Semester of Plunder


Plunder.  It is everywhere. History is full of nations plundering other nations; of corporations plundering the environment; of disease and disasters plundering communities.  Plunder starts wars. It sparks protest movements. It is everywhere.

Throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, the Department of History will run courses and hold events around the theme of ‘Plunder.’  It will kick off with a lecture by National Book Award Winner, Ta-Nehisi Coates. But the centerpiece of this exploration will be Department’s “Semester on Plunder” in Spring 2017. The department will offer a series of classes on the plunder, in its many and multiple forms.

Our goal is for students, instructors, and guest lecturers to think creatively and critically about plunder in society, history, the environment and the human body. In particular, we hope to inspire a rethinking of the costs that accompany events, processes and developments, and not those just understood as defeats, but also those that are popularly conceived as progress, such as military victory, economic growth, gentrification, and luxury spending. The semester includes seven courses tied to the ‘Plunder’ theme, three public lectures, and a year-long “Common Texts on Plunder” reading series, through which students, faculty and the general public are invited to gather bi-monthly to share insights from one of the five books in series.

The Plunder Semester will have another feature: a film class with the films curated by New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott, and taught by award-winning History professors, Benjamin Talton and Bryant Simon. This one-credit class will meet once a week.

In all, we hope that students and faculty will end the Semester on Plunder with a strengthened sense of shared commitment to the university community, an enhanced appreciation for the Liberal Arts as an essential building block in creating an informed citizenry and new leadership, and of course, with greater awareness of plunder in modern society and in the past.

Public Lectures for the Semester on Plunder

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
    October 26, 2016
    National Correspondent at the Atlantic Magazine
    Author, Between the World and Me (National Book Award Winner
  • Jonathan Zatlin
    February 6, 2017
    Professor, Boston University
  • A.O. Scott
    April 20, 2017
    Chief Film Critic at the New York Times and Author, Better Living Through Criticism

Semester on Plunder Courses (Spring 2017)

  • 1010: Seminar on Plunder: A.O. Scott’s Top Plunder Films
    Instructors: Bryant Simon and Benjamin Talton
  • HIST 2102:  History of Nazi Germany
    11:00-12:20, Tuesdays and Thursdays
    Instructor: Jay Lockenour
  • HIST 2280.2 Native American History (Special Topics)
    10:00-10:50, Mon, Weds, Fri
    Instructor: Jessica Roney
  • HIST 2680: East Asian Environmental History
    10:00-10:50, Mon, Weds, Fri
    Instructor: Peter Lavelle
  • HIST 3751: Colonialism and Decolonization
    2:00-3:20, Tuesdays and Thursdays
    Instructor: Benjamin Talton
  • HIST 3811: World Economy since 1945
    12:00-12:50, Mon, Weds, Fri
    Instructor: Peter Gran
  • HIST 2280: 20th Century American Drug Wars
    (Special Topics Course)
    Instructor: Jessica Bird

Plunder Courses

HIST 3811: World Economy since 1945
Instructor: Peter Gran

In this course students look closely at the factors that have shaped our current economic environment.  Built around the book The Rise of the Rich: A New View of Modern World History, it characterizes capitalism in terms of plunder and examines how this factor has been played out in the lives of individuals, communities and cities.

HIST 2280.2 Native American History (Special Topics)
10:00-10:50, Mon, Weds, Fri
Instructor: Jessica Roney

This course is challenges students to approach not only the history of Native Americans after first contact (invasion?) with Europeans, but also how we write the history of peoples who left little or no written records for much of the time period under consideration.  It begins with pre-contact societies and cultures and charts how native peoples were affected by Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and American exploration and settlement.  Thereafter the course examines how Indian peoples resisted and adapted in the face of encroachment upon their land and assaults upon their way of life.  Finally, the course examines the strategies of native peoples in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as they fought (and continue to fight) for Indian political, economic, and cultural rights.

HIST 2102:  History of Nazi Germany
11:00-12:20, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Instructor: Jay Lockenour

Students study the rise and decline of Hitler’s Third Reich, from its intellectual origins in the 19th century and World War I, through the meteoric rise of the National Socialist movement during the early 1930’s, to its demise in the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Special attention is given to the sources of support for Nazism among German voters, the structure of the National Socialist state, the role of Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust, and the causes and consequences of the Second World War.

HIST 2280: 20th Century American Drug Wars (Special Topics)
Instructor: Jessica Bird

In this course students explore the history of drug control in the United States from the outlawing of narcotics use with the Harrison Act in 1914 to the contemporary era of mass incarceration.  Major themes include criminalization and the development of the criminal justice system over the twentieth century; the role of race, gender, and class as factors in regulation and law enforcement; and the globalization of the American war on drugs.  An example of the topics we will examine include the southern “cocaine fiend” panic of the early twentieth century, the FBI’s war on marijuana and heroin users, the legalization movement of the 60s and 70s, the Reagan administration’s “Just Say No” campaign, and the involvement of the DEA and US military in international drug control.

HIST 3751: Colonialism and Decolonization
2:00-3:20, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Instructor: Benjamin Talton

In this course, students study the decline and fall of the modern European empires in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  The course examines the cultural construction of colonialism in Indonesia and North Africa, examining such issues as relations between the colonizers and the colonized peoples in terms of race and gender, construction of an imperial architecture and environment, and modes of resistance to the imperial project.

HIST 2680: East Asian Environmental History
10:00-10:50, Mon, Weds, Fri
Instructor: Peter Lavelle

Song Wenzhi, “Daqing Flowers on the Banks of the Yangzi River” (1975)

CLA 1010: Seminar on Plunder: A.O. Scott’s Top Plunder Films
Instructors: Bryant Simon and Benjamin Talton

In this course, student watch a series of films recommended by the New York Times’ Chief Film Critic A.O. Scott related to the theme of “plunder”.  Students meet once a week to discuss the films’ major themes and issues and connect them with broader social and political issues.