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99 Free Courses to Teach Yourself World History

By Caitlin Smith

With new technology making the world more interconnected every day, it can be beneficial no matter what field you work in to have a good idea of the history of not only your own country but those around the world. These open courses will help you to learn about history in diverse countries and time periods to give you a well rounded knowledge of the social, political and intellectual history that has shaped the modern world.


These courses cover world history as a whole or address multiple areas under their topic of study.

  1. The World Since 1492: This course focuses on four major areas of world history: the struggles between Europeans and colonized peoples; the global formation of capitalist economies and industrialization; the emergence of modern states; and the development of the tastes and disciplines of bourgeois society.[MIT]
  2. The Economic History of Work and Family: Check out this course to learn about the changing roles of men and women in labor, in the factory and in the home. The course focuses on Europe and America, but addresses these issues in non-Western areas as well. [MIT]
  3. Econ and World History: In this course, you will learn about both the historical and the economic changes in the world since ancient civilizations first began trading and selling goods. [WGU]
  4. Monarchs, People and History: This course will help you learn about the origins and reasons for the monarchy and the role it played in the history of Europe and around the world under European imperialism. [UMass Boston]
  5. A Comprehensive Outline of World History: Use this course to learn about world history from 8000 BC to 1900. [Connexions]
  6. Topics in Culture and Globalization: Here you'll learn about the impact of globalization and how it has affected nations around the world, in the past and today. [MIT]
  7. Economic History: Take a look at this course to examine important elements of economic history from the rise of industrialization to the movement into consumer culture today. [MIT]


These helpful courses will give you a good background on American history, from its discovery to its present day role in the world.

  1. American History to 1865: Check out this course to learn about American history from the colonial period to the Civil War. [MIT]
  2. The Emergence of Modern America: 1865 to Present: This course examines the events that shaped and influenced the emergence of modern America. [MIT]
  3. Riots, Strikes, and Conspiracies in American History: These events can be traumatic ones. Take this course to learn how they impact American history politically and socially. [MIT]
  4. The American Revolution: Here you'll get a focused education on the intricacies of the American Revolution from beginning to end. [MIT]
  5. The Civil War and Reconstruction: Learn more about this particularly tumultuous period in American history, from the events that brought it about to the eventually reunification of a nation. [MIT]
  6. The Places of Migration in United States History: Through this course you'll learn not only about the U.S. but about the experience of immigrants from all over the world as they arrived and began new lives. [MIT]
  7. America in Depression and War: Take this course to gain a better understanding of the events of the Great Depression and World War II. [MIT]
  8. Gender and the Law in U.S. History: If you're interested in learning more about the relationship between women and the legal system, you'll get a great survey in this course. [MIT]
  9. American Urban History I: Through this course, you'll examine the importance and growth of urban centers in the U.S. from 1850 to the present. [MIT]
  10. American Consumer Culture: Ever wonder how today's consumer culture and the idea of the "good life" came to be? Check out this course to examine the process historically and thematically. [MIT]

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Give these courses a try to gain a better understanding of the history of Europe as well as its interactions with the rest of the world.

  1. The Emergence of Europe: 500-1300: This course will cover a wide range of European history, including the crusades and various other conquests. [MIT]
  2. The Renaissance: 1300-1600: Learn more about this period in European history when the arts and intellectual pursuits flourished. [MIT]
  3. France 1660-1815: Enlightenment, Revolution, Napoleon: This course can be a great way to learn more about the history of France, with lessons in changes in intellectual and political thought. [MIT]
  4. The Royal Family: Through this course, you can learn a great deal about the British royal family from 1714 to the present. [MIT]
  5. The Age of Reason: Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries: Here you will learn more about the emergence of science and mathematics in Europe. [MIT]
  6. European Imperialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Check out this course to learn about British imperialism from Polynesia to India. [MIT]
  7. The Making of Modern Europe, 1453 to the Present: From the age of Machiavelli to the fall of the Soviet Empire, this class will give you a good overview of European history. [Berkeley]
  8. The Rise and Fall of the Second Reich: Take this course to learn about German history in the period between the Holy Roman Empire and WWI. [Berkeley]
  9. Nineteenth Century Europe: This course will take you through European history from 1815 to 1900. [UMass Boston]
  10. Modern Irish History from 1800 to Present: Give this class a try to learn about the rise of Irish nationalism and the eventual establishment of national independence. [UMass Boston]
  11. Welsh History and Its Sources: Through this course, you'll learn about Welsh history and learn what institutions are responsible for discovering and preserving this information. [OpenLearn]
  12. Arthurian Literature and Celtic Colonization: This course will focus on the mythology of King Arthur but will also show how these legends relate to the very real historical events happening in England, Brittany, Wales and Scotland. [MIT]

USSR and Russia

These courses will help you learn more about Russia, from the medieval era all the way up to the 1990's.

  1. The Making of Russia in the Worlds of Byzantium, Mongolia, and Europe: This course will delve into the influences that shaped Medieval and early modern Russia. [MIT]
  2. Imperial and Revolutionary Russia, 1800-1917: This course analyzes Russia's social, cultural, political heritage. [MIT]
  3. Soviet Politics and Society, 1917-1991: Through this class, you will learn about the Soviet empire, Communism, and the shift to democracy. [MIT]
  4. Cold War Science: Look through the material provided by this course to learn more about the science that helped foster the space race and nuclear paranoia during the Cold War. [MIT]

Ancient and Medieval

Travel far back in time with these courses that focus on history from ancient civilizations and those during the dark ages.

  1. The Ancient World: Greece: This course will examine the history of Greece from the Bronze Age up to the rule of Alexander. [MIT]
  2. The Ancient World: Rome: Examine the rise and fall of the Roman empire through the use of primary sources and other historical documentation. [MIT]
  3. The Making of a Roman Emperor: Here you can learn more about the Roman emperors Augustus and Nero. [MIT]
  4. The Ancient City: This course will focus on urban architecture in Greece and Rome, using current and past archaeology as a starting point. [MIT]
  5. Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective: Learn more about the social and economic changes in medieval Europe and its connections to Islam, China and central Asia. [MIT]
  6. History of the Roman Empire: Trace the history of ancient Rome from its beginnings to its downfall in this course. [Berkeley]
  7. The Ancient Mediterranean World: This course will address the early civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Babylon. [Berkeley]
  8. The Dark Ages: Here you will learn about Europe and the near East from the fall of the Roman Empire until 1000 AD. [UMass Boston]
  9. Introduction to Ancient Greek History: Through this course you'll learn about Greek political, intellectual, and creative achievements from the Bronze Age to the end of the classical period. [Yale]


With some of the largest economies in the world and billions of inhabitants, Asian countries can't be ignored. These courses will help you learn more about them to help you become more culturally and politically savvy.

  1. East Asia in the World: Check out this course to learn about the interactions of east Asian countries (Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam) with the rest of the world and each other. [MIT]
  2. Japan in the Age of the Samurai: History and Film: Here you will learn about Japan from the 12th to 19th centuries and the many films that use samurai culture as a subject. [MIT]
  3. Smashing the Iron Rice Bowl: Chinese East Asia: This interesting course will help you to learn more about the everyday experience of Chinese people living through the changes that took place during the 19th and 20th centuries. [MIT]
  4. The Making of Modern South Asia: This course is a survey of Indian culture and history from 2500 BC to the present. [MIT]
  5. Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present: Learn more about the experiences of women in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka throughout history. [MIT]
  6. From the Silk Road to the Great Game: China, Russia, and Central Eurasia: In this course you will learn about the interactions across the Eurasian continent between Russians, Chinese, Mongolian nomads, and Turkic oasis dwellers during the last 1,500 years. [MIT]
  7. A Passage to India: Introduction to Modern Indian Culture and Society: Using films, short stories and novels, this course will attempt to give students a better understanding of the origins of modern Indian culture from the development of a caste system to the effects of globalization. [MIT]
  8. East Asian Cultures: From Zen to Pop: This course will examine the historical and contemporary culture of East Asia, including performance, manga, cuisine and more. [MIT]
  9. International Relations of East Asia: Learn about the effects of nuclear firepower and large scale economies in East Asia's power players relations with the rest of the world through this course. [MIT]
  10. Japanese Politics and Society: Here you will get a fundamental understanding of Japanese history, culture, politics and economy. [MIT]
  11. Government and Politics of China: Through readings and other materials, this course will help students gain a better understanding of modern China, both in the pre-Communist years and today. [MIT]

The Middle East

Because of its role in recent conflicts and dominance in the production of oil, many people have a lot of preconceived notions about the Middle East. These courses will help you learn about this region more fully, to gain a better understanding about its history and cultural influence.

  1. Islam, the Middle East, and the West: Here you can get a good overview of the major events from the rise of Islam to the present day, with lectures on the interactions with the Middle East and the West. [MIT]
  2. The Middle East in 20th Century: If you want to understand more about this region, including Egypt, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula and the Fertile Crescent, you'll get a great background from the Ottoman Empire up to the attacks of 9/11. [MIT]
  3. Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times: From the beginnings of Judaism to the present day, you'll learn about numerous aspects of Jewish history from this course. [MIT]
  4. Anthropology of the Middle East: Through this course, you will learn about traditional performances in the Middle East as well as historical perceptions of the Orient, religion, politics and more. [MIT]
  5. Islamic Societies of the Middle East and North Africa: Religion, History and Culture: Ranging from the Middle East to North Africa, this course will examine the spread of Islam and its impact on past and present politics, culture and society. [Notre Dame]
  6. Seminar on Politics and Conflict in the Middle East: Here you'll get an in-depth discussion on the evolution of the current political and power structures in the Middle East. [MIT]
  7. Women in Islamic Societies: This course will address both the historical position of women in Islamic societies as well as that which they hold today. [Notre Dame]

Latin America

These courses will help you to understand the emergence and political structure of today's Latin American countries.

  1. Modern Latin America, 1808-Present: Revolution, Dictatorship, Democracy: Check out this course to learn more about the history of Latin America, including its role in the global economy, indigenous cultures and more. [MIT]
  2. Political Economy of Latin America: In this course, you'll learn about the politics of economic reform in Latin America, with lessons on places like Venezuela, Mexico and more. [MIT]
  3. Introduction to Latin American Studies: Read through the materials offered by this course to learn about the history, culture and lived experiences of the diverse people in Latin America. [MIT]


Learn more about this large and diverse continent through these free courses.

  1. AIDS and Poverty in Africa: This course addresses the emergence of the AIDS virus in Africa and its present day impact as well as the overwhelming poverty that afflicts many areas. [MIT]
  2. Dwellings for Africa:Learn more about the history and contemporary existence of dwellings in South Africa through this course. [Connexions]
  3. Exploring a Romano-African City: Thugga: Go back to Roman Africa with thiscourse that provides historical and archaeological information. [OpenLearn]
  4. Information and Communication Technology in Africa: Through this course you'll learn about the emergence of technology in Africa and the effects it has had on urban life. [MIT]
  5. Medicine, Religion and Politics in Africa and the African Diaspora: You'll not only learn about contemporary African beliefs in this course, but the history of many groups of African people and their interactions with western medicine. [MIT]

Scientific History

These courses will help you to learn more about the emergence of modern science and technology.

  1. Introduction to Environmental History: Through this course, you will learn how people have interacted with their environment in the period after Columbus. [MIT]
  2. Modern Physics: From The Atom to Big Science: Learn how physics has played a role in politics and world history through this free course. [Berkeley]
  3. History of Public Health: This course will help you to learn about ideas and policies in public health have changed over the years. [Johns Hopkins]
  4. People and Other Animals: Gain a more thorough understanding of the interactions between man and other species through this course that examines current and past conflicts and events. [MIT]
  5. Nature, Environment, and Empire: This course addresses the relationship between the study of natural history by Europeans and Americans, and concrete exploitation of the natural world at home and in colonies. [MIT]
  6. Psychology History Timeline: Learn more about the evolution of the study of psychology in this course. [OpenLearn]
  7. EngineeringApollo: The Moon Project as a Complex System: In this class, you'll get a chance to learn about the historical events that led up to the successful moon landing. [MIT]
  8. Environmental Conflict and Social Change: Check out this course to learn how environmental issues have impacted cultures around the world. [MIT]
  9. Toward the Scientific Revolution: Here you can learn about the theories, thinkers and discoveries that preceded the scientific revolution. [MIT]

History of Art and Thought

Through these courses, you can gain a better understanding of the origins of modern theories, politics, art and more.

  1. History of Western Thought, 500-1300: This course will help you to learn more about intellectual traditions from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages. [MIT]
  2. From Print to Digital: Technologies of the Word, 1450-Present: Trace the history of the written word from the earliest printing presses to today's web technology. [MIT]
  3. Musée du Louvre: Learn more about how the impressive collection at the Louvre came to be through this course's historical exploration. [OpenLearn]
  4. History of Western Art and Civilization: Going country by country, this course will discuss the artistic and intellectual movements of Europe from the Roman era forward. [OpenLearn]
  5. Ancient Philosophy and Mathematics: Try out this course to learn about the foundations of ancient mathematics and to examine ideas of reason, logic and rationality. [MIT]
  6. European Thought and Culture: Ideas like religion, independence, capitalism and more are examined in this course that focuses on the modern era. [MIT]
  7. Foundations of Western Culture I: Homer to Dante: This course will provide an extensive reading list that will help you understand the cultural and political underpinnings of western culture from the Roman empire to the Renaissance.[MIT]
  8. Foundations of Western Culture II: Modernism: Part two of this course focuses on literature from the 17th to 20th centuries, examining the changes that occurred and the intellectual shifts. [MIT]

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War and Revolution

Wars and revolutions have played a major role in shaping the world as we know it today. Learn more about these events, their causes and even how to possibly prevent them from happening again in these courses.

  1. Comparative Grand Strategy and Military Doctrine: This course looks at the military strategies of Britain, France, Germany and Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. [MIT]
  2. How to Stage a Revolution: This course examines the reasons why and the methods by which a society stages a revolution with nations around the world used as examples. [MIT]
  3. Civil War: Through this course you will learn about the origins and effects of civil war in places like the Balkans, Africa and more. [MIT]
  4. World War II: Check out this course to educate yourself on the causes and events of WWII and the eventually beginnings of the Cold War in the post-war era. [UW]
  5. War and American Society: Find out about the various ways that war has affected American citizens and culture through this course. [MIT]
  6. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: If you want to learn more about the reality of the National Socialist Party, this course is a great way to dive into issues of which you may not have been aware. [MIT]
  7. Civil-Military Relations: This course will lay out some of the basic tensions that arise between citizens and military past and present. [MIT]
  8. Causes and Prevention of War: Using World War I, World War II, Korea, Indochina, and the Peloponnesian, Crimean and Seven Years wars as examples, this course will look at ways that war can be avoided. [MIT]
  9. French Revolution: Here you can learn about the origins of the French Revolutions and the bloody aftermath that followed. [OpenLearn]

Group Specific

These courses focus on a specific group within a larger area to give you a focused view of their historical experience.

  1. African American History II: This course will look at the experiences of African Americans from the end of the Civil War until the 1980's. [Notre Dame]
  2. Faith and the African American Experience: Learn more about the role of faith in the lives of African Americans from the early days of slavery until the present day. [Notre Dame]
  3. Introduction to Asian American Studies: Literature, Culture, and Historical Experience: This course draws on literature, history, anthropology, film, and cultural studies to give you a better understanding of Asian American experiences from the 19th century onward. [MIT]
  4. Race and Gender in Asian America: This course will begin in the 19th century and continue to the present day, examining notions of race and gender in the Asian community in the United States. [MIT]