University of Wisconsin–Madison

History 600 Seminars

History 600 seminars are advanced-level seminars, designed to test and refine the research and writing skills gained through the study of history. A History 600 is required for all History majors and should be taken in sequence after the completion of a History 201(Comm B). The capstone of the History major, 600 seminars meet once a week for two hours of discussion, and are generally organized around the production of a research paper of substantial length. Multiple sections of History 600 are offered every fall and spring semester, each with its own unique topic led by an expert in that particular subject. Every History 600 requires the consent of the instructor to enroll. Below you will find enrollment instructions for gaining admission into a 600 seminar.

History 600 Enrollment Instructions: The enrollment process for History 600 seminars being offered during the upcoming semester begins the week prior to release of that semester’s online Course Guide. Registering early for your History 600 will allow you to plan the rest of your semester schedule around your History 600 seminar and balance your workload accordingly. Majors will receive an email containing a list of the seminar topics being offered along with descriptions of each topic and instructions from each instructor on seeking enrollment. As soon as these topics are released, students can begin contacting instructors to seek enrollment permission. Declared majors have priority for enrollment, with deference to graduating seniors. After choosing a topic, follow the seminar-specific instructions for obtaining permission to enroll. Many instructors prefer that you contact them over email. Email messages should include “History 600” in the subject line. The body of the email should include grade level, major(s), as well as a few sentences explaining your interest in a particular seminar. It can also be helpful to note any previous courses you’ve taken with the instructor and explain what you hope to gain from the class.

Once you obtain permission from an instructor, Isaac Lee will email you to confirm your authorization and explain how to enroll for the course.

Spring 2018 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600



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

History 600 Descriptions

  • Seminar 001 - Terrorism in Historical Perspective - Professor Laird Boswell

    Students interested in this course should email Professor Boswell at lboswell@wisc.edu.

    Since 9/11 there has been an outpouring of work on terrorism.  Much of this work, however, focuses on the present.  This seminar is designed to help students locate terrorism in history.  We will focus on the European case over the past 150 years, beginning with Russia and France in the late nineteenth century, and moving on to Italy and Germany in the 1970s, and “religious” terrorism in the present day.  Among the questions we will grapple with: Why is terrorism so difficult to define?  Is there such as thing as state terrorism?  Is the current wave of terrorism, as some observers claim, particularly new and irrational?  Is there a link between terrorism and modernity?  Our readings and discussion will be designed to help students understand the key historical questions surrounding the study of terrorism.  During the second half of the seminar students will research and write a 20-25 page research paper.

    This seminar will focus series of Hollywood-produced motion pictures with plots set in the context of American politics.  We will examine them as historical documents that – in some symbolic way – represent contemporary attitudes about the success and failure of the American democracy.

  • Seminar 003 – CIA Covert Warfare & U.S. Foreign Policy - Professor Al McCoy

    Students interested in taking this seminar, should send Al McCoy a short email at awmccoy@wisc.edu, stating: (a.) their status (Junior, Senior); (b.) major (History or other); (c.) past courses with this instructor; (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.

    Designed for undergraduates with some background in U.S. diplomatic history and international relations, the course will probe the dynamics of CIA covert wars through comparative case histories over the past 70 years. Through a focus 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 have ended successfully from a U.S. perspective. But sometimes they left behind ruined battlegrounds and ravaged societies that became geopolitical 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 the Huk communist revolt in the Philippines, destabilization of 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 and Iraq.

    Students should finish the seminar with knowledge about a key facet of U.S. foreign policy, sharpened analytical ability, improved oral presentations, and better writing skills.

  • Seminar 004 – Baseball & Society Since WWII – Professor David McDonald & Commissioner Emeritus Allan Selig

    If you are interested in applying for this seminar, please send a statement outlining what you hope to learn or explore at greater length through a reading- and research seminar.  In addition, please list all courses you have taken to date that would provide you with background for this seminar.  Students will receive priority for admission in accordance with their stage in the major and their relative preparation.  Submit these materials to Prof. McDonald by email:  dmmcdon1@wisc.edu.

    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 localities, the 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 in the first part of the course, and later combining readings chosen by the instructors and individual students.  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.

  • Seminar 007 – Gender and the Second World War – Professor Mary Lou Roberts

    Students interested in this course should visit Professor Roberts during her office hours on Tuesdays from 1:15pm to 3:15pm in 5101 Humanities. If you are unable to make office hours, please e-mail Professor Roberts at maryroberts@wisc.edu to set up a time to meet.

    This is a research seminar about the Second World War in Europe and the United States. In particular,  we will focus on the ways in which gender figures in the experience of war.  Some questions we will ask include: How do men and women experience World War differently? Why are women not allowed on the front lines?  Why are men who don’t want to fight denigrated as traitors and cowards?  What does it mean to be a male “warrior” or “hero”? How are violence and aggression connected to normative “manly” behaviors?   What special vulnerabilities, such as rape, do women suffer in wartime?  What special opportunities do they enjoy? In other words, how do gender identities shape war and are shaped by it?

    The major purpose of this seminar is to offer students the opportunity to do a primary-source research paper on some gendered aspect of the Second World War.   Students will be encouraged to explore local archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum as well as use Memorial Library.   During the first half of the course, we will examine various aspects of the problem of gender and war.   In the second half, we will work together on students’ research papers, learning how to write a proposal,  go to archives,  formulate a research question, and write a paper.

  • Seminar 008 – Imagining American Politics in Hollywood Film – Professor John Sharpless

    Students interested in this course should arrange to talk with Professor Sharpless in person. He can be reached via e-mail at jbsharpl@wisc.edu. His office hour is on Wednesdays from 11:00am-12:00pm & by appointment.

    This seminar will explore the subgenera of American motion pictures – the “political movie” and how it relates to trends in American politics over time.  We will cover the period roughly from 1930 to the present. Hollywood writers, directors and producers have, over the decades, produce films that represent American politics in various ways (often in not very flattering terms).  Such films as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Citizen Cane,” “The Last Harrah,” “The Candidate,” “Wagging the Dog” and “Ides of March,” have generally portrayed politicians as self-centered, deceptive and manipulative.  The citizenry is portrayed as gullible and easily manipulated.

    Is Hollywood really that cynical?  Or, is it simply that a “bad guys” versus “good guys” story makes for a more interesting movie?  Are there changes that have occurred over time as Hollywood elites become more alienated from the American political mainstream?  What, for example, was the effect of the anti-communist movement (1950s) or the anti-Vietnam War movement (1960s) on the political content of American film?  The “public image” of Hollywood is now that it is decidedly “liberal” (and Democrat) but has that always been the case?

  • Seminar 010 – History and Film – Professor Lee Wandel

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Wandel at lpwandel@wisc.edu.

    This course 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 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 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.

  • Seminar 012 – Labworlds: Past and Present – Professor Catherine Jackson

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Jackson at cjackson8@wisc.edu.

    It’s an interesting word, laboratory. But what does it mean?

    Associated with many sites of manipulative labor in the pre-modern period, the nineteenth century laboratory was made exclusively scientific – and predominantly chemical. Today, the tables have turned once more and labs are everywhere, not just in university science departments and research institutes. Look around and you’ll see the UW-Madison campus is littered with laboratories: the Art Department has its Glass Lab, and even History has a History Lab. Beyond campus, labs are pervasive elements of popular culture, from TV crime shows populated by improbably glamorous wo/men in white coats to coffee-making equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in a science lab. So, what are labs? What are they for? And why do they capture the mood of the present so well? Join this class to learn how historians and scholars in related fields understand the lab, today and in the past. And take this opportunity to have your say by writing your own lab history or contribution to lab studies.

    This class serves as the capstone undergraduate research seminar in history of science but is open to any undergraduate interested in the subject matter provided they have taken at least one previous history class at UW-Madison, subject to the consent of the instructor.

  • Seminar 013 – Interfaith Relations in the Crusader States – Professor Elizabeth Lapina

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Lapina at lapina@wisc.edu.

    The topic of the seminar has to do with crusades and with Crusader States established by crusaders in the Middle East. The seminar will focus on the city of Jerusalem and particularly on three moments when the city changed hands: July 15, 1099; July 4, 1187 and March 17, 1229. The new rulers were, correspondingly, crusaders, Saladin and Emperor Frederick II. We will analyze primary sources, both Christian and Muslim, that make it possible for us to learn about these three events. We will also inscribe the events in the broader context of encounters between Christians, Muslims, and Jews during the crusading era, both on and off the battlefield. Some of the topics that we will discuss include sacred sites, development of military technology, diplomacy and everyday interactions.

  • Seminar 014 – Technology and Environment in America – Dr. Lisa Ruth Rand

    Students interested in the seminar should email Dr. Rand at lrrand@wisc.edu.

    As climate change has become an increasingly heated topic of national and international conversation, Americans across a spectrum of political and professional affiliations often invoke technology as both a cause and potential solution. In American culture, an enthusiasm for innovation often overshadows the messier ways that humans interact with our surroundings using the artifacts and technologies that we create. In this course, we will examine the interplay between environment and technology in America, from before the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent through present debates about our changing planet. We will consider the boundaries that different groups have drawn between natural and artificial, and how these definitions have shaped the cultural, political, and material landscape of America. How useful are these boundaries, and how might challenging them help us rethink America’s history—and its future?

    In this seminar, students will practice using the tools and methods of history to make a clear, persuasive argument. Each student will choose a relevant term project topic of personal interest in consultation with the instructor. Assignments throughout the term will cumulatively build into an original piece of writing grounded in primary and secondary source research. In class, we will read and discuss texts that explore intersections of technology and the environment in American history, both to learn about the substance of these texts but also to gain insight on how to craft effective, readable historical writing. Students will learn how to use archival materials, practice critically analyzing historical texts, and participate in the discussion, debate, and consensus necessary to build and maintain a dynamic understanding of the past.