Show The Graduate Center Menu

Spring 2014

American History

Hist. 75400- Visual Culture of Nineteenth Century America
GC: M, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Joshua Brown

"Historical understanding is like a vision, or rather like an evocation of images." Taking Johan Huizinga at his word, this course is about the use, abuse, lapses, and strengths of visual "documents" as subject, evidence, and method in studying the past. The class will explore the ways the study of visual culture illuminates and alters the research and analysis of major areas and themes in nineteenth-century U.S. social, political, and cultural history. We will investigate the manner in which different visual media documented, articulated, and embodied conditions, relations, ideas, identity, and issues from the early republic to the age of imperialism—with occasional forays to explore the comparative, transnational, and digital. While structured chronologically, the course readings and discussions are organized to consider a range of historiographic approaches and methods and to critically evaluate the impact and efficacy of using visual evidence.

link to syllabus

Hist. 7500- The First Emancipation Campaign
GC: W, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Jonathan Sassi

This colloquium explores the history and historiography of Revolutionary America’s “first emancipation,” during which every one of the United States from Pennsylvania northward either abolished slavery outright or put it on a gradual track toward elimination.  We will pay particular attention to the political dynamics of the antislavery campaign, or why and how it succeeded -- or met with frustration -- where and when it did.  We will also attend to the social and ideological origins of abolitionism; the Atlantic-wide contexts of the first emancipation in the U.S.; and its many legacies for nineteenth-century American society, politics, and culture, including the contested construction of race. Students will engage the readings through weekly discussions and short essays.


Hist. 74300- Writing Women's Lives
GC: T, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Blanche Wiesen Cook & Prof. Barbara Welter

This course explores writings about 19th and twentieth century U.S. women. Students choose from an extensive reading list of biography, autobiography, scholarly monographs and articles, and theory. They are free to concentrate on topical or chronological areas of particular interest to them. Guest lecturers will discuss their work and experience, and the students are encouraged to consider global as well as U.S. contemporary and historical issues in women’s lives today.

Learning Objectives: The student should be able to analyze and criticize major examples of writing women’s lives; be familiar with the trajectories of women’s lives and the influences of such traditional “markers” of historical inquiry as religion, region, class, ethnicity and gender, which remained the same or changed over time; be able to identify important primary sources in the historical construction of a woman’s life, as well as major secondary sources in the field; be aware of controversies and contested interpretations of United States history, in  terms of  women,  the  context, and their choices; and be able to understand and be able to document the role which American women played in economic, political, intellectual, cultural and social movements in the United States, including but not limited to the usual “women’s issues.”

The recommended text for an overview is Women’s America: Refocusing the Past. Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Seventh Edition, 2011.

Hist. 72200- Gender, Power, and Money
GC: M, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Kathleen McCarthy

This course will examine the historical and theoretical literature on gender, power, and money, with an emphasis on the period from 1800 to the 1930s. Historians have made invaluable contributions in rewriting history “from the bottom up” over the past half century, but in the process they have underplayed the role of elites, the exercise of power (rather than agency), and the contours and consequences of the national pursuit of wealth. Gender studies have further complicated these issues, by underscoring the differences between men’s and women’s allotted public roles.

This course builds, in part, on this work and the writings of earlier theorists who wrote on the social meaning of money and the exercise of power; Thorstein Veblen, in particular, underscored the ties between masculinity and the pursuit of wealth, raising a number of questions.  How has the nexus of money and masculinity developed and changed over time; how has it affected men at the lower end of the economic spectrum as well as those at the top; how has it colored professional and political considerations?  What happened when money passed into women’s hands, especially as they moved into the public sphere through their business, political, social and philanthropic pursuits?  How have the exercise of power, and the pursuit and uses of wealth historically differed between women and men? Although the weekly readings are historical, the course will draw on an interdisciplinary theoretical literature that spans women’s, gender and masculinity studies, sociology, and 19th and early 20th century economics. The readings are also structured in such a way that the course can be taken as a women’s studies class. Students will read one book per week for class discussion, and write a proposal for a research project to examine some aspect of gender, power, and/or money in American history. The goals are to introduce students to new areas of inquiry, and to hone their analytical and proposal-writing skills.



European History

Hist. 71500- France and Its Empire, 1830-1962
GC: R, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Evelyn Ackerman

This course will look at the interplay between the French Empire and the metropole from the conquest of Algeria until its independence in 1962.  French colonization activities in Indochina, other areas of North Africa, and West Africa will also be integral parts of the course’s agenda.  Emphasis will be placed on initial contacts, questions of perceiving “The Other,” and French attitudes toward Empire, the old question of assimilation versus accommodation, and the indigenous reaction toward the French presence.

The ways in which the French tried to shape power relations and everyday life will be examined with areas such as education, gender, domestic life, religion, and medicine receiving special attention.  Sources include secondary literature and as many colonial voices as possible (whether they be colonial administrators, and, in some cases, their wives, or local people).  As France’s push toward Empire intensified in the 1880s, we will examine the competing models offered by Alice Conklin and Gary Wilder to understand the decades after 1885.  The rise of the negritude movement and independence struggles will be addressed as well as the complexities surrounding the achievement of political independence by the former colonies.

Course requirements include a 20-25 page paper on a topic of the student’s choosing (after consultation with the instructor).  Requirements also include active participation in class discussions, two or three short class presentations on assigned readings, and several two-page reading-response papers. 


Hist. 75700- The Great War: Causes and Unintended Consequences
GC: W, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Sandi Cooper

A century after the European “Great War”, the scholarly consensus describes it as the primordial catastrophe of the 20th century. Given the mindless violence, the staggering statistics of military casualties and the unknown millions of civilian dead, we still wonder what was going on in the minds of the several dozen male leaders (emperors, presidents, ministers, generals, diplomats) who launched this catastrophe, eyes wide open. Most of them knew clearly it would neither be short, nor decisive and it probably would destroy their authority and states.

What began as a contest among five European powers engulfed the entire globe. What began as a classic masculine exercise, ended by overturning centuries of gendered social principles. The historical literature is overwhelming, perhaps more is written on and inspired by this watershed than any other event. Furthermore, a study of this war and its impact, always timely, has particular resonance in 2014. National memorial ceremonies are being planned as well as anti-war protests.

Proposed course outline: 1-3 weeks on the debate over origins, starting with the 1919 Versailles commission determining blame; decision making in July 1914. 2 weeks on the justification and implementation of civilian reprisals, executions, forced labor, concentration camps, assault on women – view the 1939 Renoir film, Grand Illusion. 2 - 3 weeks – review of the major political outcomes, including the global impact beyond the European continent. 1-2 weeks – prewar peace proposals and wartime peace overtures. Remainder of semester – the impact on culture, literature, the politics of film making, memorialization, gender alignments and re-alignments; the model of the war for the Nazi state; acceptance of militarization as a civic virtue.

Course requirements: papers to be determined individually depending on interest; weekly participation in discussions of reading.


Hist. 72800- State, Society and Culture in Early Modern Mediterranean
GC: T, 4:15-6:15 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Elena Frangakis-Syrett

The course will be organized on three thematic tracks: state-building and the economy; socio-economic transformation and cultural changes within and across the Mediterranean at large, namely both eastern (Ottoman) and western (European) Mediterranean.  It will cover three centuries 16th-18th although more time will be spent on the 18th century. In terms of sovereign states to be covered, emphasis will be placed on France, the Italian states, and the Ottoman Empire; other groups such as the British and the Dutch will be examined as they become actors within the Mediterranean.

By using such tools of analysis the overall aim of the course will be to see the interplay between different forces as for instance between culture and economic change whereas culture can be a medium to manifest such change but in the process it can also impact such change; or, given the fluidity of identity in early modern Mediterranean, one can examine  the interplay between different confessional and/or linguistic groups and the factors leading to greater divergence or indeed greater convergence between them.


Hist. 71600- Germany and the Two World Wars
GC: R, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Christoph Kimmich

The course of German history since 1914 - a transformative period of five different regimes and two world wars.  We shall explore the political and economic crises that led to these transformations, and where and how these shaped and were shaped by broader European developments. Milestones along the way are the Kaiser’s war and its consequences; the unsettled first republic; the political and cultural confrontations of the late 1920s and early 1930s; the rise, consolidation, and impact of the Nazi regime; Hitler’s war, its brutal aftermath, and its legacy; the establishment of Communism in the East and the stability of liberal democracy in the West.  Many of these topics are subject to conflicting historical interpretations, often reflecting specific cultural and political agendas, and we shall examine these as well.



Latin American History

Hist. 76900- History of Brazil
GC: T, 4:15-6:15 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Amy Chazkel

This course examines the history of Latin America’s largest country from the earliest Portuguese colonial settlement to the present in its hemispheric, Atlantic, and global context. Brazilian history, for nearly as long as it has been studied, has been offered as a counterpoint for the histories of the United States, the rest of Latin America, and, most recently, the Global South. We will think deeply and critically about these comparisons and geographical constructions as, themselves, historical phenomena that deserve our scrutiny. Our readings and in-class discussions broadly survey the entire sweep of Brazilian history. We will, however, take advantage of the recent florescence and global influence of Brazilian historiography in such subfields as: the study of slavery and post-abolition society; innovative approaches to labor history; studies of authoritarianism, dictatorship, and political repression; nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberalisms; citizenship and exclusion; human rights and justice; divided cities and urban shantytowns; and the critical study of historical memory and patrimony. Over the course of the semester, our coursework will be accompanied by a series of optional extramural academic and cultural events related to Brazilian history in the New York City area. No prior knowledge of Latin American history is required, and all required readings will be in English.


Middle East History

Hist. 78110 New Approaches to the Study of Middle East
GC: W, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. Samira Haj

This course will address key issues relating to the translation of the project of modernity in general and the Middle East in particular. We will also explore what it means to be modern through a range of relevant theoretical and historical accounts including the legacies of colonialism and the nature of social, political and cultural conflicts that emerged in the postcolonial era. These issues and concerns will be addressed via a close reading of Arab intellectuals and other scholars from both the colonial and postcolonial periods. The readings will by interdisciplinary and thematically organized and will not be limited to the Middle East.


African History

Hist. 72700- Atlantic Africa: Slavery, Politics & Difference
GC: T, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Herman Bennett

At its core, this course seeks to situate the study of African societies in the overlapping histories of the Atlantic and the African diaspora.  Accomplishing this task is no simple feat since African history, Atlantic studies, and the African diaspora emerged as subjects of scholarly inquiry burdened by the weight of European colonial expansion and the racialized nature of knowledge production.  The intent here is not simply to offer a relentless critique but to foster awareness of and need for historical specificity.

By employing the heuristic concepts of Atlantic and diaspora, this course focuses on the analytical work generated by studying both the spatial re-configurations of African history and resulting emergence of successive movement cultures.  As scholars, we might begin by asking how do the concept of “Atlantic” and “diaspora” complicate our understanding of disciplinary formations—including the normative assumptions that inform the study of society and culture in the African past?  In what ways do “Atlantic” and “diaspora,” for instance, enhance our perspectives on imperial, colonial and subsequently national formations and the manner in which they have been historically represented?  In utilizing Atlantic and diaspora we confront the politics of representation through which scholars render meaning out of the past and present.  For this reason, Atlantic and diaspora, like other categories of analysis, engage the vexed terrain of representation whereby scholars frame the subject of their inquiries.  In our efforts to route the study of African history through both the Atlantic and African diaspora we also engage another scholarly abstraction—the early modern period—which will delineate the genealogies of a number of analytical concepts to be discussed in the course. 

Atlantic Africa also seeks to refine our engagement with the standard categories of historical analysis framed around the political, economic, social and cultural.  In the wake of successive intellectual turns (the linguistic, feminist, cultural, the post-colonial, and archival turn), our engagement with the cultural domain has become finely honed but at the expense of our understanding of the social. This dynamic, in many respects, reflects the working of related but distinct renderings of the political. Arguably, for cultural historians narrating the political entails discursive formations and an awareness of how political rationalities are grafted on to cultural codes and grammars. While we now understand how the political related to the social draws on similar discursive formations, it also embodies a materiality—signified in the relationship of the political to the economy as in ‘political economy’—that configures it as distinct.   To this end, the course will introduce students to a range of authors and texts which will develop our analytical skills as they relate to the realm of political economy. To be clear, this is not a course in economics or political science for historians. While abstractions of the “economy” or “politics” figure prominently in the semester’s work, the course focuses on the contextualized meanings that these terms and related concepts implied for various authors and historical actors through time and space. At the same time, it should be understood that this course does not offer a formalized discussion of ‘political economy’ framed through a historiography self-consciously stylized as such. Instead by bringing a distinct selection of authors and texts into conversation seminar participants will hopefully refine their acumen for thinking and writing about the temporal and spatial specificity of early modern political economy.



Hist. 72600- Colonialism, Disease and Medicine (19th  and 20th Centuries)
GC: W, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Megan Vaughan

While European medics viewed themselves as bearers of health, hygiene and enlightenment to colonized peoples, critics of empire have often interpreted colonial biomedicine very differently.  Frantz Fanon wrote of the colonized person’s mistrust of the colonial doctor: “When the colonized escapes the doctor and the integrity of his body is preserved, he considers himself the victor by a handsome margin”. Studies of colonial medical campaigns against epidemic disease seem to reinforce this view of biomedicine as an agent of colonial power. ‘Hygiene’ was often bound up with ideas of race and segregation; colonial psychiatry gave scientific credence to the idea of the psychological ‘other’. But in practice colonial biomedicine was rarely hegemonic, rather it competed with and sometimes engaged with pre-existing medical systems and practices. Though some biomedical practices provoked resistance from colonized people, others were enthusiastically adopted. Colonial medicine was everywhere practiced and mediated by colonial subjects. When European empires declined in the mid to late-twentieth century their neglect of the health of colonized people and the inadequacies of their medical facilities appeared far more evident than the alleged power of biomedicine to control and classify. This course examines both sides of the ‘biomedical encounter’ in colonized societies, and its ambivalent legacy for postcolonial states and for today’s ‘global medicine’.  It focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with case studies drawn largely from India, Africa, and S.E. Asia.


Research and Writing Seminars

Hist. 84900- Seminar in American History II
GC: W, 4:15-6:15 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. KC Johnson

This class is designed to enable you to complete the seminar paper you began in the fall. By the end of the semester, you should know how to: 1) conduct and analyze primary and secondary sources; 2) construct a coherent historical argument rooted in original research; 3) cite sources correctly in footnotes and their bibliography; 4) criticize and revise your own work and that of others; 5) weigh different kinds of evidence; and 6) produce a potentially publishable paper. The class will conclude with a 20-minute presentation of your paper, which will be followed by commentary and questions from your peers. (This is meant to replicate what it is like to present one's work at an academic conference.)

Open only to PhD Program in History students.

Hist. 80010- Literature Survey II– American History
GC: T, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. Thomas Kessner

The objective of this course is for students to read and discuss important studies in post Civil War American history.  They will be considering the ways in which the critical elements of American history have been conceived, structured and narrated. Some of the readings are classics; others are important because they offer provocative theses about long established historical questions; yet others introduce new viewpoints and new questions for historical inquiry. The broad scope of readings provides an essential immersion in the literature of the field and promotes a textured perspective for subsequent colloquia and seminars. Students will also be considering diverse approaches and methods of historical analysis that will help them shape their own research projects.

Open only to PhD Program in History students.


Hist. 84900- Advanced Seminar in American History
GC: T, 4:15-6:15 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. Gregory Downs

In this course students will write, workshop, and rewrite a roughly 30-page research paper of publishable quality.  The paper must be based on primary sources, work with a clearly defined historiographical problem, and reflect a high level of care for prose and professional standards.  In class, we will read model essays, discuss framing and rewriting strategies, and workshop drafts.  The topic of the paper should be significantly different from each student's first year seminar paper but may constitute a piece of research that leads toward a dissertation.  The course is only open to students in the History Program who are concentrating in the US and who have completed the first year seminar. Open only to PhD Program in History students.


Hist. 84900-Seminar in Non-American History II
GC: M, 4:15-6:15 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. Mary Gibson

This course constitutes a continuation of History 74000 (Seminar in European and Non-American History I). Students will complete the research project developed in the prior course and turn their prospectuses into 30-page papers. These papers must be of publishable quality, that is, they must be based on primary sources and situate their topic within the appropriate historiographical context. During the semester, the class will read and discuss examples of model articles and, most importantly, offer constructive critiques of their colleagues’ papers.Open only to PhD Program in History students.


Hist. 80020- Literature Survey II - European History
GC: R, 4:15-6:15 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. Benjamin Hett

This course is intended to provide an introduction to the major themes and historians’ debates on modern European history from the 18th century to the present. We will study a wide range of literature, from what we might call classic historiography to innovative recent work; themes will range from state building and imperialism to war and genocide to culture and sexuality. Students will be expected to take the lead in class discussions: each week one student will have the job of introducing the literature for the week, while another student brings to class questions for discussion. Over the semester students will write a substantial historiographical paper on a subject chosen in consultation with the instructor. This paper will be due on the last day of class. After completing the course students should have a solid basic grounding in the literature of modern Europe, which will serve as a basis for preparation for oral exams as well as for later teaching and research work.Open only to PhD Program in History students.

Hist. 84900- Advanced Seminar in Non-American History
GC: M, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 5 credits, Prof. David Sorkin 

This seminar will guide students in the preparation of their second research paper.  It will provide a framework to make that task achievable.  Students will have a schedule to adhere to but, even more, the support of a community of fellow toilers.   The seminar will be conducted as a workshop in which students present their work in progress at various stages.  All students will read thoroughly, and comment extensively and critically, on everyone else’s work.  Those comments will be presented in writing (via email, in advance of the weekly seminar) and also orally, in the seminar itself.  Learning to criticize and be criticized in a productive, collegial and professional manner is one aim of the seminar.  Thus being an engaged member of the seminar community is a sine qua non.
It is understood that students will come to the course at different stages of preparation.  Some will be starting from scratch, others will be developing a topic from another course etc.   Open only to PhD Program in History students.

Hist. 89900- Dissertation Seminar
GC: T, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 0 credits, Prof. James Oakes

This workshop will give students the opportunity to develop and complete dissertation chapters. It will be conducted as a workshop with students reading and commenting on one another’s work under the professor’s guidance. We will be discussing, sometime early in the semester Peter Charles Hoffer’s Past Imperfect. Open only to Level 3 PhD Program in History students who have defended their dissertation prospectus.


See Also

Soc. 80000  - Great Transformations: Comparative-Historical Sociology
GC: T, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. John Torpey

This course introduces students to the field of comparative-historical sociology as well as to the increasingly prevalent idea of “world history.”  We will focus on approaches to making sense of major social change in the areas of religion, state formation and democratization, the uses of physical violence, revolution, and the economy.  As befits a course with these aims, readings will be substantial and will range widely across time and place.  We will emphasize especially major turning points and transformations in human history.

Phil 76200 - The Philosophy of Karl Marx
GC: T, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 4 credits, Prof. Carol Gould

This seminar aims to enhance the understanding of Marx through a focus on his social and political theory and his role in the history of philosophy and political thought. The course will begin by considering his relation to Hegel and Feuerbach, and especially his transformation of a Hegelian dialectical logic into a method of inquiry and a logic of stages of historical development. It will go on to analyze the key concepts of “species being,” as a way of understanding the relation of humans to the rest of nature; objectification, alienation, and the centrality of labor and purposive activity; the sociality--as relationality—and the equality of individuals; the notion of women as instruments of production and the role of reproduction; and the concepts of class and of fetishism. Attention will be given to the way Marx’s distinctive synthesis of philosophy with social theory can shed light on his core critique of capitalism and his work in political economy. Marx’s understanding of the varying relations of state to society, of the role played by historical emergence and social context in norms and concepts, and his critique of the limits of utopian theorizing and of liberal concepts like rights will also be analyzed. The course will proceed historically, with readings drawn primarily from his more philosophical writings, such as The 1844 Manuscripts, the German Ideology, the Grundrisse, and some parts of Capital, and will be supplemented at each stage by contemporary interpretations of his theory. Seminar members will be encouraged to relate the course materials to their ongoing research projects through oral presentations and analytical term papers, and will be expected to be active participants in the seminar discussions.

Phil 76400 - Naturalism in Contemporary Philosophy of Science
GC: W, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 4 credits, Prof. Alberto Cordero

Little consensus exists about the precise character and scope of naturalism, yet in philosophy of science projects under that label do show discernible commonalities, particularly the granting of exceptional cognitive status to the empirical sciences. In this course we’ll focus on major naturalist moves developed since the 1980s and the debates around them. About one third of the sessions will be on background seminal papers. The other two-thirds will be devoted to naturalism in action in ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, and empirical philosophy.

ART 85050 -  The Baroque
GC: T, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Amanda Wunder

This course explores the integrated interdisciplinary arts of the Baroque in seventeenth-century Europe. Major topics include theatricality, naturalism, festivals and ephemera, fashion, ritual, material culture and conspicuous consumption. Some class sessions will meet at museums and libraries (including the Frick, Met, Hispanic Society, and New York Public Library), where we will examine painting, sculpture, textiles, furnishings, and printed illustrated books. Readings will include an overview of classic art historiography on the Baroque in Europe as well as recent writings that bring new perspectives to bear from other fields (especially literature) and outside of Europe. No prior experience in early modern or art history is required or expected; students from other fields and disciplines are warmly welcomed to contribute to the class. There is no required preliminary reading, but students are encouraged to read a general survey of seventeenth-century European history for context and background.Please contact the instructor with any queries:

IDS 81630 – Life Writing: The Art of Biography
GC: T, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., 3 credits, Prof. Annalyn Swan

This course will be a sustained look at what makes biography, at its best, a genre that combines the strength of both non-fiction and fiction - the precision of historical and biographical scholarship with the insight and thrust of a good novel. As literary genres go, biography has always been something of a stepchild - and understandably so. Far too many people approach writing biography as a nuts-and-bolts recitation of a person's life. But the best biography is as different from this pedestrian approach as Jane Austen is to pulp fiction. Great biography tells the tale with panache, in short, while building on painstaking research and analysis. The course will explore the biographer's (and autobiographer's) craft through a range of subjects and styles. It will also provide students the opportunity to write a biographical introduction to, or chapter about, a person who fascinates them. Annalyn Swan is co-author, with Mark Stevens, of de Kooning: An American Master, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.