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Seminar Topics - Fall 2024

The following courses are seminar topics for Fall 2024. Topics will vary semester to semester. A course may be repeated if the selected topic is different. 

History 300: Senior Seminar

Section 1: The History of Ideas in the United States

Instructor: Dr. Andrew Hartman

Intellectual history, or the history of ideas, is one of the oldest sub-fields in the discipline of history. As it now operates under a big tent, intellectual history remains a relevant and engaging approach to studying the past. All peoples have ideas, and intellectual historians seek out ways to understand, analyze, contextualize, and historicize ideas wherever they are found. Whether ideas emanate from politicians like John Adams, activists like Frederick Douglass, philosophers like John Dewey, reformers like Jane Addams, foreign policy thinkers like George Kennan, labor leaders like A. Phillip Randolph, feminist theorists like Kate Millett, environmentalists like Rachel Carson, or from movements, or schools of thought, or everyday people who are otherwise forgotten, intellectual historians are there to figure out their historical meaning. In this senior seminar, we will spend the first part of semester engaging with a set of shared readings about intellectual history, its purpose, its methods, its sources, its approaches, its sensibilities. In the second part of the seminar, students will be given the opportunity to research and write a paper on a topic of their choice drawn from the larger theme: “The History of Ideas in the United States.” Possible topics might include Enlightenment influence on the founders; abolitionist thought; slavery apologia; indigenous political philosophy; transcendentalism; early environmentalism; Marxism in the labor movement; origins of conservatism; third-wave feminism; queer theory; American foreign policy thinking; the American obsessions with self-help; the list goes on. Students might also choose to write an intellectual biography of a figure who has been overlooked or misunderstood. The possibilities are almost endless! Imaginative topics and approaches are encouraged.


Section 2: Beyond the Suffrage Movement: Women’s Activisms in the 20th Century

Instructor: Dr. Kyle Ciani

Campaigns to gain voting rights are certainly critical movements and the broad outlines of these efforts are typically mentioned in courses. However, activism by and for women in the 20th century is far broader than suffrage, and this seminar will delve into these efforts. Access to educational opportunities, property ownership, economic independence, reproductive health, marriage equality, child and elder care resources, protections from sexual and physical violence, ability to fully participate in one’s cultural traditions, and activism toward peaceful resolutions of armed conflict are a few areas in which women have organized in the 20th century. Resources in archival repositories across the world have digitalized materials, making these histories far more available to historians. Students will learn how to access and use these materials in researching a topic beyond suffrage that demonstrates an understanding of the topic’s historiography and connects to an under-studied theme within those sources. While the course will focus on activisms in the Americas, students can research a woman’s activist topic in any part of the world; however, they need to be fluent in the written and oral language of the region and primary sources must be accessible to them throughout the semester.


Section 3: Globalization and Modern East Asia

Instructor: Dr. Dan Knorr

From the nineteenth century, East Asia became integrated with other parts of the world in unprecedentedly intensive, creative, and disruptive ways. Diverse actors from around the world, including diplomats, missionaries, traders, laborers, soldiers, and intellectuals, simultaneously reshaped the history of the region and helped create the process now known as “globalization.” Students taking this class will write papers on a topic in modern East Asian history, with particular focus on the period between 1800 and 1945, drawing on a rich range of primary sources available in English and/or other languages. Research projects may focus on a specific local or national context within East Asia (broadly conceived), intra-regional entanglements, and/or connections between East Asia and other parts of the world. In the process of conducting independent research on a topic of their choice, students will have the chance to grapple with broad questions that have shaped and continue to shape the work of professional historians. These include the methodological issues that arise from writing East Asian history through English-language sources and foreign perspectives, the relationship between local and global history, the degree to which globalization is a process unique to the modern period, and the relationship between globalization and overlapping phenomena, like imperialism and capitalism.


Section 4: WWI in the Middle East

Instructor: Dr. Janice Jayes

WWI transformed every aspect of life in the Middle East, causing the death of nearly one quarter of Ottoman subjects and the end of the empire. European states competed on the battlefield to control land, waterways, trade and oil, and competed in the postwar negotiations to control post-Ottoman politics. This class samples from diplomatic, economic, social and cultural histories examining the European-Ottoman relationship in the decades before WWI, social and cultural transformations during the war, and the demographic remaking of the region due to state policies and refugee movements.


Section 5: Everyday Empire

Instructor: Dr. Taylor Soja

The politics of the nineteenth century were dominated by the rise of European empires around the globe, but empire also reached into the social and cultural worlds of everyday people. This seminar investigates the ways that empire shaped European’s own conceptions of themselves and will cover topics such as shifting understandings of race and gender, the development of colonial and metropolitan policing, representations of empire in exhibitions and literature, and empire’s influence on art, food, clothing, and more. We will also consider different theoretical approaches to the relationships that developed between colonized and colonizing places and cover major debates in the field of imperial history. Students will research, develop, and write their own papers on a topic they choose related to the history of “everyday empire.”


History 307: Topics in Non-Western History

Section 1: Global Africa

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 imagine Africa and highlights Africa’s contributions through global connections of peoples, ideas, and resources. Topics to be discussed will revolve around: 

  1. Slavery, colonialism and conquest
  2. Economic, intellectual and political power
  3. Circulation of communities, cultures and innovations
  4. Science, technology, and health
  5. Africa in the world today


History 308: Topics in European History

Section 2: Alexander III

Instructor: Dr. Georgia Tsouvala

Course Description: This course will introduce you to the ancient sources, modern methodologies, and the current debates surrounding the figure of Alexander III, king of Macedon and Persia. Few characters in ancient history are as easily recognized as Alexander the Great. 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. Intrigue, conspiracies, war, genocide, sex, rape, terror, love; this class has it all!

Course Goals: This course will require you to read both primary and secondary sources, engage with modern scholarship on Alexander in class discussions and in your writing, compose a short as well as a long research paper, and present work orally.


History 309: Topics in U.S. History

Section 1: U.S.Constitutional History I

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’s “living Constitution” use the Bill of Rights in a manner alien to its earliest users and virtually all of the Framers or the Anti-Federalists who put it on the national agenda. 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 current 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 or 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 to the “Lochner Era” and the first glimmers of modern “liberal constitutionalism,” (via substantive due process) with its now-familiar emphasis on individual liberties and the Bill of Rights. Future high school history teachers hoping to teach U.S. History or U.S. Government need this course. But it will provide a much broader perspective to anyone interested in politics or the law.

History 411: Topics in Early American History

Section 1: Early American History

Instructor: Dr. Matthijs Tieleman

This course examines classic and new debates on early American history. We will explore core topics that were crucial to colonial and revolutionary America, including imperialism, intellectual history, Native American history, Atlantic history, slavery, political history, and economic history, among others. In this graduate seminar, we will also discuss in-depth various historiographical perspectives that have shaped how we understand early American history.


History 478: Seminar Topics in Global History

Section 1: Global Enviromental History

Instructor: Dr. Keith Pluymers

This will be a readings course on global environmental history—the histories of interactions between humans and the other-than-human world around us. We will be thinking through a wide range of topics—the transformation of landscapes, pollution, climate change, environmental justice, human-animal relations, and natural disasters (to name a few)—by reading recently published books in the field. Some readings will be explicitly global or planetary in their focus while others will be case studies examining particular places and times. Students will complete a series of short essays on our readings and a larger project for the course.