Further Education: The Courses We Never Took (And Wish We Had)

by Bryan & Heather

This past year saw the tenth anniversary of our freshman year at Gettysburg College. As we remembered a time that simultaneously seems so near and yet so far away, we couldn’t help but reflect on some of the memories we didn’t end up making. Everyone’s tastes and interests change over the years, and now, a decade on, we both can name courses that, for whatever reason, we didn’t take while at Gettysburg that we wish we would have. There are naturally a legion of such subjects, but here we’ve been able to (barely) narrow it down to a handful each.

The Ottoman Empire: 1300-1923 Bryan

The Ottoman Empire is one of those polities of history that adjoins many of my favorite topic areas, but which I have never really studied in its own right. One of the last contiguous land empires in the style of the Persians, Romans, Arabs, and Mongols, the Ottomans similarly owed their power to being on the cutting edge of technological developments—a power that would ultimately dissipate into efficient bureaucracy and ironically out-of-date technology by its dissolution. Unlike those other empires, however, the Ottomans made it to the modern era, even attempting to modernize at points, and are thus observable in ways many other empires of history are not. I would love to have taken this deep dive into Ottoman history and society, especially if I could have done it in the same semester as taking The Austrian Empire—the Ottomans’ neighbor, nemesis, and, in many ways, historical foil.

Britain, Nation and Empire, 1660-1815Bryan

An advanced seminar on my professional specialization taught by one of my favorite professors, Tim Shannon, this course consistently mocks me. Offered my sophomore year, both before I was interested in the British Empire and before I felt prepared to take courses of this level, it was one of the greatest “missed connections” of my life. While I have covered its material numerous times since then in both formal and persona study, I can’t help but imagine how fun it would be to sit in that classroom as the historian I am now.

Civilizing the Barbarians? Bryan

This course has to be new, because I would have moved heaven and earth to get it offered while I was at Gettysburg. Cross-listed between the Classics and Anthropology departments, this course not only discusses what the archaeological record has to say about the effects of the Roman Empire on its non-Roman neighbors, but compares Roman imperialism to modern European empires both in practice and intellectual heritage. Sign. Me. Up.

Africa in Fiction, History, and MemoryHeather

In hindsight and to my chagrin, the geographical span of my history studies in college was tragically narrow. The majority of history courses I took focused on European and United States history, with the only exceptions being Modern Latin American History, Tokugawa Japan: 16th-19th Century, and Decolonization in Africa as my senior History seminar. Looking back on my course selection now, I wish I’d made more of an effort to broaden my horizons to regions less familiar (and less white). This course, especially with its focus on memory studies and media representation—both areas which hold great interest for me—is one I wish I could have taken.

Law and Society in United States HistoryHeather

My only brush with legal history at Gettysburg came in the form of my Civil War Era Studies capstone with Professor Guelzo: Secession, the Civil War, and the Constitution. Going into that course, I’ll admit I was a bit trepidacious. For one thing, I’d never studied legal history. For another, I was taking this capstone in the same semester as my History thesis (a move that among my peers and professors provoked a range of reactions, from respect to horror). By the end of the semester, though, I’d become delighted with the course and its subject matter. While dense, the legal nuances of the era and the ways in which the American public interacted with them fascinated me. Knowing now what I only learned in my last semester, I think I very much would have enjoyed dipping my toes into legal history sooner with this broader course on the law in US History.

The  Modern  Black  Freedom  Struggle  in  AmericaHeather

When Bryan and I relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, last year for my new job, we landed in what was once a major flash point of the Civil Rights Movement. Recently, we visited the museum of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and I was fascinated by the in-depth look it granted at this momentous time in US history. (So much so, in fact, that I had viewed only half of it before we needed to leave for closing time.) Had I had the time and wherewithal to add another 300-level course to my plate in college, this one certainly would have made for a great semester. 

So, there you have it. Six courses we didn’t take at Gettysburg College that we wish we could have. We’d love to hear from you, too: What history classes did you miss out on that you wish you could have taken? Let us know in the comments!

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