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I could've sworn there was another thread with the same premise a few years back, but a search revealed nothing. It's the start of my finals week, so I figured that I may as well kill time by (re)creating this thread.


So, fire away! If you could design/teach/enroll in any seminar you wanted, what would it be?


Feel free to mention course titles, central topics/themes, proposed readings, and what you find interesting about the seminar (or where you got the idea from).

Edited by thedig13
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  • 2 weeks later...

I'd love to take something along the lines of, say, The Ideology of Comparative, Global and Transnational Approaches to History, minus the clunky name.


I am interested in comparative history, which has fallen out of favour with the historical profession in recent years because it is generally seen to promote a teleological view of human development and to facilitate normative judgements about culture. As some recent works of scholarship show, it is possible to write comparative history that is non-judgemental, or at least no more judgemental than any other kind of history. (I'm thinking of works like Kenneth Pomeranz's highly acclaimed The Great Divergence (2000), which looks at the reasons Western Europe became industrialised before China.)


I'd be really interested in taking a class that investigates the extent to which comparative history is inherently supportive of a belief in valuated cultural difference and teleology, as well as the ways in which it can be made to serve other ideological ends, like the promotion of cultural relativism. Pomeranz's book, for example, combines comparative with global history, which seems to temper the comparative edge somewhat.


Additionally, the more popular global and transnational approaches also come with their own political baggage (which is true of every analytical method I can think of, of course). I think that baggage is worth investigating, as well as the relationship between historical analysis/modes of historical thought and ideology more generally. How exactly does the way we do history promote or invalidate our political and philosophical beliefs, independently of the actual historical conclusions we reach? Can historical approaches that have outlived their political usefulness be repurposed in subsequent decades and even centuries? What is the purpose of history as an academic field? Why should or shouldn't it promote a teleological view of human development? Why should or shouldn't it pass judgement on its research subjects?


I think in order to work well, such a class would have to cover different examples of comparative/global/transnational historical scholarship, but also maybe have a unified theme, as in a region or period that all works on the syllabus relate to. Such a syllabus would be very hard to put together, now that I think about it, because it would have to have enough historical 'meat' in the form of facts and names and primary sources.


That's a problem for someone else, however! I'd only have to take the class :)

Edited by L13
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  • 1 month later...

Seminar Name: The US during the Age of Empires


In the period from 1860 to 1930, many Europeans countries, along with North America and Japan industrialized.  In turn, these countries went out and colonized much of Asia and Africa.  The United States is often seen as anomalous industrial power in this period. By the early twentieth century it had the largest economy in the world, but in comparison to its economic predominance, its empire was relatively small. This seminar explores how international contexts and consciousness shaped US development in this period.



1. Rethinking American History in a Global Age Thomas Bender

--The first book is a series of essays that explore methodologies for globalizing American history.


2. Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America Eric Rauchway

--In Blessed Among Nations, Rauchway does not argue against American exceptionalism. Instead, he argues that the unique place with the global economy explain unique American institutions of warfare and welfare in this period. These institutions, however, left the United States ill prepared to lead the global economy after the European collapse following World War I, and Rauchway argues that poor US global leadership in the 1920s contributed to the Great Depression.


3. Modernity and National Identity in the United States and East Asia, 1895-1919 Carol Chin

--This book is a comparative history looking at how China, Japan, and the United States forged their national identities in the period between the first Sino-Japanese War and World War I. Chin argues these nations all grappled with the same issue: the push to embrace a universal standard of modernity while maintaining their distinctive cultural identities. Their understandings of national identity were shaped by how they thought about their place in the world.


4. The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal David Wrobel

--Another book that deals with American identity, the End of American Exceptionalism deals with how Americans dealt with the perceived exhaustion of the frontier, and with it, the basis of their cultural distinctiveness. Solutions to this problem included creating "external frontiers," which entailed trade and empire.


Also: Global West, American Frontier: Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression David Wrobel

--Through his analysis of Travel Writings about the American West, Wrobel explores “the west in the world and the world in the west” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


5. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Cultural Expansion, 1860-1898 Walter Lafeber

--In The New Empire, Lafeber shows how economic causes drove America to become a world power in the late nineteenth century.


6. Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines David Kramer

--The Philippines was the only formal colony of the United States. Kramer's book looks at how America's experience with empire shaped its own notions of race during this period.


7. Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy, 1900 to 1930 Emily Rosenberg

--In Financial Missionaries to the World, Rosenberg shows how private loans were used to export American civilization and to extend American hegemony over foreign governments. She also explores the domestic debates over foreign lending.


Also: Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945 Emily Rosenberg

--From the book description: “In examining the economic and cultural traits that expressed America's expansionist impulse during the first half of the twentieth century, Emily S. Rosenberg shows how U.S. foreign relations evolved from a largely private system to an increasingly public one and how, soon, the American dream became global.”


8. All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 Robert W. Rydell

--From the Book Description: “Robert W. Rydell contends that America's early world's fairs actually served to legitimate racial exploitation at home and the creation of an empire abroad.”


9. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age Daniel T. Rodgers

--This book explores how American progressives borrowed from European models of reform.


10. Consumer's Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920

--From the inside flap: “Shifting attention from exports to imports, from production to consumption, and from men to women, Hoganson makes it clear that globalization did not just happen beyond America’s shores, as a result of American military might and industrial power, but that it happened at home, thanks to imports, immigrants, geographical knowledge, and consumer preferences.”


11. Bound in Twine: The History and Ecology of the Henequen Wheat Complex for Mexico and the American and the Canadian Plains, 1880-1950 Sterling Evans

--Farming and wheat, the basis of the heartland. Nothing could be more American. Industrialization was often seen as a shift away from the more wholesome activity of farming. As Bound in Twine shows, wheat production was embedded within a transnational and international economic system of dependence.


12. Origins of the Federal Reserve System: Money, Class, and Corporate Capitalism, 1890-1913 James Livingston

--In this book, Livingston argues that the movement for central banking in the United States reflected an emergent class consciousness of a new corporate managerial elite that sought to make itself the authority on all economic issues. Special attention will be paid to the arguments about the necessity of central banking for international trade and investment.


Assignments: Weekly 2-3 page informal reviews. Each student will lead at least one and most likely two class sessions. A final 15 page historiographic paper focusing on a particular theme (economics, politics, society, gender, race, empire, trade, dependency, etc).

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