Interpreting the Past (UNST 236)


This course introduces the Interpreting the Past cluster. In this course, students will learn about methods of interpretation in the humanities. Such a study compels students to take a nuanced and sympathetic approach to past cultures whose standards and ideals are often remote from our own. Through the interrogation of primary sources and analysis of evidence -- whether texts, images, or artifacts -- students learn to set aside modern assumptions and biases and instead engage issues in their historical context. At the same time, by studying the past, students will come to understand the historical foundations of our contemporary world, to perceive both the continuities and disruptions in our relationships to previous generations.


In this cluster, students explore our complex and interwoven histories. While each of the courses has its own unique focus, they all have in common the use of interpretive tools the humanities and sciences offer us to examine evidence that has come from the past: that is, a prior human culture’s literature, science, technology, and/or art. By concentrating on the pre-20th century world, we investigate the diversity of our shared human past—both the continuities in human experiences across time and space, as well as the profound differences in the lives of people in other times and places. Interpreting continuities and changes in the past give students a necessary context for understanding the present.

Featured Pathways


  • Asian Studies


  • Anthropology
  • Art History
  • Black Studies
  • Classical Studies
  • English
  • History
  • Judaic Studies
  • Medieval Studies
  • Philosophy

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Interpreting the Past Cluster Courses

Interpreting the Past Learning Outcomes 

Cluster Coordinator: 
Richard Beyler Ph.D., Professor of History
Office Number: 
CH 441 O
PSU Phone: