Alan Williams grew up in New Mexico, where, without the consent of his parents, he owned and operated an unsuccessful worm farm. Having failed in this endeavor, he left home, went to California, and became a college student. To go with this new phase in his life he conceived a new project. He would, with the help of one or two others, end the war in Vietnam. But in this too he failed, and so decided that, when he got out of prison, he would search for a vocation in which he might find company in imagining the world a better place. Thus did he become a historian of the French Revolution.
B.A. Stanford University 1966
Ph.D. Yale University 1974
Wake Forest University. Professor (1989-present);
Associate Professor (1980-1989);
Assistant Professor (1974-1980)
Click here for the complete CV.
- HST 101 Western Civilizations to 1700.
At light speed (in one class period) we will traverse the prehistory of our species and then set about a more intensive review of the next 5200 years (3500 B.C.E to 1700 C.E). Our journey will carry us from Sumeria and the appearance of that form of culture historians call civilization to the eve of industrialization and political revolution in Western Europe. While examining the the communal structures, achievements, tribulations, and transformations of peoples who, for the most part, spoke Indo-European languages and who, from their origins somewhere north of the Caucasus, came to control not only Europe, but the Americas and the whole of northern Asia, we will try to determine what sense it makes to speak of the tangible and intangible worlds they made as a single civilization and on what bases we might distinguish this civilization from others that appeared elsewhere.
- HST 102 Europe and the World in the Modern Era.
Beginning with the scientific revolution, we make our way across 450 years of tumultuous change, a period that gave good grounds for emotional oscillation between high hopes and profound despair: the Enlightenment, political and industrial revolution, the birthing of ideologies and powerful new states like Germany, a new imperialism that sought dominion over the whole globe, great wars and the death of dynasties, holocaust, and “cold” war. We end with a survey of the world and the West since 1989.
- HST 103 World Civilizations to 1500.
Having dispensed with something like fourteen billion years by the end of our second meeting, we will settle down for a more careful look at the 5,000 years that stretch from 3500 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. After considering the concepts of “culture” and “civilization,” we will begin the task that primarily concerns us: the examination of the actual cultures and civilizations that appeared on our planet prior to the European voyages of discovery. While noting the changes that occurred in many of these, we will also be looking for fruitful ways of comparing them, one to another. This means, of course, that we will examine forms of social, political, and economic organization, as well as systems of belief; and, among the latter, we will be looking for anything these cultures had to say about what constitutes a satisfying or fulfilling life. For the most part our classes will be occasions for us to discuss the common reading we will have done. There will be map quizzes for students to do on the computer, eight exercises in writing based on Joseph Williams’s Style: Ten Lesson in Clarity and Grace, and a brief written exercise in which students will be asked to entertain the notion that the past is, in fact, present and given a chance to think about what part, if any, it may play in their lives.
- HST 104 World Civilizations since 1500
A comparative survey of the major civilizations of the world in the modern and contemporary periods, of their interaction, their transformation, the problems each of them faced, and the achievements each managed.
- 112. Big History: A History of the Cosmos and Humanity's Place In It.
This is not Mom’s or Dad’s history course. If you want to know what you are and where you came from, come along on a 13.8 billion year journey that draws on the sciences, social sciences, and history to learn why Carl Sagan called us “stardust contemplating the stars.” In this course we will learn how the physical, social, and mental worlds we inhabit came to be and how we might integrate disciplines that usually remain unconnected; this course will appeal to students interested in history but also the sciences and social sciences, and especially to any students who want to see how the pieces of their education fit together. (CD, D)
- HST 209 Europe From Renaissance to Revolution
Survey of European history from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. Topics include the voyages of discovery, the military revolution, the formation of the modern state, religious reformation, witchcraft and the rise of modern science, and pre-industrial economic and social structures including women and the family.
- HST 217 France to 1774
From the cave at Lascaux to the spires of Notre Dame to the splendor of Versailles, from Caesar and Charlemagne to Joan of Arc, Voltaire, and Émilie du Châtelet, one of the few Europeans mathematically competent enough to make Newton comprehensible, this course charts the efforts of men and women in what we now call France to provide for themselves and, in a world of differential advantage, to sustain communities that afforded a modicum of security, cooperation, and a world that contained, however clear or dim, the glimmer of meaning.
- HST 218 France since 1815
History of France from the restoration of the monarchy to the Fifth Republic.
- HST 317 The French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire
The revolution and wars that constitute one of the pivotal points in modern history.
- HST 390 War, Revolution, and Individual Experience
- HST 391 Honors Seminar
Historical Argumentation and Representation.
Monographs and Edited Collections
- The Police of Paris, 1718-1789 (Louisiana State University Press, 1979) and a number of articles in various publications
For a complete list of publications, click CV.