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 2023. 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 2023 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600

* Hours/days subject to change; please consult Course Search & Enroll.

History 600 Descriptions

Fall 2023 History 600 Seminar Information Sheet (pdf)

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History 600-002: Housing America

Many of the most urgent issues in U.S. history have involved housing. At their core they have centered on a variety of fundamental questions. These include social questions about how society should be organized; moral questions such as what people owe each other; political questions about resources and boundaries; cultural questions about representations of the American Dream; and economic questions about a property’s value and use as a financial tool rather than as shelter. The Housing America seminar explores these and more. Topics include redlining, government-subsidized housing, homelessness, gentrification, and suburbanization.

During the first part of the course we will build a common foundation through discussing readings and examining primary sources. These sources will include a multiplicity of voices and formats since the history of housing can be glimpsed in everything from maps and planning documents to advertisements and legislation. If conditions permit, we will also leave the classroom to practice analyzing the built environment itself as a text. During the second half of the semester, students will apply these foundations and practices to writing a 20-page research paper on a topic of their choice.

No background knowledge on housing is needed.

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Paige Glotzer via email (pglotzer@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-004: 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 analysis of the different types of evidence on the city (material evidence, artifacts, inscriptions, and the literary evidence). On the basis of the primary evidence aspects of the daily life and activities of its citizens will be studied.  These include the political elite, the economy, women, and the religious landscape. The core of the seminar – in the final five weeks of the semester – is a hands-on training in how to do research on a chosen topic.

The objective of this seminar is to write a 15-20 page paper on a topic related to Pompeii, Herculaneum, or Stabia (the main focus of the seminar is on Pompeii, but you are welcome to write a paper on any of the three cities or on a topic that covers all three cities).

It is good to know:

  1. Over the last couple of years archaeological work on Pompeii has intensified, which has resulted in many spectacular discoveries, such as the tomb in which was found the mummified body of a former public slave, a painting of a gladiatorial fight on the wall of a tavern, and the remains of several horses in a stable attached to a villa just outside the city walls. Also several houses in the city have been restored and reopened to the public.
  2. Ancient history is not an exact science. The history of anything and everything in Pompeii is highly contested. Scholars disagree with each other and the dominant views on important aspects of Pompeii have changed over the decades. Know who the author is that you are reading and where they stand in the discussion on the topic that you have chosen. It matters whether you pick up a book on Pompeii which was written in 1968; 1988; 1998; 2008, or 2018.
  3. Ancient History is about argument. The best argument creates a consensus amongst scholars who work on the same topic until it is dropped in favor of a ‘better’ argument. Always be alert to read the evidence (primary sources) within the context of an argument. Primary sources are not isolated facts; they can be pushed to support different arguments. This is not to say that every scholar does this correctly; be prepared to critique scholars by designing an argument against a particular viewpoint.

Students interested in this course should contact Prof. Kleijwegt by email (marc.kleijwegt@wisc.edu). The email should contain: campus ID number, major(s), year in college, History 201 class (Comm B), and a brief description of your interest in the course. 

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-005: Health & Healing in Modern Africa

This seminar will examine the reach, effect, and historical lineages of global health interventions in Africa. Drawing on both historical and anthropological studies, we will explore the history of medical and scientific research in Africa, raising questions about the shifting intellectual and ethical underpinnings of various undertakings in the twentieth and twenty-first century. We will also examine the ways in which different historical perspectives inform and transform our understanding of more contemporary developments, such as the emergence of medical humanitarianism and the flourishing of health-related non-governmental organizations in the Global South. As part of the course, students will produce a research paper based on primary sources on a topic developed in consultation with Professor Kodesh.

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Neil Kodesh (kodesh@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-006: The Middle Ages in Film

In this course we will watch, read about and discuss a series of films on various medieval subjects. Some of these films will be blockbusters, but most will be films that are little known to the general public. Some of them will be recent, but most will date from the middle to late 20th century. Some of them will be American, the rest — European and Asian. With the help of both secondary and primary sources, we will gain an awareness of medieval realities and medieval texts on which these films are based. However, we will move beyond simply noting whether each film is offering a faithful or an unfaithful representation of historical events and will attempt to understand what attracted modern filmmakers to medieval history in the first place and what concerns – be they artistic, political, social, religious, etc. – made them represent it in the ways that they did. Two topics in particular will be at the center of our discussion: violence and gender. The students will have to choose a film, a cluster of films, or a topic that runs across a series of films, which they will analyze in their essays and oral presentations.

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Elizabeth Lapina via email (lapina@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-007: The Italian Renaissance: A Global History

The Italian Renaissance radically changed almost every facet of early modern Italian life — art, architecture, culture, economics, politics, and society. Renaissance artists, patrons, thinkers, writers, and rulers remain household names even today. The lives of Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Isabella d’Este, Lorenzo “il Magnifico” de’ Medici, Vittoria Colonna, Niccolò Machiavelli, Catherine de’ Medici, and Galileo Galilei endlessly excite our imaginations. This course delves into the historical context of the Renaissance movement as it began in Italy, circulated throughout Europe, and, eventually, travelled to every part of the early modern world. Key themes include Renaissance art, the commercial revolution, urbanization, and the Columbian Exchange. Throughout the course, students will compose an original research essay drawing on primary sources in translation from the Renaissance.

Students interested in this course can attend Professor Michael Martoccio’s office hours (Tuesdays 2-4pm HUM 4115) or email him (martoccio@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-008: Empire & Revolution in Southeast Asia

Course Description: 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 recent 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, construction of race and gender, 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.

Class Meetings: The seminar is scheduled to meet on Tuesdays, 11:00 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. in room 5257 in the Humanities Building.

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.

Student interested in taking the seminar should send a short email with their (a.) campus ID (for registration); (b.) student status (senior/junior/grad student); (c.) major/discipline; (d.) GPA; and; (e.) reasons for their interest in the class to awmccoy@wisc.edu.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-010: Law & the Sacred in the Middle Ages

Both law and religion penetrated every part of medieval European life. Could a soldier also be a Christian? When were military invasions justified? Could prisoners of war be enslaved? Could refugees be expelled from a church? Could a priest who committed crimes be prosecuted? Could you marry your second cousin? The answers, which in many cases are rather surprising, constituted a legal landscape that was complex and affected nearly every part of life in European society. In some cases, the answers to these questions continued to shape modern American law in surprising ways.

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Karl Shoemaker via email (kbshoemaker@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-011: London: Imperial Metropolis

This subject of this seminar is London, as a lived and imagined place: for a long time the largest city in Europe; the first modern metropolis; the center of a thriving commercial culture; a global capital of finance; the heart of modern imperial Britain. The English writer James Boswell notoriously thought that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The French philosopher Voltaire was one of the many who envied it as an exemplary site of modern civil society. London was seen as a source of pleasure, but quite often, as representing, and harboring, all the threats and maladies of modernity. Whereas some saw London as affording opportunities for sociability, pleasure, anonymity, or an escape from the constraints of home, others saw vice, degeneration, decay, and collapse of the social fabric. While some were allured by its increasingly cosmopolitan or multi-cultural nature, others saw it as a threat to what they regarded as the fundamental aspects of Britishness. For better or worse, for the past two centuries, modern meant urban, and urban meant London.

The first half of the seminar will be devoted readings and discussions that will direct us to grappling with the questions and problems that animate historical research on London. We will read on diverse topics such as Jack the Ripper, sexuality, slums, politics, shopping, public health, mapping, markets, riots, race, and immigration. The second part of the seminar will be devoted to writing an original 20-25pp. original research paper based on primary sources (numerous such sources are available). Course assignments include shorter written responses (1-2pp.), oral presentations, peer criticism and collegiality.

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Daniel Ussishkin (ussishkin@wisc.edu) via email with “History 600” as the subject and include a list of their previous European history classes (none are fine too, it helps to plan the class), campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.

History 600-012: 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 15-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 15-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.

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Lee Wandel via email (lpwandel@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major(s), year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

For more information, visit Course Search & Enroll.