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History 229: Oil & Mining in World History

By Sophie Olson, Undergraduate Program Coordinator

August 29, 2023


This course is about your future. Regardless of your major, petroleum and mining are involved. The extraction industries are both good and bad, but they are intensely globalized. This course will help you understand our world from various angles social, economic, religious, ecological, and more. About 1/3 of the course is on ore mining (iron, copper, etc.). About 1/3 is on energy (coal, petroleum, and minerals for batteries). You will be able to customize the final third, reporting back to the class on your research about how oil and mining shape your intended career.


First of all, you will meet one another. You will be grouped by geographic regions and fields of study, so you will collaborate with most of your classmates at various times. It is my (Dr. Grant’s) hope that in this course, you will meet students of many different backgrounds. Students are encouraged to bring their full selves to the course — so that we can hear from one another, but also so that we can learn together.


This course is about transnational history. You will learn:

– How to understand the major issues in the extraction industries where these issues came from, and what makes them so difficult to resolve.

– How to think through these issues cross-culturally, as you prepare for global careers.

– You will choose a country or region to “specialize in (such as Chile, West Africa, Iran, etc.), including the main geopolitical flash-points which might potentially lead to major conflicts.

– How to plan complex research projects at a top-tier research university.

– How to organize your thoughts for different constituents — including summarizing your findings, answering questions from non-specialists, revising your thoughts to incorporate new feedback.


We will begin with some common readings covering oil and mining, and will focus on a few cultural artifacts as well. Then you will begin independent research projects, while continuing to meet up in lecture for discussions and peer guidance.

Main book:

– Brian C. Black, Crude Reality: Petroleum in World History, Second Edition (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020)

– A few others, to be determined for your term papers, in consultation with Dr. Grant


No matter how strong or weak of a writer you are, you will get better in this course through short weekly exercises and peer workshopping.

– You will write a few short (1-2 page) essays on various topics as we move through time, and

– You will regularly present your findings to the class.

– You will experiment with using Artificial Intelligence for drafting papers and fact-checking.

– You will inventory resources at UW-Madison for deeper research in that topic — hopefully setting you up for ongoing papers in future (upper level) classes in your chosen major.

– You will write a term paper digging into a specific historical challenge in the extraction industries.

And throughout the process, you will get focused feedback to improve your arguments and ideas. Everyone taking this course will become a stronger writer!