HST 159D, History of Afghanistan


The history of Afghanistan--what is left of it--is no more uplifting a subject than its present. It is as much a history of war as a history of culture. Yet, lest we repeat mistakes, it is a course the world and its leaders would be well advised to take--and can. HST 159D will be offered online to men and women from Durham to Kabul, and everywhere that a government permits Web access in between.

Live professors, however, are available at only two sites. Duke's John Richards will be conducting class at Duke at the very same time--and via videoconferencing technology, linking the two--as David Gilmartin at North Carolina State University. The high-tech format, says Richards, allows the professors to share the burden of preparing new lectures and enables a hitherto seldom interaction between Duke and State students. "We've found this to be a valuable interaction," he says.

The course spans the modern history of the nation and surrounding region with special emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It covers, among other topics, geography, ethnicity, the effects of opium on the economy, Islam, civil war, the Taliban, and the timely theme of nation-building. Richards says that, while Afghanistan has been much in the news of late, "quite beyond the repercussions of recent events, the history of Afghanistan offers a window on many of the complex processes that have marked the history of the modern world."

Perceiving a heightened interest in Afghanistan among students and a dearth of attention to the region by U.S. scholars, the professors felt compelled to fill the void, but also to respond to Congress: According to Richards, "the U.S. Department of Education, which funds the North Carolina National Resource Center in South Asian Studies, was being asked by Congress to improve U.S. citizens' understanding of that part of the world."

Half of the classes originate at N.C. State and half at Duke. All are accessible online--no passwords required. N.C. State and Duke will share nine guest lecturers and visiting scholars and contribute to a communal Web-discussion board.


John Richards is a specialist in the history of South Asia. He received his doctoral training and did his dissertation research at the University of California, Berkeley, with a focus on the Mughal Empire in India. Richards has published numerous articles and books. His academic interests include numismatics (the study of monetary history), transnational and comparative history, environmental history, and the history of opium. His latest book, a synthesis of early modern global environmental history, The Unending Frontier: Environmental History in the Early Modern World (University of California Press, 2002), will be published this winter.


Students are required to attend class regularly, to participate in discussions both in class and on the Web, and to submit three pieces of written work: a take-home midterm exam, a final exam, and a ten-page paper.


Martin Ewans, Afghanistan: A Short History of its People and Politics

Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan

David Edwards, Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier

Ahmad Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Fundamentalism, and Oil in Central Asia

Other readings are available electronically through J-Stor or electronic reserve.

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