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56 Free Online Courses to Learn More About History

Written by Dhawal Shah
17 minute read
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Have you ever watched a historical documentary and wished it had been…longer? That you could have spent tens of hours learning about the topic instead one? If so, a history MOOC might be for you! You may think that there is nothing new to be said about some subjects, e.g. the Renaissance or WWI, but there are  reasons why many subjects are worth re-visiting: a) new documentary sources & evidence are continually turning up, b) our understanding of human behavior (via psychology, sociology, economics, etc.) are advancing, allowing better insights, and c) each new contemporary context causes us to see different things in historical events and draws different lessons.

Thus, studying history is ever new. As important as computer science, finance, and big data are starting to become, history will never go out of style (we hope). Take a look through this list and get your history on!

Note that not all of these courses are available now, but if not, add the course to MOOC Tracker and we will notify you when it becomes available. Courses marked as Archived can only be audited and some features, such as the discussion forums, may not be available.

Oppression & Revolution

Freedom and protest: Magna Carta and its legacies
University of London International Programmes via Coursera
This course aims to lead students into a greater appreciation for and an understanding of Magna Carta and its significance around the globe, as we approach the 800th anniversary of its sealing.
Go To Class | Next Session : 15th Jun, 2015

The Emancipation Proclamation: What Came Before, How It Worked, And What Followed
University of Illinois Springfield via CourseSites
his open course uses the sesquicentennial of President Lincoln’s issuance of the emancipation proclamation in 1863, to explore what happened in the United States before emancipation, how emancipation worked once proclaimed, and what happened in politics, economics, and society in the century and a half afterward. It will also serve as a forum for participants to discuss the concept of emancipation in states and systems earlier than that of the United States and since to today.
Go To Class | Next Session : Self paced

Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World
University of Copenhagen via Coursera
Learn what motivates the restive Muslim youth from Tunis to Tehran, what political positions Islamists from Mali to Chechnya are fighting for, where the seeming obsession with Islamic law comes from, where the secularists have vanished to, and whether it makes sense to speak of an Islamic state.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (4 ratings) | Next Session : 19th Nov, 2018

INTL301x: War for the Greater Middle East
Boston University via edX
Military historian Andrew Bacevich recounts the failed U.S. military effort over several decades to “fix” the Islamic world, explaining what went wrong and why.
Go To Class | ★★★★☆ (2 ratings) | Next Session : 13th Oct, 2015 (Archived)

History of the Slave South
University of Pennsylvania via Coursera
This course explores the relationship between slavery and democracy at the heart of American history. It is about the rise and fall of the slave South from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the American Civil War.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (2 ratings) | Next Session : 19th Jan, 2015

The Emergence of the Modern Middle East – Part I
Tel Aviv University via Coursera
This course will discuss the emergence of the modern Middle East from the 19th century to the end of the First World War. It will discuss the Ottoman legacy in the region, the rise of nationalism in the Middle East and the Western imperial impact on the creation of the Arab state system.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (3 ratings) | Next Session : 26th Nov, 2018

The Emergence of the Modern Middle East – Part II
Tel Aviv University via Coursera
This course will discuss the developments in the Middle East from the early 20th century to the present. It will discuss the rise and retreat of Arab nationalism, the problems of internal cohesion of the Arab states, issues of religion and state, and the evolution of Islamist politics
Go To Class | Next Session : 12th Nov, 2018

Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923
Trinity College Dublin via FutureLearn
Explore the lives of men, women and children living through war and revolution and social changes that made modern Ireland.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (1 rating) | Next Session : 17th Sep, 2018

Terrorism

9/11 and Its Aftermath — Part I
Duke University via Coursera
This course will explore the forces that led to the 9/11 attacks and the policies the United States adopted in response. We will examine the phenomenon of modern terrorism, the development of the al Qai’da ideology, and the process by which individuals radicalize towards violence.
Go To Class | Next Session : 3rd Dec, 2018

The History of Terrorism
Birmingham-Southern College via CourseSites
Terrorism is a defining issue of the 21st Century. But to truly understand its root causes, social context, and methods, you must study how it developed in the past. Join Dr. Randall Law as he guides you through the history of terrorism in this online course.
Go To Class | Next Session : 8th Sep, 2014 (Archived)

Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat
University of Maryland, College Park via Coursera
This course will explore questions relating to the who, what and how of terrorism studies by introducing students to cutting edge research and the experts investigating these topics
Go To Class | ★★★☆☆ (3 ratings) | Next Session : 19th Nov, 2018 (Lecture Preview Available)

World War 1

World War 1: Trauma and Memory
The Open University via FutureLearn
Discover the traumatic effects of war on those who survive it, from the soldiers on the front lines to the civilians at home.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (3 ratings) | Next Session : 16th Nov, 2015

 

World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World Order?
University of Glasgow via FutureLearn
This course reassesses the legacy of the Paris Peace Conference (1919) and how it sought to create a new world order.
Go To Class | Next Session : 22nd Jun, 2015

World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age
University of Birmingham via FutureLearn
Investigate how the white heat of innovation in World War 1 shaped the history of human flight.
Go To Class | Next Session : 13th Jul, 2015

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism
University of Leeds via FutureLearn
Learn how the war moved us away from traditional views of heroism and created new kinds of heroes and heroines.
Go To Class | ★★★★☆ (1 rating) | Next Session : 26th Oct, 2015

World War 1: A History in 100 Stories
Monash University via FutureLearn
Change the way you see World War 1 as you explore stories of hope, suffering and loss from newly released historical archives.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (1 rating) | Next Session : 5th Nov, 2018

Holocaust

The Holocaust: an Introduction – Part 1
Tel Aviv University via FutureLearn
This course depicts the complex history of the Holocaust, highlighting its impact on our world today.
Go To Class | Next Session : 23rd Jan, 2017

The Holocaust: an Introduction – Part 2
Tel Aviv University via FutureLearn
This course depicts the complex history of the Holocaust, highlighting its impact on our world today.
Go To Class | Next Session : 20th Feb, 2017

The Holocaust
University of California, Santa Cruz via Coursera
This course traces the destruction of the Jews and Jewish life in Europe by Nazi Germany, drawing on major works of history, literature, and film. The lectures outline the work of the Nazis as well as Jewish responses.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (10 ratings) | Next Session : 15th Jul, 2013

Civil War

HIST1.1x: The Civil War and Reconstruction – 1850 -1861
Columbia University via edX
Discover how the issue of slavery came to dominate American politics, and how political leaders struggled and failed to resolve the growing crisis in the nation.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (1 rating) | Next Session : Self paced (Archived)

HIST1.2x: The Civil War and Reconstruction – 1861-1865
Columbia University via edX
Learn about the political, social, and economic changes in the Union and the Confederacy and the Civil War’s long-term economic and intellectual impact.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (1 rating) | Next Session : Self paced (Archived)

HIST1.3x: The Civil War and Reconstruction – 1865-1890 – with Eric Foner
Columbia University via edX
Eric Foner teaches the political, social, and economic changes in the Union and the Confederacy and the Civil War’s long-term economic and intellectual impact.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (2 ratings) | Next Session : Self paced (Archived)

Napoleonic Wars

Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo
University of Southampton via FutureLearn
Mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015 and explore the Duke of Wellington’s archive with this free online course.
Go To Class | Next Session : 5th Jun, 2017

The French Revolution
University of Melbourne via Coursera
The French Revolution was one of the most important upheavals in world history. This course examines its origins, course and outcomes.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (3 ratings) | Next Session : 5th Nov, 2018

History of the World

A History of the World since 1300
Princeton University via Coursera
This course will examine the ways in which the world has grown more integrated yet more divided over the past 700 years.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (3 ratings) | Next Session : 16th Sep, 2013

The Modern World: Global History since 1760
University of Virginia via Coursera
This is a survey of modern history from a global perspective. It begins with the revolutions of the late 1700s, tracks the transformation of the world during the 1800s, and analyzes the cataclysms of last century, concluding with the new phase of world history we are experiencing today.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (6 ratings) | Next Session : 19th Nov, 2018

Global History Lab, Part 1
Princeton University via NovoED
This course begins with a discussion of industrialization during the 1800s, and continues with a close look at the 20th century and current-day globalization. The course themes include economic integration, warfare and conflict, the transformation of the ecological balance, and cultural responses and innovations.
Go To Class | Next Session : 7th Sep, 2018

Global History Lab, Part 2
Princeton University via NovoED
This course begins with a discussion of industrialization during the 1800s, and continues with a close look at the 20th century and current-day globalization. The course themes include economic integration, warfare and conflict, the transformation of the ecological balance, and cultural responses and innovations.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (1 rating) | Next Session : 26th Oct, 2014

United States

U.S. History Since 1877: (HIST-2020)
East Tennessee State University via OpenBUCS
This free, online college class will familiarize students with the historical development of the United States from Reconstruction to the present (or thereabout). We will examine social, political, and economic change in the Americas in order to understand better the emergence of the United States as a world power and contemporary issues confronting the United States
Go To Class | Next Session : 6th Jun, 2016

Age of Jefferson
University of Virginia via Coursera
This course provides an overview of Thomas Jefferson’s work and perspectives presented by the University of Virginia in partnership with Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Together, UVA and Monticello are recognized internationally as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (2 ratings) | Next Session : 19th Nov, 2018

The Kennedy Half Century
University of Virginia via Coursera
This course will explore the Presidency, assassination, and lasting legacy of President John F. Kennedy. Students will learn how JFK’s life, administration, and tragic death have influenced the general public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (3 ratings) | Next Session : 19th Nov, 2018

HIST1514x: American Capitalism: A History
Cornell University via edX
Examine how economic development fueled the United States’ evolution from 13 backwater colonies to a global power.
Go To Class | Next Session : Self paced

USHIS1.1x: Objects That Define America
Smithsonian Institution via edX
Explore the history of America through the view of key historic objects, inventions, and exhibits in the Smithsonian collections.
Go To Class | Next Session : Self paced

Ancient Greece and Rome

GW101x: Greeks at War: Homer at Troy
Colgate University via edX
Gain a broad-based understanding of warfare in ancient Greece through Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad.
Go To Class | Next Session : Self paced (Open for Enrollment)

The Ancient Greeks
Wesleyan University via Coursera
This is a survey of ancient Greek history from the Bronze Age to the death of Socrates in 399 BCE. Along with studying the most important events and personalities, we will consider broader issues such as political and cultural values and methods of historical interpretation.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (6 ratings) | Next Session : 26th Nov, 2018

HIST229x: Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership, and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior
Wellesley College via edX
Was Alexander Great? If so, how? If not, why not? This course explores the life, leadership, and legacies of history’s greatest warrior.
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (3 ratings) | Next Session : Self paced

Medieval Times

HST 102: Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe
Arizona State University via edX
Learn about the origins and development of Western societies and institutions from the ancient world through the Middle Ages.

Go To Class | Next Session : 14th Aug, 2018

Magic in the Middle Ages
University of Barcelona via Coursera
Want to learn about magic in the Middle Ages? Witches, heretics, inquisitors, the Holy Grail, alchemy, relics and much more are waiting for you in this course!
Go To Class | ★★★★★ (1 rating) | Next Session : 19th Nov, 2018 (Open for Enrollment)

China

Jewish Diaspora in Modern China
Nanjing University via Coursera
Jewish communities composed of these Jews became an essential part of the economic and social life of those modern Chinese cities. What brought such a large number of Jews to China? Where did these people come from? How did they arrive? Were they all in China at the same time, and were there any differences among them? What happened to them after they arrived? Where are they now?
Go To Class | Next Session : Self paced

00690242x: Historical Relic Treasures and Cultural China
Tsinghua University via edX
Discover the fascinating beauty and magic of Chinese civilization, from agriculture to music to acupuncture.
Go To Class | Next Session : 14th Sep, 2015  (Open for Enrollment)

A New History for a New China, 1700-2000: New Data and New Methods, Part 1
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology via Coursera
The purpose of this course is to summarize some of the new directions in Chinese history and Chinese social science produced by the discovery and analysis of new historical data, in particular archival documents and datasets, and to organize this knowledge in a framework that encourages learning about China in comparative perspective.
Go To Class | Next Session : 3rd Dec, 2018

Japan

VJx: Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity
Harvard University via edX
A first-time MITx/HarvardX collaboration, VJx opens windows on Japan’s transition into the modern world through the historical visual record.
Go To Class | Next Session : Self paced (Archived)

UTokyo001x: Visualizing Postwar Tokyo, Part 1
The University of Tokyo via edX
Analyze the history of change and development in postwar Tokyo from different perspectives using archived photographs, films, and TV programs.
Go To Class | ★★★★☆ (1 rating) | Next Session : Self paced (Archived)

UTokyo002x: Visualizing Postwar Tokyo, Part 2
The University of Tokyo via edX
Identify the geopolitics historically involved in the practice of “visualizing postwar Tokyo.”
Go To Class | ★★★★☆ (1 rating) | Next Session : Self paced

Korea

Modern Korean History: Liberation, War and Nuclear Ambitions
Yonsei University via FutureLearn
Explore the unique and untold history of North and South Korea – from 1945 to the present – with this free online course.
Go To Class | Next Session : 15th Jun, 2015

England

England in the Time of King Richard III
University of Leicester via FutureLearn
Explore 15th century England through archaeology, history and literature. Learn more about Richard III’s discovery and reburial.
Go To Class | ★★★★☆ (2 ratings) | Next Session : 4th Feb, 2019

Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism
University of Exeter via FutureLearn
The British Empire continues to cause enormous disagreement among historians. Find out why and join the debate.
Go To Class | Next Session : 17th Dec, 2018

OpenCourseWare History courses

OpenCourseWare courses are recordings of in-class lectures put online. While the courses mentioned above (MOOCs), are designed for an online audience and have feedback of sort via assignments, homeworks, exams, etc.

MIT

Asia in the Modern World: Images & Representations
Asia in the Modern World: Images and Representations examines visual representations of Asia, interpreting them from both historical and modern contexts. This course is based around using the Visualizing Cultures website. Case studies focus on Japan and China from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.

Seminar in Historical Methods
This course is designed to acquaint students with a variety of approaches to the past used by historians writing in the twentieth century. The books we read have all made significant contributions to their respective sub-fields and have been selected to give as wide a coverage in both field and methodology as possible in one semester’s worth of reading. We examine how historians conceive of their object of study, how they use primary sources as a basis for their accounts, how they structure the narrative and analytic discussion of their topic, and what are the advantages and drawbacks of their various approaches.

Yale

Hist 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, And Society Under The Tudors And Stuarts
This course is intended to provide an up-to-date introduction to the development of English society between the late fifteenth and the early eighteenth centuries. Particular issues addressed in the lectures will include: the changing social structure; households; local communities; gender roles; economic development; urbanization; religious change from the Reformation to the Act of Toleration; the Tudor and Stuart monarchies; rebellion, popular protest and civil war; witchcraft; education, literacy and print culture; crime and the law; poverty and social welfare; the changing structures and dynamics of political participation and the emergence of parliamentary government.

Hist 234: Epidemics In Western Society Since 1600
This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

Hist 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945
This course offers a broad survey of modern European history, from the end of the Thirty Years’ War to the aftermath of World War II. Along with the consideration of major events and figures such as the French Revolution and Napoleon, attention will be paid to the experience of ordinary people in times of upheaval and transition. The period will thus be viewed neither in terms of historical inevitability nor as a procession of great men, but rather through the lens of the complex interrelations between demographic change, political revolution, and cultural development. Textbook accounts will be accompanied by the study of exemplary works of art, literature, and cinema.

Hist 276: France Since 1871
This course covers the emergence of modern France. Topics include the social, economic, and political transformation of France; the impact of France’s revolutionary heritage, of industrialization, and of the dislocation wrought by two world wars; and the political response of the Left and the Right to changing French society.

Hist 116: The American Revolution
The American Revolution entailed some remarkable transformations–converting British colonists into American revolutionaries, and a cluster of colonies into a confederation of states with a common cause–but it was far more complex and enduring than the fighting of a war. As John Adams put it, “The Revolution was in the Minds of the people… before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington”–and it continued long past America’s victory at Yorktown. This course will examine the Revolution from this broad perspective, tracing the participants’ shifting sense of themselves as British subjects, colonial settlers, revolutionaries, and Americans.

Hist 119: The Civil War And Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877
This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic; slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process; the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society; and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction

Hist 210: The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000
Major developments in the political, social, and religious history of Western Europe from the accession of Diocletian to the feudal transformation. Topics include the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam and the Arabs, the “Dark Ages,” Charlemagne and the Carolingian renaissance, and the Viking and Hungarian invasions.