History 600 Seminars

History 600 seminars require permission from the instructor in order to enroll.  We have an early registration period for this process in order to allow students to request permission and then plan their schedules around the seminar. This early registration period begins when the courses for the upcoming semester become public (usually 3-4 weeks before senior enrollment begins). The list below contains descriptions of seminars and contact information for the seminar professors.

Once you receive permission to enroll in a seminar, the professor will forward that information to Sophie Olson, the Undergraduate Program Coordinator for the History Department. Sophie will authorize you for enrollment in the course and confirm your authorization by email. If you receive permission from the instructor during the early registration period, you will receive an email confirmation from Sophie before the beginning of senior enrollment.

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

  • Subject line: Your 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 Sophie Olson will not be able to enter your permission to enroll from the instructor until she has a campus ID #, so any delay in getting this could delay your registration 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.


Fall 2019 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600

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

History 600 Descriptions

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History 600-003: Culture & Politics in the Enlightenment – Prof. Suzanne Desan

Students interested in this course will need to meet and talk with Prof. Desan. Her office hours are in room 5120 Humanities on Tuesdays, from 3:20-5:20pm, or by appointment. She can also be contacted at smdesan@wisc.edu, but she would like to talk with students in person in order to admit them to the course.

Enlightenment thinkers and writers challenged the social and political practices of eighteenth-century Europe and its Atlantic colonies. They generated crucial new ideas about politics and society for the modern Western world, eventually contributing to the outbreak of revolution on both sides of the Atlantic. Should Europeans rule themselves with more democratic systems rather than being governed by kings? If nature guaranteed rights to all people alike, then what did that mean for the rights of religious minorities, women, and people of color? As Enlightenment thinkers turned a critical eye on their own societies, they called many practices into question, including slavery, social inequality, religious intolerance, and the harsh treatment of criminals. But we will also explore contradictions within the Enlightenment movement. Even while promoting notions of human progress and “rational” solutions to social problems, Enlightenment authors also asked how to expand the economic power of Europe across the globe and began to theorize a new science of race, gender, and human bodies. This course will examine major aspects of Enlightenment thought on politics, human nature, social hierarchy, and political economy. We will read a wide range of Enlightenment thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Adam Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Cesare Beccaria.

The major purpose of the seminar is to offer students the opportunity to do a primary-source research paper on some aspect of the Enlightenment. Students can write on diverse Enlightenment topics, including issues not raised in our collective reading. Sources can include political manifestos or political theory, travelogues, moral or medical treatises, social criticism, works of political economy or philosophy, personal letters, satirical literature, novels, etc. The second half of the course will focus on researching and writing these 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 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 before Thanksgiving. 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: Difference, Exclusion, & Resistance at UW-Madison – Prof. Stephen Kantrowitz

Students interested in this course should email Prof. Kantrowitz at skantrow@wisc.edu with a paragraph explaining their interest in the course (no more than 200 words).

A century ago, UW-Madison was home to two student organizations named “Ku Klux Klan.” This alarming fact gave rise to a year-long investigation in 2017-18, and a committee report: https://news.wisc.edu/content/uploads/2018/04/Study-Group-final-for-print-April-18.pdf. This seminar is taught by a co-author of that report. It builds on that committee’s work, and it seeks to move forward its project of telling a fuller story about how exclusion and resistance have shaped the life of the university. Our goal is to understand the nature of these exclusions, how and why they existed, and—most importantly—how students and others resisted them and worked to change the culture and practices of the university community.

This seminar will consider a wide range of experiences across the entire history of UW, from the experiences of groups who struggled to make a place here after years of total or near-total exclusion from the campus (including as African-American, Native American, and Latinx students) to those who, although present, were made to feel inferior on the basis of racial, ethnic, or religious difference, or who lived in fear of exposure and expulsion on the basis of their sexuality. Your topics will be limited only by your creativity, and by the availability of archives through which to research them. Our overall goal is to assist the new UW public history project in identifying important stories and dynamics in UW’s past; your research can help shape how future generations of students understand the place they live, work, and study.

History 600-005: Living in Pompeii: Economy and Society – Prof. Marc Kleijwegt

Students interested in this course should email Prof. Kleijwegt at marc.kleijwegt@wisc.edu to declare their interest, or come to his office hours (Tuesday 10:30am-12:00pm), or make a separate appointment if his office hours overlap with one of their classes.

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.

History 600-006: Crusader States – Prof. Elizabeth Lapina

Students interested in this course should email Prof. Lapina at lapina@wisc.edu.

The seminar will focus on relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and other states established as a consequence of the First Crusade in the late eleventh century. The seminar will begin by discussing the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the wake of the conquest of the city and a massacre of its inhabitants in 1099. It will continue by examining the experiences of representatives of different religious and cultural groups inhabiting the Kingdom in the twelfth century. In part depending on the students’ interests, the topics might include warfare (including such subtopics as castle-building and captivity), law, diplomacy, religious worship, conversion, art, medicine, kingship and queenship, and the city of Jerusalem and its significance in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. We will spend about half of the seminars discussing secondary sources and another half analyzing primary sources, written by Christians, Muslims and Jews.

History 600-007: CIA’s Covert Wars and U.S. Foreign Policy – Prof. Alfred McCoy

Students interested in this course should email Prof. McCoy at awmccoy@wisc.edu, with: (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 (f) a sentence about the reasons for their interest in the course.

Course DescriptionDesigned 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 70 years. By focusing on world regions such as 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. Sometimes these clandestine interventions succeeded brilliantly from a U.S. perspective. But sometimes they 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 its covert 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, Sukarno’s overthrow 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 overthrowing the Sukarno regime in Indonesia, 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 (f.) 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. at Room 5255 in the Humanities Building.

Office Hours:  In Room 5131 Humanities, Thursdays 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., and other hours by appointment. Messages also may be left in Mailbox No. 5026 or sent direct 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.

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 to the class.

History 600-008: Baseball & Society Since WWII – Prof. David McDonald & Commissioner Emeritus Allan Selig

Students interested in this course should email Prof. 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: Race and Nation in U.S. History – Prof. Brenda Plummer

Students interested in this course should email Prof. Plummer at bplummer@wisc.edu.

This course examines the role that race has historically played in the formation of the United States as a nation.  We begin with the colonial period and, over the course of a semester, finish by probing the late twentieth century.  The course focuses substantially but not exclusively on the foundational impact of a black and white dynamic in shaping race in the United States.  The critical events studied include war, slavery, western expansion, and the development of an urban industrial society.  Students will further develop their analytical skills as they familiarize themselves with this history, a powerful tool for understanding the totality of American life.  The objective of the course is to strengthen our knowledge of how critical aspects of today’s complex society developed.  The readings, discussions, and assignments provide a safe and respectful space to study race systematically and thoughtfully.

History 600-011: History and Film – Prof. Lee Wandel

Students interested in this course should contact Prof. Wandel by email at lpwandel@wisc.edu, or come to her office hours on Tuesdays from 10:00am-12:00pm.

We will explore both the representation of history in film and the role of film in our understanding of history. At the center of this seminar is the role of representation and story-telling in the ways we think about the past. As a group, we will explore questions of historical accuracy, the construction of historical narratives, the visualization of crisis and change.

Each student will identify one film that s/he wishes to investigate. Each will then analyze the construction of narrative – the beginning and the end of the story, protagonists, plotting. Each will consider problems of historical accuracy, for such aspects of film-making as actors, costume, period objects, furniture, lighting, spaces. Weekly meetings will involve the discussion of individual research projects at each stage of analysis: narrative, historical accuracy, and the representation of the past. At the end of the semester, each student will present a 25-page research paper.

History 600-012: History of Now – Prof. Patrick Iber

Students interested in this course should send an email to Prof. Iber at piber@wisc.edu with a short description of their interest in the course, and any prior preparation or experience they have with the course material.

History is the study of change over time, and requires hindsight to generate insight. Most history courses stop short of the present, and historians are frequently wary of applying historical analysis to our own times, before we have access to private sources and before we have the critical distance that helps us see what matters and what is ephemeral. But recent years have given many people the sense of living through historic times, and clamoring for historical context that will help them to understand the momentous changes in politics, society and culture that they observe around them. This experimental course seeks to explore the last twenty years or so from a historical perspective, using the historian’s craft to gain perspective on the present.

The course will consider major developments—primarily but not exclusively in U.S. history—of the last twenty years, including 9/11 and the War on Terror, the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, and political and cultural changes on the right and the left that have been created and shaped by those events. We will practice looking at current events and developing the research skills to place them in historical context. We will practice reading the world around us as a primary source. We will explore the promise and limits of historical analogy. And we will work to understand ourselves as actors in history, shaped by our own historical context. Finally, we will look forward, to try to think about what the future may find significant about our own time.

The final project of this course is a major research paper involving primary sources. Students will choose something important from your lifetime and explain its background and historical development. Students will also write a short version of the longer essay to present your findings to a larger audience, as if you were writing for a newspaper or magazine. There are weekly reading and short writing assignments in the first half of the semester.