Sep 5, 2014

The 22 Best Online Courses to Learn the History of the World


In college, history was my least favorite subject. Every semester, I avoided the world war seminars and the ancient history lectures — that is, until I took Stephanie McCurry’s History of the Slave South. McCurry, like all excellent history professors, was able to make the past come alive for our class, focusing on a compelling narrative that doesn’t receive enough attention: the history of enslaved labor in the United States.

McCurry’s class teaches the inherent value of studying history: If we don’t, we run the risk of forgetting important (often difficult) stories. And when we do, we come away with a fuller understanding of what it means to be human.

And now, you don’t have to be in college to learn more about the history of the world — below are 22 online courses (including McCurry’s course, which can now be accessed by anyone in the world, for free, on Coursera) you can take to explore the story of your own country more in depth, or educate yourself about another culture. Additionally, websites like MIT OpenCourseWare allow users to start a class anytime, rather than wait for a Fall or Spring start date.

Whatever you’re interested in, check out these great online history courses to get started.


World history:

1. A Brief History of Humankind: Taught by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this course provides a great overview of human history, from the Stone Age to the 21st century.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 20 weeks | Start date: TBD | Read reviews

2. A History of the World since 1300: Beginning with the age of Genghis Khan, this Princeton University course covers the history of the world from ancient times to today. Some of the big questions ask are how empires once rose and fell, and the changing nature of relationships between international power players today.

Level: Beginner | Duration: N/A | Start date: TBD

3. The World Since 1492: This world history course begins with the Age of Exploration, and covers the last 500 years of human history, after Columbus discovered America and the “new world”. The course will focus on four major themes: colonialism, revolution, industrialization and the rise of a consumer society.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

4. Topics in Culture and Globalization: By examining materials like music, advertisements and other media, this course will delve into the effects of globalization and the interconnectedness of cultures.

Level: Intermediate | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on


History of Africa

5. The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia: In this ancient history and archaeology course, students will learn about the little-known Nubia civilization, located in the Nile Valley.

Level: Beginner | Duration: N/A | Start date: TBD

6. AIDS and Poverty in Africa: This course taught through MIT OpenCourseWare explores the unique relationship between poverty and the spread of AIDS in the African continent.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

7. Medicine, Religion and Politics in Africa and the African Diaspora: This course analyzes how traditional African ideas of health, wellness and healing compare with Western ideas — and asks whether Western medicine reinforces imperialist models of power.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

8. Information and Communication Technology in Africa: By examining things like Internet access, computer literacy, sex education, and agricultural technology, this discussion-based, interactive seminar will look at the rise of information technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the policy issues moving forward.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on


History of The Americas

9. The Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties: The Emergence of Modern America: This course provides an overview of the cultural and political transformations that the U.S. underwent during the 21st century.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: TBD

10. History of the Slave South: Covering U.S. history from the early 1700s to the beginning of the Civil War, Professor Stephanie McCurry’s popular class examines the rise and fall of slavery in the American South.

Level: Beginner | Duration: N/A | Start date: TBD

11. The Civil War and Reconstruction, Part 1: 1850 – 1861: This course from Columbia follows the series of events that led to the United States’ Civil War, how slavery rose to an issue of national importance, and how the nation’s attempts to reconcile fundamental differences led to a discussion about labor, power and freedom.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 10 weeks | Start date: Sept 17, 2014

12. The Civil War and Reconstruction, Part 2: 1861 – 1865: The second part of the aforementioned Civil War course, this course focuses on the political, social and economic developments during the American Civil War.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 8 weeks | Start date: Dec 01, 2014

13. Modern Latin America, 1808-Present: Revolution, Dictatorship, Democracy: This MIT OpenCourseWare course gives a good introduction to topics in the development of Latin America and its place in world history, including political revolutions, cultural identity, relations with the U.S. and more.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

14. Latin American Culture: This course, taught from El Tecnológico de Monterrey, examines the creation of Latin America as a political and cultural entity, and analyzes it from both national and regional levels.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 6 weeks | Start date: TBD

15. 21st Century American Foreign Policy: Duke professor Bruce Jentleson, who has written about American foreign policy for the last 30 years, covers the decision-makers who determine our foreign policy, and how that affects countries around the world.

Level: Intermediate | Duration: N/A | Start date: TBD


History of Asia and The Middle East:

16. China (Part 1 of 10): A study of world history would not be complete without an understanding of China. In conjunction with edX, Harvard University launched a ten-part series on the history of China. You can audit as many of the ten six-week courses for free, or for a fee, you can also earn Harvard credit for taking the classes.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 6 weeks | Start date: Always on

17. The Emergence of the Modern Middle East: The Middle East might be more central than any other region in shaping the geopolitical history of the modern world. Beginning with the fall of the Ottoman empire, this course examines the development of today’s Middle East, covering topics like Arab nationalism and Islamist politics.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 9 weeks | Start date: Oct 28, 2014

18. Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present: Another history course from MIT OpenCourseWare, this class analyzes the histories of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from the perspective of women and gender.

Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

19. A New History of a New China, 1700-2000: New Data and New Methods, Part I: Focusing on the development of modern China, this course from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology offers an almost-insider look at the nation’s recent history.

Level: Intermediate | Duration: N/A | Start date: TBD

20. War for the Greater Middle East: This course from Boston University examines how the United States’ military presence in the Greater Middle East has led to a long, difficult and costly war and political uncertainty for Islamic countries.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 7 weeks | Start date: Sept 24, 2014

21. The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Incorporating both biblical and archaeological evidence, this ancient history course studies the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in late sixth century BCE. Students will get to experience guest lectures on this contested topic, as well as a discussion by Prof. Oded Lipschits from Tel Aviv University.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 6 weeks | Start date: Oct 28, 2014

22. Visualizing Postwar Tokyo, Part 2: The University of Tokyo has partnered with Harvard and MIT to bring this online course on the emergence of modern Japanese city. The course will analyze how different social and political groups of citizens were treated in postwar Tokyo, as well as how the media portrayed the city.

Level: Beginner | Duration: 4 weeks | Start date: Jan 06, 2015


Oh and in case you needed some inspiration to delve deeper into another time, check out these amazing TED Talks

Why I love a country that once betrayed me: George Takei, the original Mr. Sulu from Star Trek tells us how his experience at an internment camp in WW2 as a child influenced his views on patriotism and democracy.

[ted id=2038]

How to build an information time machine: Frederic Kaplan, a digital humanities researcher shows off the Venice Time Machine, a project to digitize 80 kilometers of books to create a historical and geographical simulation of Venice across 1000 years.

[ted id=1902]

Happy Learning from Springboard!