set of parameters for U.S. and European history courses.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This may be a bit of a stretch but:

    Course #6, 1824-1964: The History of Transportation in America.

    Gibbons v. Ogden was passed in 1824, the steamboat case which gave Congress the right to control interstate commerce and the Urban Mass Transit Act was passed in 1964 which giving cities and states $375 million for large-scale urban public or private rail projects.

    Themes included: Westward expansion, environmental degradation, the invetion of the automobile and the creation of highways, etc.

    I haven’t figured out the second half of the course yet.


  5. Yours is a good response for a one-semester upper-division course, but this is a 2-semester sequence for a survey class, so you have to use the same themes, ideas, topics, etc., Mary. Sorry! Start over.


  6. I’ve taught course #2 many times: Western Civilization to the French Revolution. If you start with Charlemagne, you’re just about dab on for the starting date and since my modernist counterparts always want to cover the French Revolution, I stop with the later Enlightenment.

    If I really wanted to have fun with that time period, I’d craft a specialty course: The French Monarchy from Charlemagne to Louis XVI. Even though I’m not a specialist in French history, I’d have a lot of fun putting in themes of sacral kingship, the royal household, regionalism versus central authority and so on. And I’d spend a class or two making fun of François I just because I can!



  7. Hmmm. The second half of this course has me stumped. I just don’t think I could justify speding a whole semester (especially in a survey course)teaching only the years between 1964 and 1970.


  8. Course #1: 1824-1964, The American System to the Great Society: Creation of the American Welfare State

    Course #2: 1964-1970: Goldwater, Reagan, Nixon, and Agnew: The Collapse of the American Welfare State

    I think I could continue on with multiple colons, semi-colons, and hyphens…


  9. I should add that since so many of you recognize these courses as courses you teach (or are taught at your institution), does this mean that the Random Course Generator gives us a curriculum as reasonable as the ones we already have, or does it suggest that our current courses are in fact just as random as if they were drawn out of a hat?

    Good thing we took all of that historiography in grad school so that we can pretty much fill in any dates and call it a course! Keep the suggestions coming, folks–if your suggestions win, I’ll buy you a drink at the next conference we’re both at.


  10. The others are toughies.

    1536-1915: From Henry VIII to Zeppelins: The Destruction of English Churches from the Reformation to World War One.


  11. In all seriousness, what about teaching a course on a pivotal year where a lot of interesting stuff happened around the world? Mills Kelley has a site at Center for History and New Media on Making the History of 1989. Why not another big year? 1968? 1848? Other ideas?


  12. In English history, you could do 1776 (in addition to the people the Americanists know, you could do Paine, Cartwright, Adam Smith.

    I’m doing this from memory, but I think 1859 is a good one in intellectual history too — Darwin, George Elliot, one of the major works of JS Mill, etc.

    Before this, communication means that years are not necessarily that useful as dividers….

    Oh, and since I just taught something that could have been #2 (I started in about 400, ended 1715) that’s a perfectly reasonable course. Oh, and my world history colleague starts about 6000 BCE and goes to 1491.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. #6 and 7
    1824-1964: From Shaka to Sharpeville – The Rise of the Afrikaner state in South Africa

    1964-1970: Rivonia and the decline of the ANC: The consolidation of the Apartheid State in South Africa


    Or if you want to do the whole continental survey it could be

    Africa: From resistance to independence – 1824 to 1964

    1824 marked the date of successful resistance by the Asante against the British – they were not fully conquered (physically that is) until the early 20th century. And 1964 marked the almost complete independence of western, central and eastern Africa.

    Africa: From Independence to Military rule – 1964 to 1970

    Those six years were pivotal moments in the change from the early independence governments to a whole series of coups by 1970.

    Sorry, I can’t do anything but Africa. 🙂


  14. A literature course I’ve always wanted to teach (really): Course 5, 1536-1915. It would be called something like “Writing Angst.” Students would study how authors represented emotional states other than happyhappyjoyjoy–which would involve learning a lot about figurative language, meter, and other close reading basics that “Intro to Lit” courses usually emphasize. We’d begin with Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises,” from 1533 (close enough); do some of Burton’s :Anatomy of Melancholy”; Donne’s “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions”; I’d need suggestions for the 1700s; the 1800s would have some Keats, including his great letters, and Gerard Manley Hopkins; and we’d end with the slamdunk beginning of modern literary angst, Eliot’s “Waste Land” (1912 I think- or that might be Prufrock, etherized upon his table).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The Protestant Hegemony, 1536-1915

    This course will trace principal social, political, and intellectual developments in the West (Europe and its colonies) with emphasis upon the rise and fall of Protestantism as a central unifying force. These almost random dates mark the execution of Anne Boleyn and the marriage of T.S. Eliot. In 1536, the European conquest of the Americas is in full swing (although this year also marks the revolt of Manqu Inka Yupanki against Spanish rule in Peru), Protestantism is expanding, but so is the Catholic Inquisition. In 1915, World War I has its first full year, The Birth of a Nation was released, and the US Congress rejected a proposal to deny women the vote.

    I’m still thinking about texts, but Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Paul Johnson, The Birth of the Modern come to mind.


  16. I have removed the dates from just about every course on our catalog (at least the ones I control) precisely because of this struggle over “coverage.” The confluence of issues is often sacrificed in the name of such “organization.” That said, my two cents (minus the descriptions and syllabus, because I don’t have anything left in that particular intellectual tank at the moment):

    1536-1915: People as Things: From African Slavery through Child Labor

    788-1786: The Age of Monarchy (Sorry, Dutchmen)

    OK, one more:
    1964-1970: The Origins (and laughable flaws) of Neoconservatism


  17. I’d like to hear what a Women’s history courses might look like with these dates!
    The best I’ve come up with so far:

    1536-1915- From Ann Boleyn to Carrie Chapman Catt- Women, Power and the “Public Eye” in Western Civilization

    I don’t have an official course description, but I thought it would be interesting to analyze how the “public eye” has served as both a tool and a road block for women in various ways.


  18. These are all great–I’ll keep the submissions open until midnight Mountain time, and post my favorites this weekend!

    Thanks for your participation in random History curriculum building! I don’t think our curriculum is half bad, and it’s only slightly less balanced and sane than the ones we’re laboring within, right?


  19. I see that you’ve put a limit on this, and all the while I was planning out readings and such! Well I’m a little late, but I’ll go ahead and give you the course titles at least:

    You Say You Want a Revolution: Trends in Social History That Made the Late Sixties Possible, 1824-1964

    This first semester course would include units on social revolutions, underground social movements, evolving political consciousness (especially in student movements), the rise of feminism, and changes in sexuality. The big challenge for this one is getting it to start right at 1824.

    Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?: An Explosion of Peace, Love, and Equality (Or At Least That Was the Plan), 1964-1970

    The second semester would tie the rising movements in semester one to the relatively speedy changes in this shorter period including the women’s movement, the sudden acceleration of the gay movement, the sort of sexual revolution, the tie between political movements and social change, and the role of culture. Both courses would probably use a wee bit of literature and/or art as well as the typical historical sources, and would be organized thematically rather than by year, but would fall within the given dates.

    I’m having a ball playing with this: because I’m a total nerd and I want to go to graduate school (as opposed to law school) or even teach but am afraid that I’d never be able to do *exactly* what I want, I’ve been working on developing my own curricula and then doing the reading myself. Judith University. It’s really a great, focused way to learn, and I love doing it. Once I do plan out this curriculum I will post it on my blog and give you a link.

    Now, off to take a national security law exam! (And kick that creativity back where it belongs, ha.)


  20. Pingback: And the envelopes, please… : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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