HIST 410: Syllabus Home


  • HIST 410-001; CRN: 68708
  • 3 Credit Hours
  • Remote arranged; asynchronous (no set meeting times)
  • Prof. Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu)
  • No office hours this term, but I am available to meet via Zoom almost any morning until about 11:30. Just let me know what works for you! Also, you can always post quick questions on Slack (see just under the “Places to Find Stuff” section, below).

Course Description

If someone tells you how to eat or what you should or shouldn’t eat, do you believe them? Why or why not? Is any dietary advice ever truly “right”? What makes some more convincing than others? This course uses the long history of diet and health to investigate the relationship between medical expertise and popular understandings of health.

Some guiding questions: How do dietary experts establish their expertise? Why have medical authorities continually redefined what it means to be healthy and to eat a healthy diet? Why have so many fad diets come into and gone out of fashion? What can historical perspectives on topics like GMOs, vitamins, and obesity offer contemporary debates on these issues?

Student Learning Objectives

  • 1: Question and judge the extent to which ideas of health are constructed as much socially and culturally as scientifically
  • 2: Interpret and explain the rhetoric of health in different historical periods
  • 3: Outline how the establishment of dietary expertise has and has not changed over time
  • 4: Sharpen critical thinking about diet/health/expertise
  • 5: Advance historical source analysis skills by evaluating primary sources on dietary advice

You are welcome here

This class is probably unlike most history classes you’ve taken, not least because history of medicine and history of food are somewhat specialized topics. But I want to be VERY CLEAR: Even if you have never thought about the history of medicine or diet, or have never taken a history course, or even a humanities course, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE! I assume you have no prior knowledge or skills necessary for class, so we build from the ground up.

I will do everything I can do help you learn as much as you’re motivated to learn, and to help you get whatever grade you’re aiming for. As much as possible I’ve tried to make the course about everyone thinking together rather than just you memorizing something I say or you read so that you can regurgitate it later. If you feel the course structure isn’t facilitating your own success, let’s talk (virtually, of course)!

Getting Started

This page, and the schedule page, have all the instructions and assignments you need for the course. Make sure you are VERY FAMILIAR with these two pages. We use UNM Learn to manage quizzes, assignment submissions, and the discussion board, but all basic course information is on these two webpages.

General Work outline

While we have no formal meetings, the class is organized around modest reading assignments for most Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays. The frequency of written responses generally decreases as the semester progresses.

Reading Reflections

I hold you accountable for keeping up with the readings by asking you to respond to them with short reading reflections on Mondays and Wednesdays. On most Fridays, you’ll post a weekly learning reflection that will address a few questions that will help tie together the readings for the week. In place of a few weekly learning reflections there are other assignments to spice things up a bit.

These short writing assignments should add up to LESS TIME than you would have spent going to class. And you might learn more as well, so WIN WIN! These are meant to be somewhat creative exercises, not boring academic regurgitations of the readings. The best advice I can give: be yourself! All assignments are DUE BY MIDNIGHT on the day they are listed on the syllabus. Let me know if something is not clear!

Final Learning Reflection

The upshot of this approach is that your WORK FOR THE COURSE IS VERY EVENLY DISTRIBUTED across the semester. There are no big essays or exams or drawn-out research projects. There is a short final learning reflection due the last day of finals. As long as you’re keeping up with the readings (and I’ve tried to be quite modest in the amount), the course shouldn’t ever become a disproportionate burden on your workload or schedule. And by staying engaged throughout the semester, everyone will learn more and we (I mean me, too!) can avoid the stress of big assignments.

Every so often there is no assignment due, just to give everyone a break, and we take most of a week off around the middle of the semester for a much needed siesta because semesters are WAY too long. Reading and assignment details are comprehensively outlined on the schedule page. More details about the assignments in the “Work Requirements and Grading” section below.

Lecture Videos

There will be lecture videos to watch almost every week. Sometimes these will be overviews for the week; sometimes they will be weekly reviews that comment on your reading reflections; sometimes they will go over a quiz. I try to keep them about ~20 minutes, but there are a few slightly longer ones, when I needed a bit more time to get through the material. I am aware that watching videos of me talking is not super (or vaguely) interesting, but obviously some explanation of course materials is necessary, so I try to provide what I think will be helpful videos while be respectful of your time and the awkwardness of watching a talking head on a screen.

Places to Find Stuff

  • UNM Learn. All assignments will be submitted via UNM Learn.
  • YouTube Channel will host mini-lectures and other screencasts. I will post announcements of new videos in Learn (which send an email to you as well). I highly recommend that you either subscribe or bookmark the channel so you have quick access to it.


We use a tool called Zotero to access PDFs for the course. We have what’s called a group library that holds all the readings for the course. FIRST, to get connected, see the getting started guide.

Once you’ve completed the steps in the guide (it takes maybe 5 minutes), you can access the course library. This link is also on UNM Learn and on the Links and Guides page for this course (see link at very top of page).

NOTE: ALL course readings not already online will be ONLY available through Zotero (unless you track them down on your own, which you should never need to do).

Quick Info

My attempt to facilitate some kind of teacher/student interaction

I’m not much of a lecture guy; I much prefer discussions where we can listen and think and respond to each other. Nothing really replicates a collegial classroom discussion, but I think it’s important we have a mechanism for informal communication as we might have before, during, or after class meetings.

To that end, we are using a tool called Slack, a straightforward collaborative messaging platform (via web browser or desktop/mobile app) that allows us to stay connected and communicate quickly without the hassle of formal emails or UNM Learn messages. Our class has a dedicated Slack workspace. To join it, first click the invitation link You can post a public message if you have a general question or comment, or message just me if you have a more personal question. I keep an eye out for message notifications so I can respond quickly (likely much faster than email). I encourage you to post a “hello” message to make sure everything works, but that’s optional.

We also use Slack so you can ask questions about a reading or the history of diet/health/expertise generally that you might have raised in a class discussion. For especially interesting questions, I will record a 2-3 minute video answer that might help the course seem a bit less impersonal. You’re the puppeteer, I’m the puppet!

Just as in a physical classroom, speaking up is always your choice. Because Slack is simply a tool to make it easier for us to communicate, it is not required that you use it during the semester. However, if you’re asking questions and occasionally contributing a comment here or there (however tangential to the course), that will bump up your final grade if your final point total for the course happens to be very nearly between two grades.

Required Texts

There are NO REQUIRED BOOKS OR READERS for the course; everything is accessible online. However, you will need to accept an invitation to join the course Zotero library to access many of the assigned articles and book chapters. See the Tech Tools section above for instructions and links.

TO BE CLEAR: LITERALLY EVERYTHING you need for the course is either already freely available online (and linked to on the syllabus), or is a PDF in our Zotero library. If you ever think you need to track something down on your own, you are not connected to Zotero properly.

Work Requirements and Grading

Assignments are usually worth either 2 points (weekly discussion posts), 10 points (weekly learning reflections; although sometimes these are 12 or 15), or 20 points (for larger, special assignments)

The little equations after the assignment type indicates number of assignments x points for each x weight = total points

Grade Distribution (~250 points)

Depending on how the course unfolds, the final number of points may ( = will almost certainly) change slightly. But the percent grading scale will remain basically the same, unless it becomes easier to get a higher grade. I try to minimize grade scale changes, but sometimes they are necessary and they always work to your advantage.

Percent Grade
95+ A
90-94 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
60-66 D
59- F

Response times

I try to respond to all emails ASAP, but it can take up to 2 days for longer inquires. Quick questions about assignments or deadlines or similar tend to be answered within a few hours. I try to grade assignments and provide feedback within 3 days of the assignment due date. It’s not feasible to comment on everyone’s work for each assignment (everyone gets comments on larger assignments), but I encourage you to ask for more feedback whether you get any or not. I’m always happy to have a conversation about your work and how I’m responding to it.

Extra Credit (all due the last day of finals

  • Diet/Health/Food Documentary Critique (4 points)
  • Other ideas? If you are interested in a particular topic related to the class and want to do a little extra work for some extra points, ask me about it! I’m quite flexible about helping people to work they are excited about that contributed to the learning objectives of the course. Even extra credit gets graded, though, so just doing something for the sake of doing it (as opposed to doing it well) doesn’t necessarily get you many points.
  • CAREFUL: Extra credit is only available if all other work is turned in on time, and should be emailed to me directly. You can’t use extra credit to make up for other assignments you don’t like (sorry if you don’t like them, but they are still important).

Writing Help

CAPS Tutoring Services is a free-of-charge educational assistance program available to UNM students enrolled in classes. Online services include the Online Writing Lab, Chatting with or asking a question of a Tutor.


UNM is committed to providing courses that are inclusive and accessible for all participants. As your instructor, it is my objective to facilitate an accessible classroom setting, in which students have full access and opportunity. If you are experiencing physical or academic barriers, or concerns related to mental health, physical health and/or COVID-19, please consult with me after class, via email/phone or during office hours. You are also encouraged to contact Accessibility Resource Center at arcsrvs@unm.edu or by phone 277-3506..

Academic Misconduct

You should be familiar with UNM’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty and the Student Code of Conduct which outline academic misconduct defined as plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, or facilitating any such act.

Citizenship and/or Immigration Status

All students are welcome in this class regardless of citizenship, residency, or immigration status. I will respect your privacy if you choose to disclose your status. UNM as an institution has made a core commitment to the success of all our students, including members of our undocumented community. The Administration’s welcome is found on our website: http://undocumented.unm.edu/.

Course Readings and Schedule

View the schedule page for all reading assignments, reading reflection prompts (all submitted via UNM Learn), and due dates (usually Friday).