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Photograph by Philip Brown

Fall 2018

1. HSTR 105 IH "Making Our World in Ten Events"

This course explores ten events that shaped our world. Specifically, the course investigates the people and events that drove history, propelling the global community into the terrain in which we find ourselves today. The course focuses on the historical resonances that events can create, how they spiral out and connect to people and places in unintended ways. In this manner, the course investigates how human agency operates in history and demonstrates how decisions can have broad-ranging consequences for life on Earth.

In recent years, historians have identified a variety of forces that influence the human past and, therefore, the human future—from the smallpox virus and climate change to genetics and the body’s microbial communities. With so many forces competing for agency in our world, what place do human decisions actually have in creating our contemporary predicament? This course identifies the ten most influential events in world history in order to demonstrate how the study of history reveals the contours of our world.

Obviously, just identifying ten such events invites controversy, but that is part of the exercise: history is always a hotly contested terrain, where we fight some of our most critical political and moral debates. Importantly, in this course, it is important to learn how historians evaluate and defend assertions.

2. HSTR 372 "The World at War"

Sixty million people died in World War II. The war stretched from the deserts of North Africa and the jungles of Southeast Asia to the cold forests of Northern Europe and the snow swept planes of Russia. Governments—fascist, communist, and capitalist democracies alike—mobilized entire nations for “total war,” which meant all production, labor, propaganda, and military activity was channeled toward the war effort.

In some respects, the war was a “just war,” the Allies’ campaign against global fascism and ultra-nationalism—nearly a half million US soldiers died in a foreign war to liberate Hitler’s Fortress Europe from fascist control. But World War II was also largely fought in the contested spaces of decaying colonial empires, from the Dutch East Indies and England’s Burma to Italy’s Desert Empire in Ethiopia and the German colonial desires in Poland.

This course explores World War II in all its complexities. It focuses on the political and military ideologies and the geopolitical relations and rivalries that fueled the conflict, as well as the nature of military engagements and the machines used. It investigates the ideologies that drove the quest for empire and lebensraum, or “living room,” a notion that drove Japan’s ambitions in Manchuria and China, as well as Germany’s in Poland and beyond.

World War II was heavily documented in film and prose, making it a conflict best understood through visual and written sources—in some respects, the realities of the siege of Stalingrad, for example, can only be understood through film footage, and even then only in part. This course explores the major campaigns of World War II through lectures, documentaries, and primary source readings. In the end, the course looks at the world that was left in the wake of World War II, and how the conflict is understood today.

3. HIST 540 "History Methods"

This seminar is designed to introduce graduate students to history as an academic discipline. It is an introduction to not simply the past, but an introduction to a past that is structured to legitimate, elucidate, or bolster arguments born from contemporary political, social, and cultural debates. Importantly, “history” might be seen as the disciplining of the past, or a manner of organizing events into narratives that conform to a chosen theoretical and argumentative logic.  

In this respect, history might also be seen as disciplined memory, and who imposes that discipline, and with what theoretical structures they do so, is a critical question for historians to consider. The state disciplines memory by creating national archives, for example, as do many private corporations. In order to accomplish our goals, we will investigate the history of modern historical studies, a field known as “historiography,” as well as the recent emergence of several important fields, such as social history, the “linguistic turn” and cultural history, women’s history and gender studies, environmental history, deep history, and western revisionist history. Some of these are politically charged histories, such as the contact, trade, war, and genocide of Native Americans in the Southwest.  Our purpose is not to define the discipline through an investigation of this rich historiography, but rather to investigate the relationship of history to politics and to identify wherein lies history’s fundamental authority to create “knowledge.” We will also spend a great deal of time thinking about what constitutes a good history topic because eventually you will be required to find one.

You will write several response papers to representative books and major essays, some classic works, others more contemporary, in order to identify the scholarship’s key contribution. The purpose here is to familiarize you with some of the dominant trends in historical studies, and also to prepare you to frame – or rather “discipline” – your own work with these dominant theories. At the end of the seminar, when we do “Topic Brainstorming” and, later, when you defend your topics, I will be primarily interested in how you fit your scholarship into social history – perhaps Marxist structuralism – or feminism, the “linguistic” or cultural turn, environmental history, or deep history. It is critical that you understand where your topic fits within these major schools of thought.