KC Johnson

Chance and Contingency in Modern History

A favorite Obama quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.–“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”–often was framed as if history were an invisible hand advancing toward progress. But history often is the product of random contingencies or chance events, and it’s worth pondering how critical developments could have changed but for unforeseen developments. This seminar grew out of a discussion a few of us were having after one of the class sessions last fall, remarking on the oddity of our current political situation, where so much is dependent on the Manchin/Sinema combo. And it provides a reminder of how contemporary affairs have historical precedent.

As always, each session will end with 15-20 minutes of questions on contemporary matters, including the midterms.

Wednesdays at 10.30am

Session One (Sept. 21): The 1910s (Origins of World War I/aborted peace/League)

Session Two (Oct. 12): The 1930s (attempted assassination of FDR/Rhineland/Munich)

Session Three (Oct. 26): The 1960s (Cuba/RFK/Prague Spring)

Session Four (Nov. 9): The 1980s (Senate elections/Supreme Court nominations/Berlin Wall)

Session Five (Nov. 30): The 2000s (Florida/Tony Blair/Hillary Clinton)

Session Six (Dec. 14): Modern Events (US/UK/Israel)

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