For a course on algebraic number theory, you certainly can prove the finiteness of the class group without Minkowski's theorem. For example, if you look in Ireland-Rosen's book you will find a proof there which they attribute to Hurwitz. It gives a worse constant (which depends on a choice of $\mathbf Z$-basis for the ring of integers of the number field; changing the basis can shrink the constant, but it's still generally worse than Minkowski's) but it is computable and you can use it to show, say, that $\mathbf Z[\sqrt{-5}]$ has class number 2.
As for the history of the proof of the unit theorem, it was proved by Dirichlet using the pigeonhole principle. If you think about it, Minkowski's convex body theorem is a kind of pigeonhole principle (covering the convex body by translates of a fundamental domain for the lattice and look for an overlap). You can find a proof along these lines in Koch's book on algebraic number theory, published by the AMS. Incidentally, Dirichlet himself proved the unit theorem for rings of the form $\mathbf Z[\alpha]$; the unit theorem is true for orders as much as for the full ring of integers (think about Pell's equation $x^2 - dy^2 = 1$ and the ring $\mathbf Z[\sqrt{d}]$, which need not be the integers of $\mathbf Q(\sqrt{d})$), even though some books only focus on the case of a full ring of integers. Dirichlet didn't have the general conception of a full ring of integers.
One result which Minkowski was able to prove with his convex body theorem that had not previously been resolved by other techniques was Kronecker's conjecture (based on the analogy between number fields and Riemann surfaces, with $\mathbf Q$ being like the projective line over $\mathbf C$) that every number field other than $\mathbf Q$ is ramified at some prime.
For a course on algebraic number theory, you certainly can prove the finiteness of the class group without Minkowski's theorem. For example, if you look in Ireland-Rosen's book you will find a proof there which they attribute to Hurwitz. It gives a worse constant (which depends on a choice of $\mathbf Z$-basis for the ring of integers of the number field; changing the basis can shrink the constant, but it's still generally worse than Minkowski's) but it is computable and you can use it to show, say, that $\mathbf Z[\sqrt{-5}]$ has class number 2.
As for the unit theorem, it was proved by Dirichlet using the pigeonhole principle. If you think about it, Minkowski's convex body theorem is a kind of pigeonhole principle (covering the convex body by translates of a fundamental domain for the lattice and look for an overlap). You can find a proof along these lines in Koch's book on algebraic number theory, published by the AMS. Incidentally, Dirichlet himself proved the unit theorem for rings of the form $\mathbf Z[\alpha]$; the unit theorem is true for orders as much as for the full ring of integers (think about Pell's equation $x^2 - dy^2 = 1$ and the ring $\mathbf Z[\sqrt{d}]$, which need not be the integers of $\mathbf Q(\sqrt{d})$), even though some books only focus on the case of a full ring of integers. Dirichlet didn't have the general conception of a full ring of integers.