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: Why have medical authorities continually redefined what it means to be healthy and to eat a healthy diet? How do dietary experts establish their expertise? 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

  • Question and judge the extent to which ideas of health are constructed as much socially and culturally as well as scientifically
  • Interpret and explain the rhetoric of health in different historical periods
  • Outline how the establishment of dietary expertise has and has not changed over time.
  • Sharpen critical thinking and historical source analysis skills by evaluating primary sources on dietary advice
  • Describe and analyze how ideas of healthy diets have changed over time

SLOs Bottom Line

This class is NOT concerned primarily with learning the history of diet and health, but using examples from it to learn about medical expertise generally (with a particular focus on dietary expertise).

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 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 (separate) webpages.

Places to Find Stuff

  • UNM Learn. All assignments will be submitted via UNM Learn.
  • Zotero; see the getting started guide; once connected you can access the course library. All course readings not already online will be available through Zotero.
  • 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.

My attempt to facilitate some kind of interaction

  • 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 get back to you quickly (likely much faster than email).

We also use Slack so you can ask general 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 mechanical.

I think of our Slack Workspace as facilitating the kind of informal conversations we might have if in a classroom together. Just as in a physical classroom, speaking up is always your choice and using Slack is simply a tool to make it easier for us to communicate, but it’s totally optional.

It’s a (virtual) marathon, not a sprint

Not having actual class meetings (as the course normally does) deprives us of some collegial conversation, but it presents new freedoms as well. There isn’t much to do most days except do the reading, reflect on it, write a brief response, and occasionally respond to your colleagues.

I hold you accountable for keeping up with the readings by asking you to respond to them twice per week (Mondays and Wednesday), plus a weekly learning reflection (due most Fridays) that will address a few questions that I think will help tie together the readings for the week. In place of some weekly learning reflections there are a few slightly longer assignments that give you the chance to apply the readings more directly.

The upshot is that your work for the course is very evenly distributed across the semester. There are no big essays or exams or final. 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 burden on your workload or schedule.

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, 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 worth either 2 points (weekly discussion posts), 10 points (weekly learning reflections), or 20 points (larger assignments and the final learning reflection)

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

Grade Distribution (220 points)

Depending on how the course unfolds, the final number of points may change slightly. But the percent grading scale will remain basically the same, unless it becomes easier to get a higher grade.

Percent Grade
94+ 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

Extra Credit (all due on the Monday after the last day of class)

  • 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).

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).