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.

Fall 2018 – History 600 Seminar Topics

History 600

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

History 600 Descriptions

  • Seminar 001 - Migration and Me - Professor Kathryn Ciancia

    Students interested in this course should email Professor Ciancia at or come to office hours, Tuesdays, 3:30-5:00 PM.

    Many of us have heard stories about the movement of our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents from place to place—and even from continent to continent. Such histories of migration, whether within or across international borders, are always personally dramatic: people flee persecution or move for economic advancement; they leave behind loved ones and attempt to make a new life in a new place; they miss home and then ask themselves what “home” even means. Stories of migration become lodged into family lore; they frequently act as myths about what families mean to their members, even if we are not entirely sure exactly how, why, or even if these events happened.

    While genealogical research is often the work of non-professional historians, this class allows students to situate characters from their own families within the broader historical contexts to which those people belong. During the first half of the semester, students will read examples of this genre of history; learn how to work with internet-based genealogical search engines, such as, Ellis Island records, and national censuses; practice scouring local and national newspapers; explore the best practices for conducting oral histories with family members; and discuss how they might analyze treasured family objects. In the second half of the class, students will write a research paper, reconstructing the experiences of family members—living or dead—and using those people’s stories as a lens through which to explore larger issues linked to migration, such as class, nationalism, racism, war, gender, borders, and citizenship. Along the way, we will discuss the excitements and challenges of this kind of historical detective work, the ways in which it affects our personal sense of identity, and how revelations about family history might inform contemporary debates about migration in the United States and beyond.

  • Seminar 002 – Napoleon and His Era - Professor Suzanne Desan

    Students interested in taking this seminar, please contact Prof. Desan by email, or better yet, come meet her to discuss the class. She is currently on leave, but on Thursday, April 5, 3-5 PM, she will be holding office hours in 5120 Humanities specifically to meet students interested in the course. Prof. Desan can be contacted at

    This course focuses on Napoleon and the Napoleonic Era. Napoleon Bonaparte, son of a minor Corsican noble, stunned Europe with his dramatic rise to power. Having made his name as a revolutionary and a victorious general in the French Revolutionary armies, he then seized power by leading a coup d’état against that very Revolution, and crowned himself Emperor of much of Europe, only to fall from power in 1814, bounce back to rule for the Hundred Days, and meet definitive defeat at Waterloo in 1815. We will explore his fascinating life story, but above all we will examine crucial questions about the cultural, social, and political history of his era. What form did this new European empire take as it stretched from Spain to Poland? How did it relate to Napoleonic ambitions beyond Europe, including the Egyptian expedition in 1798 and the attempt to restore slavery in the French Caribbean? What internal reforms did Bonaparte bring to France? For example, how did his government attempt to remake families and gender roles, deal with rebellious former revolutionaries, and assimilate Jews as French citizens?  Finally, we will also ask what it was like to live under his Empire and look at resistance to his rule by diverse groups, such as European intellectuals, Spanish guerilla fighters, and rioters in the Tyrol (in modern day Austria.) NOTE: while we will cover Napoleon as a military leader, this is not primarily a military history course. Instead, the reading topics vary across fields, and students’ paper topics can range widely on any topic to do with Napoleon and this era.

    The second half of the course will focus on researching and writing 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 pp. paper on an early primary source; a 2-3 page proposal of topic; a bibliography;  and an extended paper outline.  Then the rough drafts will be due right before Thanksgiving.  Students will read and critique each other’s drafts of the final paper and complete final drafts by Wednesday, December 12.

  • Seminar 004 – Latin American Environmental History – Professor Elizabeth Hennessy

    Students interested in this course should email Prof. Hennessy at with the subject line “LAEH Fall 2018 Request.” Please include a brief statement about your interest in the course, previous knowledge of Latin America, and whether you plan to enroll through History or Environmental Studies. If Environmental Studies, also include a proposed partner organization and short description of community service work that relates to Latino communities and environmental justice in Madison.

    Latin America is home to some of the world’s most famous landscapes—from Amazonian forests considered the “lungs of the earth” to soaring Andean peaks where melting glaciers have become a deadly effect of climate change. From silver ore laboriously dug from colonial-era mines to vast plantations of sugar cane and bananas, Latin American natural resources have played a central role in the development of economies and societies in the region and around the world. This course will survey changing human relationships with the natural world in the region we now call Latin America from the pre-Columbian period; through colonization and the colonial era; through the independence struggles of the nineteenth century; to contested visions of nationalism, economic development, and appropriate use of natural resources in the twentieth century; to contemporary socio-environmental problems. We will examine both how different peoples have understood, lived with, used, and transformed the environment as well as how the natural world has shaped human histories.

    We will draw on readings from multiple disciplinary perspectives (including history, anthropology and geography) to analyze processes of imperialism, capitalist development, and the degradation of natural resources. The class will ask how these processes relate to the production of scientific knowledge, global environmentalism, and issues of social justice.

    For this capstone class, students have the option to either complete an original individual research paper on one aspect of a natural commodity the class will decide on collectively (coffee, sugar, palm oil, etc.) or to conduct a community service project of their design on Latino environmental justice in Madison and write a final report. Students who wish to complete the research paper should enroll through History (required for History majors seeking to fulfill the 600 requirement); those who wish to do a community service project in Madison should enroll through Environmental Studies (this option will work best for students who already have connections in the Latino community in Madison). Spanish or Portuguese language skills and previous experience in or course work about the region would be helpful, but is not required.

  • Seminar 005 – Living in Pompeii: Economy and Society – Professor Marc Kleijwegt

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Kleijwegt at

    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.

  • Seminar 006 – Crusader States: Christians, Muslims, and Jews – Professor Elizabeth Lapina

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Lapina at

    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 or captivity),  political affairs, law, religious worship, conversion, art, medicine, 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.

  • Seminar 007 – Empire & Revolution: U.S. & European Colonial Rule in Southeast Asia – Professor Al McCoy

    (Students interested in taking this seminar, should send a short email to Prof. McCoy at, 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.)

    The course explores the nature of “empire” in an age of America’s global dominion, starting with the rise of European empires during the era of “high colonialism” in the late 19th century and ending with U.S. global hegemony in the early 21 st 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 its 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 and Iraq. 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 and the changing character of geopolitical power.


  • Seminar 008 – Baseball and Society Since WWII – Professor David McDonald & Commissioner Emeritus Allan Selig

    Students 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:

    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 009 – Race and Nation in US History – Professor Brenda Plummer

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Plummer at

    This course examines the roles that race and racism 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 with an analytical perspective on our current era. The course focuses substantially but not exclusively on the foundational impact of a black and white dynamic in shaping race relations in the United States. The critical events studied include war, slavery, western expansion, and the development of an urban industrial society. Readings include one or two book selections, primary source material, and articles that will be posted on Canvas. The objective of the course is to enrich our understanding of how critical aspects of today’s complex society developed. The lectures, readings, discussions, and assignments provide a safe and respectful space to interrogate these subjects systematically and thoughtfully.

    The class will follow the seminar format with discussion led by students. Scheduled topics provide broad chronological and thematic continuity and supply background material for students’ own research interests. Each student will sign up to lead discussion of assigned readings. After making yourself familiar with the material you are to talk about, you will write down your talking points and hand in to me. This will be a paragraph or two outlining what you got out of the reading and a set of questions for discussion. Discussion leading is graded by evaluating how clearly the discussant presents the reading and remains proactive throughout the session. The ability to identify major themes, put the material in context, and develop thoughtful questions is assessed. Grades are also based on participation and on the submission of a term paper at the end of the semester that is based on the topics discussed in class.

  • Seminar 010 – 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

    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 011 – Drunk History: World History of Alcohol – Professor James Sweet

    Students interested in the seminar should arrange to meet with Professor Sweet in person. His office hours are Tuesdays 11:00 – 1:00pm. He can be reached via email at

    “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”—Benjamin Franklin*

    This course examines the social history of alcohol production and consumption from 1500 to the present day. Over the course of this 500-year span, alcohol has evolved from an essential element of people’s daily diets to a discretionary commodity associated variously with pleasure, pain, and addiction. This historical transformation has radically altered consumption patterns, social attitudes, and legal regulation of alcohol. We will chart these transformations in this course.

    Among the questions we will seek to answer: Where, when, and with whom did various historical actors drink alcohol? Was there a “class” hierarchy of alcoholic beverages—rum, grog, beer, wine? Why did wealthy people fear the drinking habits of the lower classes? Why was drinking considered a male privilege and female consumption of alcohol looked upon so dimly? How did the image of the alcoholic Indian develop in North America? Was there a time when people were actually encouraged to drive drunk? How and when did the idea of the “alcoholic” develop?

    The course takes a cross-cultural perspective, but students are strongly encouraged to develop research projects that can be pursued at the Wisconsin Historical Society. During the first eight weeks, students will read roughly a book per week on various aspects of the history of alcohol. They will also begin developing questions for their research papers, building a bibliography, and engaging in the first steps of their research.. During weeks 9-15, students will research and write a 20-30 page paper on some aspect of the history of alcohol. The range of potential topics that can be researched at the WHS range from the early alcohol trade with Native Americans, to the history of local Wisconsin breweries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the history of lax drunk driving laws in Wisconsin.

    “* Franklin is widely attributed with this quote, but he actually never said it!”

  • Seminar 012 – History and Film – Professor Lee Wandel

    Students interested in the seminar should email Professor Wandel at

    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 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.