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Roots of Contemporary Issues RCI

While content varies according to faculty members’ research and teaching approaches and expertise, all History 105 and 305 courses introduce five common issues in human history. Instructors choose one case study under each issue on which to focus. In general, each case study begins with an introduction to a contemporary problem facing the world today, and then goes back in time from the pre-modern (at least before 1800), through the 19th and 20th centuries, and ends up back where it started. The lessons help students understand how knowledge of the deep historical and global roots of that case study helps us better understand the world around us. The list to the right offers the current menu of case studies that a student might encounter in History 105/305. While all faculty are professional historians, the lessons also highlight how history draws on other disciplines and how historical approaches aid other disciplines.


Humans and the Environment investigates ways that humans have interacted with their environment. It consider how the environment shapes human life, but also how humans have impacted the environment by examining the economic, social, cultural, and political developments. Faculty often teach versions of the following case studies: Global Climate Change, Global Water Crisis, Historical Politics of Carbon Energy, Politics of Resource Consumption and Conservation.

Globalization allows students to put our relationship to the natural environment into greater sense of motion – it explores the transformations that have occurred as human populations have developed relationships (economic, cultural, social, and political) across vast distances over the last five hundred years. Faculty often teach versions of the following case studies: Cultural Globalization; Global Pandemics; Colonialism and Capitalism; Global Drug Trade; Borders, Espionage, and Enemies of the State.

The Roots of Inequality explores the great disparities (the “haves” and “have-nots”) of the world around us, along lines of race, gender, class or other differences. This issue allows us to ask questions about the origins of inequality, and how the inequalities in the world today relate to earlier eras, including the past 500 years of globalization. Faculty often teach versions of the following case studies: History of Race and Racism; Gender Inequality; Historical Inequalities in Public Health.

Diverse Ways of Thinking helps students understand the past’s diverse peoples on their own terms and to get a sense of how they understood one another and the world around them. It addresses the historical nature of ideologies and worldviews that people have developed to conceptualize the differences and inequalities addressed in the inequality theme. Faculty often teach versions of the following case studies: A Clash of Civilizations?: The Politics of Orientalism; Economic Ideologies: Capitalism and Socialism; Modern Violence: War and Terror.

The Roots of Contemporary Conflicts explores the historical roots of conflicts rooted in diverse worldviews, environmental change, inequalities, and global interactions over time. Its goal is to understand the global and local factors that help explain specific conflicts. This integrates the previous four issues within a case study that is both rooted in the past but also helps explain the dramatic changes we experience/witness in the immediate present. Faculty often teach versions of the following case studies: Palestinian-Israeli Conflict; Refugee Crises in Historical Perspective; War in Afghanistan.

Find a contemporary issue of interest to you! – Over the course of the semester, students in History 105 and 305 will also research the roots of a contemporary case study that is of interest to them. Students will apply the skills they are learning in class to their own research project. The History Department and WSU Libraries have developed a web-based guide (using Blackboard Learn) that helps students use library resources to identify primary and secondary sources, develop a research question and later a thesis statement, and build their own independent historical argument supported by historical evidence.