History 600 Seminars

Below you will find a list of History 600 seminars that will be offered by the Department of History in spring semester of 2021. All History 600 seminars require instructor consent 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 “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. When an instructor gives their consent 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) after December 7th 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 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 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.

Spring 2021 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600

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

History 600 Descriptions

Spring 2021 History 600 Seminar Information Sheet (pdf)

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History 600-001 : Gandhi, King, Mandela: Non-Violence in the World

Instructor: Professor Mou Banerjee


Students interested in this course should email Professor Mou Banerjee (mbanerjee4@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

This course is a historical introduction to the idea and practice of non-violence as a method of civil resistance and political protest. We shall study the global evolution of political strategies of non-violence in the 20th century. We shall compare and contrast the evolution of different strategies of non-violent political protests as these emerged in political regimes in the regions of South Asia, South Africa and the USA through the inspired political leadership of transformative leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. We will meditate on whether nonviolence is an outdated mode of public protest in the 20th and 21st century, a weapon of the weak, or if it still holds within itself the transformative power of morally destabilizing authoritarian regimes. By the end of this course, students will have achieved the following course learning outcomes – students will demonstrate a strong knowledge of the history and political practice of non-violence in the world. They will also demonstrate the ability to do historical research and analysis, including the use of primary sources and demonstrate the ability to write a final research paper, of a length of 18-20 pages, of publishable quality.

The main objective of this course is to help you think and write critically about the discourses of non-violent and civil disobedience practices and strategies of resistance. We will also think through the ways in which imagined communities of protestors are created. We will do this through close reading and analysis of primary sources and secondary material, as well as through writing assignments. In the written assignments, we shall work on identifying and engaging with historical arguments through examination and contextualization of primary sources and through critiques of academic monographs or articles.

History 600-002 : Histories of Death and Survival in the Holocaust

Instructor: Professor Amos Bitzan


Students interested in this course should email Professor Amos Bitzan (abitzan@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

The aim of this course is to study the ways in which individuals and families attempted to cope with, evade, and sometimes resist the anti-Jewish policies enacted by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945 in different parts of Europe. Our goal will be to understand what choices these victims and survivors had and how they acted in the face of a resolute program of persecution and ultimately genocide. We will first learn about those policies and then examine the lives of those whom they targeted.

Your primary task in the course will be to produce a rigorously researched account of one individual ensnared in the web of Nazi anti-Jewish policies, starting with a testimony drawn from the Wisconsin Holocaust Survivors Oral History Collection or from two collections of WWII-era correspondence made available by alumni of the university. To research these you will draw on the tools of general genealogical research as well as databases and digitized archives and specific to the history of the Holocaust, such as those at Yad Vashem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Bad Arolsen.

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Know how to use a range of genealogical tools and sources of information
  • Assess how particular primary sources can allow us to answer specific questions as well as to determine their limitations
  • Seek out and draw on high-quality secondary sources to connect the experiences of individuals to larger historical events and processes
  • Write an effective research paper using primary and secondary sources
  • Answer historical questions about Nazi policies of persecution and the experiences of those victimized by them

History 600-003 : Women and Gender During the French Revolution

Instructor: Professor Suzanne Desan


Professor Desan needs to meet and talk with you online if you want to take the course. She has office hours via Zoom on Thursdays 3:30-5:30; and additional office hours just for the History 600 on Wed., Dec. 9, 3:30-5pm. Please contact Professor Desan first by email to get a Zoom link for her office hours or to set up an alternate appointment: smdesan@wisc.edu. She looks forward to talking with you and answering any questions.

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, how did it open up space for women from all walks of life to participate in politics? We will look at how various groups of women engaged in the Revolution: Parisian women activists demanding bread and political change; Queen Marie-Antoinette as actor and symbol; early feminist authors; foreign radicals; cross-dressing women in the revolutionary armies; counterrevolutionary women who defended King, God, and traditional ways of life.  Second big question: How did the revolutionary era call into question gender ideology and how did gender imagery inform discussions of politics and new power dynamics? We will examine how the French revolutionaries used sexualized language to attack opponents and ask why they chose female figures to represent the French Republic and political ideals, like Liberty or Equality. The course also will assess historians’ debates over the impact of the Revolution on gender, domesticity, and women. During the first half of the course, we will do some background reading and sample a variety of primary sources.

The second half of the course will focus on the major purpose of the seminar: researching and writing a primary-source research paper (20-25 pages) on some aspect of women and/or gender in the French Revolution.   Primary sources for these diverse papers can include political writings; police records; revolutionary pamphlets; personal letters or memoirs; moral or medical treatises; literary works; or revolutionary imagery or caricature; etc.   All of the earlier assignments of the course will be oriented toward the final research paper. These smaller assignments include a short, 5-6 page paper on an early primary source; a 2-3 page proposal of topic; a bibliography; an extended paper outline; and an oral presentation on research projects. Then the rough drafts will be due in mid April. Students will read and critique each other’s drafts of the final paper and complete final drafts by the last class day.

History 600-004 : CIA’s Covert Wars & US Foreign Policy

Instructor: Professor Alfred McCoy

IN PERSON – This seminar will meet on Tuesdays from 11:00 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. in a Room in the Humanities Building that will be announced at a later date

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

Course Description:  Designed for undergraduates with some background in U.S. diplomatic history or international relations, the course will probe the dynamics of CIA covert wars through comparative case histories over the past 75 years. By focusing on world regions such as Europe, Latin America, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, the seminar will explore the central role these covert wars played in international history during the Cold War and its aftermath. These clandestine interventions often succeeded brilliantly from a U.S. perspective. But they sometimes left behind ruined battlegrounds and ravaged societies that became veritable black holes of international instability.

After several sessions reviewing the origins of the CIA and its distinctive patterns of clandestine warfare, the seminar will apply a case-study approach to covert wars in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America—including, the anti-Mossadeq coup in Iran, overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia, Lumumba’s murder in the Congo, and the ongoing covert war in Afghanistan. Reflecting the significance of Southeast Asia to CIA operations, the seminar will devote four sessions to this region, including anti-Sukarno operations in Indonesia, pacification of communist insurgency in the Philippines, counter-guerilla operations in South Vietnam, and the secret war in Laos—arguing that the latter two operations are central to understanding contemporary conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.

Through the sum of such content, students should finish the seminar with knowledge about a key facet of U.S. foreign policy and a lifelong capacity to analyze future international developments. Beyond such data, the course will give students sharpened analytical abilities, refined research tactics, improved oral presentations, and better writing skills.

Application:  Students interested in taking this seminar, should send me a short email at <awmccoy@wisc.edu>, stating: (a.) their status (Junior, Senior); (b.) major (History or other); (c.) past courses with this instructor, if any; (d.) GPA (overall and in major); (e.) campus ID (to facilitate registration); and  (e.) a sentence about the reasons for their interest in the course.

Class Meetings: This seminar will meet on Tuesdays from 11:00 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. in a Room in the Humanities Building that will be announced at a later date.

Office Hours:  If covid conditions permit, in Room 5131 Humanities, Thursdays 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., and other hours by appointment. If covid conditions persist, then requests for remote meetings during those designated hours should be sent via email to <awmccoy@wisc.edu>

Grading:  In addition to participating in each class, students shall be marked upon their participation in discussions and their writing assignments.

Class Attendance: Attendance is required. For an effective seminar discussion, students are expected to do the weekly readings.

Class Presentations: Starting in week one, each class meeting shall begin with every student presenting a brief, two-minute analysis of the topic based on two or more assigned readings. Then, starting in week two, several students shall offer a 15-minute discussion of most of the readings for the week, which can serve as the basis for their final essays.

Final Paper: Drawing upon both primary and secondary sources, students shall write a fifteen-page essay on a single CIA covert war or clandestine operation, usually by expanding upon one of their oral presentations.


History 600-005 : 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 600-006 : Law and Legality in the American West

Instructor: Professor Allison Powers Useche


Interested students may contact Professor Allison Powers Useche via email at auseche@wisc.edu to discuss the seminar. She is also happy to set up Zoom meetings to talk about the course. In their email, students should include their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

The historical American West is often depicted as a site of “illegality.” From the so-called “frontier justice” of the nineteenth century to cities labelled “anarchist jurisdictions” under the recent administration, the United States government has used the threat of lawlessness to justify practices otherwise deemed unacceptable in a constitutional democracy. But marginalized groups in the places that have come to be called the West have also used legal institutions to challenge existing power hierarchies and to enact distinct visions of politics that have produced enduring changes in American society. This seminar explores how the American West as both idea and place has served as a crucial site in which debates over the contours of legality have shaped meanings of freedom in the United States. Throughout the course, we will explore how legal regimes have produced, enforced, and at times disrupted various models of political belonging and exclusion including categories of citizenship, immigration status, sovereignty, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, gender, labor, sexuality, and criminality. Themes to be addressed include empire, migration, capitalism, policing, incarceration, militarization, public health, and environmental management. By interrogating the ways in which the rule of law has been used to both naturalize and challenge relations of power in the American West, the seminar offers insight into the historical dimensions of some of the most enduring controversies in the United States today.

History 600-007 : European Populism, 1945 to the Present

Instructor: Professor Laird Boswell


Students interested in this course should email Professor Laird Boswell (lboswell@wisc.edu) with their campus ID number, major, year in college, and a brief description of their interest in the course.

This seminar focuses on the history of populism, especially right wing populism, in Europe from the end of the Second World War to the present.   The revival of a powerful radical right has been a crucial turning point in late twentieth century European politics.  Over the course of the semester, we will place the movement in historical perspective and analyze its revival.  What are the social and political roots of the contemporary extreme right and why has it met with success in some of the European Union’s most prosperous and stable countries?  How did the extreme right reconstruct itself in the wake of fascism’s defeat in 1945?  Is it best characterized as a type of neofascism or as a new form of populism?  Our readings, which will introduce you to a range of interpretations, focus on France (the Front National), Belgium (the Vlaams Blok), Austria (the FPÖ), Italy (the MSI and the Lega Nord), and Holland (Pim Fortuyn).  For their research papers, students are welcome to focus on other countries and can also work on the development of left wing forms of populism over the past two decades.

We will meet for the first 7-8 weeks of the semester to discuss common readings.  During the second half of the semester students will research and write a 20 page research paper based on primary and secondary sources.

This course will be taught online. If the public health situation improves, we may be able to schedule some one-on-one meetings later in the semester.