Skip to main content

Seminar Topics - Spring 2023

The following courses are seminar topics for spring 2023. Topics will vary semester to semester and a course may be repeated if a topic is different. 

History 300, Senior Seminar

Topic to be announced

Section 1, Professor Reed


Comparative Urban History

Section 2, Professor Lessoff

This senior seminar focuses on comparative urban history.  That is to say, the seminar considers the development and structure of cities, the role of cities in society, the interaction of cities with their environments and regions, and the character of urban life in different societies across time.  This theme offers a vehicle for honing student skills while emphasizing a fundamental trend of the modern world.  The urbanization of human life - the shift in the center of gravity in most societies from the country to the town - counts as what Adna Weber, a pioneer of American urban studies, called "the most remarkable social phenomenon" of recent centuries.  By asking why cities emerge, how they operate, and how people build, live in, and perceive them, we ask questions that go to the heart of what it means to be a modern person.  Moreover, urban history has geographic, environmental, economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions.  It illustrates just how many other disciplines history is allied to.


Topic to be determined

Section 3,  Professor Topdar


Antebellum U.S. History

Section 4, Professor Lehman

The new United States of America was the scene for many types of historical change in the years between drafting a constitution and descending into civil war.  Settlers invaded indigenous nations' territory west of the Appalachians in new places like Normal, Illinois.  Enslaved people developed new techniques for achieving measures of freedom.  New social conditions led to new constructions of gender roles, racial categories, socio-economic classes, and political cultures.  In this class we will explore the many kinds of sources, methods of analysis, and areas of study available for narrating the dynamic period of U.S. history from 1783-1860.  In class, we will focus on interpreting primary sources and formulating an argument based on original research.  We will also read secondary sources and historiographical essays to learn more about the ongoing conversation that is history scholarship.  Class work will culminate in an essay based on original research in an area of your choice.


The Long War (1911-1930) in the Middle East

Section 5,  Professor Jayes

This seminar will explore the many different ways to study war through the experience of the Middle East during the long war (1911-1930).  We will look at new surveys that challenge traditional periodization and the focus on European diplomacy (and European actors like T.E. Lawrence) and explore how war changed local societies.  New technologies, from the use of poison gas to famine to demographic expulsions, new expectations of community and new forms of local and global activism all emerged during this war.  Students will read a variety of approaches to studying the impact of war and propose a topic to explore in consultation with the instructor.


History 308, Topics in European History

From the 13 Colonies to Brexit: The Making and Un-Making of the British Empire

Section 1, Professor Soja

What did it mean to be British? At its peak, one fourth of the world's population lived under the influence of the British empire.  This class considers what life was like for British citizens and subjects as the empire transformed over the course of three centuries of connection, oppression, and anti-colonial resistance.  We will pay particular attention to the ways that understandings of race, gender, and Britishness evolved in and were shaped by people's experiences of imperialism over time and in different places.

Our class charts the British story from the mid-eighteenth century to the recent "Brexit" vote to leave the European Union.  All the while, we will focus on the question of how both citizens and subjects negotiated what it meant and still means to be British, and on how the answer to this question has always been up for debate.  In order to study such a vast history, we will read accounts of the making and un-making of empire written by or about individual people in an effort to understand how big historical forces - things like race, class, gender, capitalism, and imperialism - shape individual lives, and how individual people can shape big historical forces in turn.


Alexander the Great

Section 2, Professor Tsouvala

This course will introduce you to the ancient sources, modern methodologies, and the current debates surrounding the figure of Alexander the Great.  Few characters in ancient history are as easily recognized as Alexander the Great. No other figure from ancient Greek history has been written about more extensively than Alexander, and many Roman statesmen admired and imitated him. Important for his popularity is the combination of military ingenuity, and the construction and romance of his legend.  In less than fourteen years as king of Macedon Alexander III conquered more territory than anyone before but died unexpectedly of uncertain causes. With an eye toward illuminating not only the man, but also his historical context, this class will focus its attention on the life of Alexander, his upbringing in Macedonia in the reign of his father Philip II, and his campaigns in and interactions with Persia, Egypt, Bactria, and India. The chronological limits of the course are roughly 350-320 BCE.


History 309, Topics in United States History

U.S. Constitutional History

Section 1, Professor 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 402: Seminar in European History

Electric Power Infrastructures

Section 1, Professor Kapoor

This semester our seminar will explore the history of Europe through the history of electric power infrastructures.  Students will examine a series of case studies that examine how electricity intersected with European political, sociocultural, and economic infrastructure.


History 428 - Seminar in American Diplomacy

American Power and Exceptionalism

Section 1, Professor Bennett

This course will examine the history of American diplomacy from the lens of American power and exceptionalism.  This course analyzes American diplomatic history to understand how the United States has become the singular superpower of the 21st century by looking at America's long history in diplomacy and foreign policy.  The purpose of this seminar is two-fold: to introduce you to the history of American diplomacy and to assist graduate students in understanding historical methodology and techniques in research, writing, and constructive criticism.  The course will also introduce you to primary sources available to you as diplomatic historians.  Grades will be based on 4 assignments: a book review, a primary source assignment, an annotated bibliography, and a final historiography.  In class discussions, students are expected to constructively critique the work of others, offering insight and analysis on how to improve aspects of the research question, area of study, or research plan.


History 478 - Topics in Global History

Culture in the African Diaspora

Section 1, Professor Carter

This is a readings course on the history of cultural formations in the African Atlantic World.  Students in the class will learn the methods of historical inquiry used to examine and understand the processes of how African Atlantic cultures were created since the 17th Century, by focusing the intersecting paths of religion and foodways.


History 497, Research in History

The Atlantic World

Section 1, Professor Reda

The study of the Atlantic World emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and involves the histories and interactions of the nations and peoples of Europe, Africa, and the Americas.  In this course students will research and write papers examining a historical question relating to the Atlantic World during any part of the period stretching from the beginnings of European exploration and settlement of the Americas in the late 1400s to the end of the international slave trade in the late 1800s.  Possible subjects include slavery, settler colonialism, science and exploration, mercantilism, race, gender, culture, and political ideology and revolutions.