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Seminar Topics - Fall 2023

The following courses are seminar topics for Fall 2023. Topics will vary semester to semester. A course may be repeated if the selected topic is different. 

History 300: Senior Seminar

Section 1: The Modern Middle East from Below

Instructor: Dr. Camille Cole

The nineteenth century in the Middle East was a time of profound change, from the rise of the modern state to the growth of capitalism, intrusion of European imperialism, and collapse of old regimes. This seminar will explore those transformations from the perspective of ordinary people. We will read a range of first-person narratives, including chronicles, diaries, memoirs, letters, and courtroom testimonies in translation. We will also consider how historians have addressed these transformations, and how individual perspectives fit into or challenge their arguments. How should we understand the place of the individual in “big” histories of political and social change? Students will research, develop, and write final papers on any topic related to the history of the early-modern or modern Middle East. No experience with languages other than English is necessary.


Section 2: Rome and the Ancient Mediterranean

Instructor: Dr. Kathryn Jasper

This seminar will explore various approaches to the study of the Roman world from the second century BC to the fifth century AD. We will read a range of primary documents coupled with scholarly articles addressing these sources to practice analyzing and criticizing historical arguments. Although readings address the socio-cultural history of the Roman Empire, class discussions will also address the wider world of the Ancient Mediterranean.  


Section 3: Reconstruction

Instructor: Dr. Ron Gifford

This course will provide an opportunity to analyze primary sources in relation to one of the most important eras in U.S. History.  While Eric Foner provided in 1988 the most memorable comprehensive synthesis of the period, there is still room for interpretation, as you will see in the discussion of historiography since the 1990s.  Students can choose to write about emancipation, race, labor, republicanism, the role of the executive, violence, corruption, agency, the freedmen, and hundreds of other topics wherein we see the country grappling with the outcome and meaning of the Civil War.  Whether or not Reconstruction was revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, a missed opportunity, or a success is still to be decided.  We still see Reconstruction playing a role in our lives today.


Section 4: 'They do what now?!': Americans and Germany

Instructor: Dr. Katrin Paehler

Americans—and not only those of "German extraction"—have been endlessly fascinated with German history, society, culture, and politics. This class focuses on Americans from different walks of life who visited, lived in, investigated, studied, and wrote about Germany in the late 19th and in the 20th century. How did Americans make sense of Germany and of their experiences there? What can this tell us about Germany—and about the United States?

Students' primary source research will focus on contemporaneous artifacts; they will analyze their findings in the historiographical context of the Germany, Europe, and the United States in their chosen time period.


Section 5: Unsettling the West

Instructor: Dr. Lindsay Marshall

The idea of frontier plays an outsized role in constructing US identity. As early as the colonial period, constructed notions of the West have embodied a sense of adventure, opportunity, and entitlement to Indigenous land. This section will investigate how to excavate the complicated history of the North American West from its entanglement in myth and propaganda. Using primary and secondary sources, we will explore the process of narrative construction about the places we’ve called the West through multiple lenses of analysis including Indigenous history, labor history, public history, environmental history, animal history, and popular culture. This workshop-style course will guide students through the process of research with primary and secondary sources and writing a seminar paper on a topic of their choosing that complicates our notions of the North American West.


History 307: Topics in Non-Western History

Section 1: The History of the Global War on Terror

Instructor: Dr. Janice Jayes

Sept. 11, 2001 was an event that happened on US soil, but it marked a turning point in global history. Like the Cold War, the era of the Global War on Terror cannot be described merely by a series of conflicts, but should be understood as a global paradigm that transformed relations between states, non-state actors and individuals within the state. This class will explore changes in defense, intelligence and foreign policy institutions and objectives, as well as changing cultural understandings of security, legal ethics and national identity that have affected communities across the planet.


Section 2: Africa and the World

Instructor: Dr. Agbenyega Adedze

Africa’s contribution to global history is still misunderstood by many. This course looks into the diversity of the continent and its interaction with the rest of the world from the dawn of humanity to the present. It challenges how people perceive Africa and highlights Africa’s contributions through global connections of peoples, ideas, and resources. Topics to be discussed will revolve around, slavery, colonialism and conquest, economic, intellectual and political power, circulation of communities, cultures and innovations, science, technology, health, and Africa in the world today.


History 308: Topics in European History

Section 1: Early Modern European Warfare

Instructor: Dr. William Reger

This course explores the history of warfare on the European continent from the mid-15th century through the French Revolution.


History 309: Topics in United States History

Section 1: U.S. Constitutional History

Instructor: Dr. Stewart Winger

Students may be surprised to learn that for the first 100 years, the Bill of Rights was almost never used to protect individuals from the power of coercive government!  Yet both on the right and the left of the political spectrum, this is how we now use the Bill of Rights.  Both constitutional "originalists" and devotees of the Warren Court use the Bill of Rights in  a manner alien to its earliest users, and virtually all of the Framers.  The case is similar in other aspects of constitutional law from War Powers to the Commerce Clause.  We do not use the Constitution in anything like the way it was designed to be used, yet we tell ourselves that is what we are doing.  How is this possible?  Does it even make sense to say we live under the Constitution of 1789 and the Bill of Rights?  Rather than constitutional doctrine, U.S. Constitutional history stresses the development of constitutional law in response to an always-changing historical context.  It is not a substitute for a Constitutional Law class that might be offered by the Politics and Government Criminal Justice Departments; you will not leave this course knowing the precise boundaries of your rights under current interpretations.  Instead, in this first half of the survey, we will study Constitutional History from the origins of the Constitution through the "Lochner Era" and the first glimmers of modern "liberal constitutionalism," with its now-familiar emphasis on individual liberties and the Bill of Rights.  Future high school history teachers hoping to teach U.S. History of U.S. Government need this course.  But it will also be important for those interested in politics or the law.


History 468: Seminar in Modern Russia

Section 1: Revolution, Survival, and the Communist "Good Life" — Glimpses into the Soviet Experience from Stalin to Khrushchev

Instructor: Dr. Christine Varga-Harris

This reading seminar covers key moments in the history of the Soviet Union, including the economic policies that launched the country into modern industry; the purges and terror of the 1930s; Nazi occupation during the Second World War; the denunciation of Stalin and liberalization under Khrushchev; and the striving to build socialism amid Cold War competition.  Framed by the themes of revolution, survival, and daily life, the course will explore the values, ideals and policies bequeathed by 1917; the struggles brought by Stalinist repression and war (alongside resistance, accommodation and collaboration); and Communism as it was lived.  These subjects will be addressed through discussion and analysis of key monographs on topics as varied as “everyday” Stalinism, Soviet women in combat, the tribulations of gulag returnees, “secret” cities, socialist tourism, Soviet multiethnicity, and socialist internationalism.  As such, the seminar will engage with perspectives from “above” and “below”; from the Moscow center and the Soviet “periphery” (i.e., non-Russian republics); and from “within” the Soviet Union and abroad (so as to place the country in comparison with other socialist countries, with Western ones, and with the Global South).