History 600 Seminars

On this page you will find a list of History 600 seminars that will be offered by the Department of History in fall semester of 2021. All History 600 seminars require instructor permission in order to enroll. Please read the course descriptions carefully, and begin contacting faculty as soon as possible once you have found the seminar that you would like to take. We do not allow students to request permission from multiple instructors at the same time, so please make your choice early and only contact another instructor if you are unable to get a seat in your first-choice course. When an instructor gives their permission to have you in the course, you can be sure that your seat is reserved. You will also receive a confirmation email from Sophie Olson (Undergraduate Program Coordinator) letting you know that instructor permission has been entered into the enrollment system. Then, you should be set to enroll when your appointment time arrives.

In your emails to professors, please include the following information:

  • Subject line: History 600 Seminar
    • Emails titled in this way are more likely to receive a timely response
  • 10-Digit Campus ID#
    • •This is very important, as permission to enroll cannot be entered without your 10- digit campus ID number, so any delay in getting this information could delay your enrollment in the course
  • Why you are interested in the course

***In the descriptions below, some professors have more-specific instructions and ask for additional information, so be sure to address those items as well.

IMPORTANT: History 600 seminars are open to History majors and History certificate students who have completed a History 201 course. If you have not declared the History major or the History certificate, you must do so before you will be authorized to enroll in a seminar. See the History Advising page for information about who to contact to declare the major and certificate.


Fall 2021 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600

* Hours/days subject to change; please consult timetable.

History 600 Descriptions

Fall 2021 History 600 Seminar Information Sheet (pdf)

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History 600-001: Genocide, War Crimes Trials, and Human Rights in the 20th Century

Why do genocides happen, and how should the international community respond? What motivates the states that target minority or indigenous groups for annihilation, and the perpetrators who carry out genocidal policies? What should happen to the perpetrators in the aftermath of genocide—should they be summarily executed? Put on trial (by whom)? Allowed to reintegrate into society? Why are certain acts of state violence defined as “genocide” or “crimes against humanity,” and others as legitimate military operations? How can egregious violations of international law be prosecuted given the unequal distribution of power in the international state system?

This seminar explores these questions, and many others, by examining the international tribunals created in response to five twentieth-century genocides: the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, the Rwanda genocide, and the mass killings during the Yugoslav wars. We will investigate how these tribunals shaped ideas about human rights and humanitarian intervention, and why they so often proved controversial. The focus of the course is on the trials themselves—their origins, operations, and legacies—but we will also seek to understand the underlying causes of genocide. In addition to analyzing historical works and first- person accounts of war crimes tribunals, there will be numerous chances to work with trial documents, including a “mock trial” of Nazi perpetrators. During the second part of the course, students will write an original research paper of approximately fifteen pages on one of the cases studied in class. We will devote significant class time to discussing possible topics and primary sources, and to practicing the research and writing skills necessary to succeed on the final paper.

Instructor: Brandon Bloch

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll

History 600-002: Napoleon and His Era

This course focuses on Napoleon and the Napoleonic Era. Napoleon Bonaparte, son of a minor Corsican noble, stunned Europe with his dramatic rise to power. Having made his name as a revolutionary and a victorious general in the French Revolutionary armies, he then seized power by leading a coup d’état against that very Revolution, and crowned himself Emperor of much of Europe, only to fall from power in 1814, bounce back to rule for the Hundred Days, and meet definitive defeat at Waterloo in 1815. We will explore his fascinating life story, but above all we will examine crucial questions about the cultural, social, and political history of his era. What form did this new European empire take as it stretched from Spain to Poland? How did it relate to Napoleonic ambitions beyond Europe, including his attempts to colonize Egypt in 1798 and to restore slavery in the French Caribbean? What internal reforms did Bonaparte bring to France? For example, how did his government attempt to remake families and gender roles, deal with rebellious former revolutionaries, and assimilate Jews as French citizens? Finally, we will also ask what it was like to live under his Empire and look at resistance to his rule by diverse groups, such as former African slaves, Spanish guerilla fighters, and European intellectuals. NOTE: while we will cover Napoleon as a military leader, this is not a military history course. Instead, the reading topics vary across fields, and students’ paper topics can range widely on any topic to do with Napoleon or the Napoleonic era.

The second half of the course will focus on researching and writing seminar papers (roughly 20- 25 pages in length) and on discussing each other’s work. All of the earlier assignments of the course will be oriented toward the final research paper. These smaller assignments include a short 5-6 pp. paper on an early primary source; a 2-3 page proposal of research topic; a bibliography; an extended paper outline; and an oral report on your research and argument. Rough drafts will be due around Thanksgiving. Students will read and critique each other’s drafts of the final paper.

Instructor: Suzanne Desan

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll

History 600-003: Living in Pompeii: Economy and Society

Pompeii is like a diorama frozen in time. In 1748, the city was found under tons of rubble at the time it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The archaeological excavations of the site have revealed the living conditions of its citizens, their daily activities, the political slogans used in the elections, the stores, bakeries and workshops, the religious centers and the various avenues for entertainment. There is no city in the ancient world about which we know so much as Pompeii. This undergraduate seminar will familiarize students with the material and literary evidence on the city and will discuss many of the aspects of the daily life and activities of its citizens. The core of the seminar is a hands-on training in how to do research.

Instructor: Marc Kleijwegt

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll

History 600-005: Empire & Revolution in Southeast Asia

The course explores the nature of “empire” in an age of America’s global dominion, starting with the rise of European empires during the “high colonialism” in the late 19th century and ending with U.S. global hegemony in the early 21st century. After reviewing the literature on the rise of modern empires, the course will explore both the expansion of European colonialism into Southeast Asia and the region’s response. With the world’s most diverse array of imperial powers and a history of intense colonization, Southeast Asia is the ideal region for a close, comparative study of imperialism. The course concludes by applying insights gained from exploring the end of European empires to the ongoing decline of U.S. global power.

In this survey of European empires, the seminar will focus closely on U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines from 1898-1946, an important but forgotten chapter in American history. Indeed, in two centuries of American history, the U.S. conquest and colonization of the Philippines is the only experience comparable to our current involvement in Afghanistan. By exploring this juxtaposition of past and present in the history of America’s foreign adventures, the seminar will, in its opening and closing sessions, explore the way the past bears upon the present.

More broadly, the course will explore issues central to the character of global empires—including, the causes of imperial expansion, the drive for military security, the psychology of colonial dominion, ecological and economic transformations, the rise of nationalist resistance, and the dynamics of imperial decline.

Instead of transferring a fund of facts about European empires and anti-colonial revolutions, the seminar seeks to understand the dynamics of global dominion. Hopefully, students will emerge from the course with a better understanding of the nature of empire, the lasting legacy of colonialism, and the dynamics driving the decline of U.S. global power.

Learning Outcomes: Students should emerge from the course with (a.) improved writings skills; (b.) practice in formal oral presentations; (c.) a strategy for making a clear, convincing arguments; and (d.) ability to conduct research.

Grading: Students shall be marked on their weekly participation, writing assignments, and oral presentations. Each student shall serve as the lead “discussant” twice during the semester by presenting a 10-minute summary of the readings. Students are also responsible for reviewing and discussing the weekly reading assignments, usually totaling about 100 pages. In the last weeks of the semester, students shall submit a 15-page paper based on one of the topics they presented during the semester.

Instructor: Alfred McCoy

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll

History 600-006: Baseball & Society Since WWII

This seminar will involve participants in a semester-long discussion of the ways in which Major League Baseball both reflected and shaped broader currents of social, cultural, political and economic change in American society following World War II. Thus, rather than understand baseball’s history in terms of pennant races, players’ statistics or the other considerations that often arise in the daily press, this seminar asks students to understand baseball—and, by extension, sport in general—in the contexts that have shaped it throughout its development. Seminar participants will benefit in particular from the perspectives of Allan H. Selig, who recently completed the longest tenure of any commissioner in baseball’s history.

The seminar will consist of weekly discussions of pivotal topics or moments in post-war baseball history. These subjects will run a gamut of such likely topics as the role of race/ethnicity, a changing media landscape, the game’s geographical expansion, labor relations, baseball’s economic footprint on the nation and in localities, shifting relations between the sport and government, as well as prominent controversies over the course of the last seven decades. As preparation for discussion, students will read a set of sources, assigned by the instructors. Participation in discussion of the weekly readings accounts for a large part of the final grade. The other major component in the seminar will be a research paper of 20-25 pages on a topic of the student’s choice, using the abundant primary and secondary resources available in the Wisconsin Historical Society holdings, as well as other sources that students identify.

Instructor: David McDonald

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History 600-007: Drunk History: Alcohol in the World

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”—Benjamin Franklin*

This course examines the social history of alcohol production and consumption from 1500 to the present day. Over the course of this 500-year span, alcohol has evolved from an essential element of people’s daily diets to a discretionary commodity associated variously with pleasure, pain, and addiction. This historical transformation has radically altered consumption patterns, social attitudes, and legal regulation of alcohol. We will chart these transformations in this course.

Among the questions we will seek to answer: Where, when, and with whom did various historical actors drink alcohol? Was there a “class” hierarchy of alcoholic beverages—rum, grog, beer, wine? Why did wealthy people fear the drinking habits of the lower classes? Why was drinking considered a male privilege and female consumption of alcohol looked upon so dimly? How did the image of the alcoholic Indian develop in North America? Was there a time when people were actually encouraged to drive drunk? How and when did the idea of the medicalized “alcoholic” develop?

The course takes a cross-cultural perspective, but students are strongly encouraged to develop research projects that can be pursued at the Wisconsin Historical Society. During the first eight weeks, students will read roughly a book per week on various aspects of the history of alcohol. They will also begin developing questions for their research papers, building a bibliography, and engaging in the first steps of their research.. During weeks 9-15, students will research and write a 20-30 page paper on some aspect of the history of alcohol. The potential topics that can be researched at the WHS range from the early alcohol trade with Native Americans, to the history of local Wisconsin breweries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the history of lax drunk driving laws in Wisconsin

* Franklin is widely attributed with this quote, but he actually never said it!

Instructor: James Sweet

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History 600-008: History and Film

In this class we shall be pursuing two interconnected lines of inquiry. First, we shall learn how to evaluate any film for its historical accuracy. In so doing, we shall also be exploring the very question of accuracy: do costumes, lighting, architecture ground it? Can a modern medium represent the past? Second, we shall learn to attend to the ways films shape our sense of the past. This question extends beyond questions of “costume”—or dress—or historically correct lighting and furniture, to the ways that seeing moments enacted come to inform our thinking about past events.

Each student is to choose one film to analyze over the course of the semester. We shall talk about those choices in the third class meeting. Each will then research that choice for historical accuracy in terms that will differ from film to film: each student will present a brief summary of the historiography for the film. Each student will present historical analysis as a 20-minute oral report in class. Each will then consider how that film has shaped his/her/their understanding of the moment in history the film depicts, which will form the second 20-minute oral report in class. For the oral reports, each student should be prepared to present clips of the film and have comments organized in an outline to lead the class through the analysis of the film and its representative segments. Each student will write a 6000-word research paper, due the last day of class.

Instructor: Lee Wandel

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll