History 600 Seminars

Below you will find a list of History 600 seminars that will be offered by the Department of History in fall semester of 2020. 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. Once the instructor has given you permission, they will forward this permission on to Sophie Olson (Undergraduate Program Coordinator), who will enter the information into the online system and send you an email confirmation so that you can enroll when your enrollment appointment arrives. We do not allow students to “shop” for History 600s by requesting 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.

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 the permission to enroll will not be able to be entered without the 10-digit campus ID number of the student, so any delay in getting this information could delay your enrollment for 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 who have completed a History 201 course. If you have not declared History as your major, you must do so before you will be authorized to enroll in a seminar.

Fall 2020 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600

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

History 600 Descriptions

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History 600-004: American-Chinese Relations in the 20th Century

Instructor: Professor Judd Kinzley

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Judd Kinzley by email (kinzley@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

This course is an attempt to understand the changing dimensions of the Sino-American relationship from the late 19th century up to today. We will examine this relationship from a number of different perspectives, including foreign policy, economic, ideological, and cultural interactions over this long time period. The idea is to give students the tools and context to better comprehend the complex, changing connection between these two global superpowers over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.


History 600-005: Living in Pompeii: Economy and Society

Instructor: Professor Marc Kleijwegt

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Marc Kleijwegt (marc.kleijwegt@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

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.

The credit standard for this 3-credit course is met by an expectation of a total of 135 hours of student engagement with the course’s learning activities (at least 45 hours per credit or 9 hours per week), which include regularly scheduled meeting times (group seminar meetings of 115 minutes per week), dedicated online time, reading, writing, individual consultations with the instructor, and other student work as described in the syllabus.

History 600-007: Empire & Revolution – U.S. & European Colonial Rule in Southeast Asia

Instructor: Professor Alfred McCoy

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

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.

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. In its closing sessions, the seminar will apply these historical lessons to analyzing the future course of U.S. global power.

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 seminar room 5255 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.

Class Presentations: Each student shall serve as the lead “discussant” twice during the semester by presenting a 15-minute summary of the readings. Students are also responsible for reviewing and discussing the weekly reading assignments, usually totaling about 100 pages.

Final Paper: In the last weeks of the semester, students shall submit a 15-page paper on one of the topics they presented during the semester. About three weeks before the paper is due, students shall meet with the instructor during office hours to discuss their progress.

History 600-008: Baseball & Society Since WWII

Instructor: Professor David McDonald

Students interested in this course should email Professor David McDonald (dmmcdon1@wisc.edu) with: 1) a statement outlining what they hope to learn or explore at greater length through a reading and research seminar, and 2) a list of all courses they have taken to date that would provide them with background for this seminar. Students will receive priority for admission in accordance with their stage in the major and their relative preparation.

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.

History 600-009: Du Bois for Today

Instructor: Professor Brenda Gayle Plummer

Students interested in this course should contact Professor Brenda Gayle Plummer by email (bplummer@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

W. E. B. Du Bois, African American journalist, activist, historian, sociologist, poet, novelist, and playwright, was a cultural giant whose work is constantly being reevaluated. Du Bois’s impact on contemporary intellectual life is extensive. He is valued as a literary figure whose contributions to American letters have yet to be fully probed, and as a cultural analyst whose perceptive studies of race relations are still widely consulted by contemporary social scientists, literary critics, and theorists. Du Bois’s long life, spanning Reconstruction through civil rights protest in the early 1960s, is in many respects a microcosm of the modern period and encompasses the most dramatic events of the 20th century. As an activist as well as an intellectual, Du Bois helped shape many of these events. The 21st century is still harvesting this polymath’s rich insights. This Du Bois colloquium will focus on four themes in Du Bois’s life and work: race, gender, imperialism, and culture.

Organization – The class format features lectures, discussion, and student-initiated presentations. Students will work on a seminar paper based on research they have done on Du Bois’s published writings and/or his papers. As Du Bois’s interests were widely ranging, students have a wide choice of what to study. They can focus on that aspect of Du Bois they find most engaging and that has pertinence for today’s issues. Students will share the results of their work with other students in class meetings, and submit the paper at the end of the course.

History 600-010: Genocide, War Crimes Trials, and Human Rights in the 20th Century

Instructor: Professor Brandon Bloch

Students interested in this course should contact Scott Burkhardt by email (stburkhardt@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

When does an act of state violence count as a “genocide” or “crime against humanity”? Do the perpetrators of mass atrocities deserve a fair trial? Who should prosecute egregious violations of international law? This seminar explores these questions, and many others, by examining the international tribunals created following the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia. We will investigate how these trials shaped ideas about human rights and humanitarian intervention, and why they so often proved controversial. Throughout, we analyze the relationship between justice, politics, and law, as well as the relevance of twentieth-century war crimes trials for confronting mass violence in our own time. Students will gain practice analyzing trial documents by staging a “mock trial” of Nazi authorities. For the culminating assignment, students will complete an original research paper related to one of the tribunals studied in the course.

History 600-011: Totalitarianism

Instructor: Francine Hirsch

Special Note: This course is a completely online History 600. The purpose of this format is to accommodate practical and urgent student needs. Preference for enrollment will be given to graduating seniors who are history majors and cannot attend a face-to-face version of History 600 during fall 2020.

Students interested in this course should email Scott Burkhardt (stburkhardt@wisc.edu) in order to request permission to enroll. In the email, students should include their campus ID number, year in college, major, and a brief description of their interest in the course. Priority will be given to History majors who have completed History 201.

In 1949 George Orwell published his novel 1984, warning the world of the perils of “totalitarianism. The world had just witnessed the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and the expansion of Stalin’s Soviet Union into Eastern Europe. Two years later, Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, examining Nazism and Stalinism as terrifying examples of a completely new form of government that threatened the future of humankind. In the decades since then, philosophers, political scientists, historians, psychologists, pundits, and others have used the term “totalitarianism to describe a wide range of states, political movements, and even parenting styles. But what is “totalitarianism ? And how useful is this term? What can we learn from a comparison of Nazism and Stalinism? And what can we take away from the lessons of the past? This reading and research seminar will engage these questions and more. We will start by reading Orwell, Arendt, and other classic works on totalitarianism. Next, we will look at Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, examining politics, propaganda, terror, and everyday life under both regimes. Finally, we will investigate how theories about “totalitarianism have evolved over time and how the term has been used in the decades after the Cold War.