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Fall 2020: 4930 Research Seminar Descriptions


Course objectives for all 4930 Research Seminars:
1) introduction to the historiography of a specific topic
2) production of a substantial research paper based on primary source evidence


AMH4930 The Making of Modern American :  Professor Ben Wise

M 3:00-6:00 [Course number 10346]

This course is an in-depth exploration of the emergence of modern America in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. Situated between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, how might we best understand this period?  The period witnessed both radical experimentation and conservative retrenchment; an enormous accumulation of wealth and grinding poverty; hopes for peaceful democracy and political violence, racial violence, and world war.   While complex historical developments have been reduced to labels such as “The Gilded Age,” “The Jim Crow Era,” or even “Modern America,” we will seek to develop a more nuanced portrait of American life in this time.

Looking at historical literature written about the United States during this period, this senior seminar will closely explore what historians have argued about the central developments of the era—in culture, society, and politics—to better understand the emergence of “modern America.” The course will focus on several animating questions: What exactly is “modernity” in the context of American history? In what ways did individuals seek to make meaning, find moral guidance, and maintain cultural traditions in an age of increasing secularization, mobility, urbanization, and pluralization? What was the role of violence in social change?  How did the relationship between the individual and society change in this period? The readings in the course will expose to students to the main themes of the period, and students will develop a final research paper using original, primary sources.​​​


AMH4930 From Headlines to Histories: Professor Louise Newman

R 1:44-5:55 [Course number 10344]

This course enables students to research topics that have ongoing resonance in today’s world as they reflect on how to write a history of events that are still unfolding, and for which the preponderance of sources are journalistic. Topics will be taken from the headlines of major news outlets in the early weeks of the course (fall 2019), and can include such issues as political scandals, U.S. foreign policy, economic crises, environmental disasters, etc. Students will grapple with fundamental philosophical and methodological questions: How do historians make sense of contemporary events? How does the past bear upon the present? How do current actors (politicians, journalists, social activists and others) use or misuse historical information? What is required for an account to be appropriately “historical” as opposed to journalistic?


EUH4930 20th Century Migrations: Professor Alice Freifeld

R 3:00-6:00 [Course number 25759]

This course will study European mass migration in historical perspective. After an overview of 19th-century migration, we will follow the changes in immigration policy from the 1880s to the present. The course explores economic motivations, political struggles, immigration laws, border changes and national identities.

The current migration crisis has added an urgency to an historical reading of migration. We will seek to provide a context for discussions of citizenship, national belonging, and international institutions. The course readings are weighted toward Eastern European migration to the United States, including my research on the Holocaust and WWII refugees, DP camps and mass migration 1945-48. But migration is a global phenomenon and students may pursue final topics of their own choosing within the general themes of the course. Research papers must use some primary source material and engage some of the readings in the course or other approved secondary sources.


LAH4930 Race and Slavery in Brazil: Professor Jeffrey Needell

W 1:55-4:55 [Course number 26506]

This seminar is designed to introduce students to the history of race relations and slavery in Brazil, focusing on people of African birth or descent (relations with native peoples and their enslavement is a related but distinct matter – the instructor’s course on the History of Amazonia is the best introduction to that).  No other country in the Americas bought as many people from Africa as Brazil did (c.1510s-1850s), and no other country maintained slavery as long (1888).  The course tries to grapple with these matters and their legacies down through to the very recent past.  This particular seminar, because of its focus on race and slavery in Brazil, has a special attraction for people in the United States because of our own experience with Afro-European race relations, African slavery, and their legacies.  It is also compelling because it not only challenges the student to understand the past, but to understand the past in a country whose origins and culture are quite distinct from those of the United States and Europe – not least because of the enslavement of millions of people from Africa and their descendants.  One of the students’ greatest challenges is to begin the practice of trying to shed one’s United States assumptions in trying to comprehend such a rich and complicated reality.


WOH4930 Twentieth-century Revolutions: Professor Heather Vrana

T 1:55-4:55 [Course number 25745]

This class is a survey of revolutions around the twentieth-century world. We will define various types of revolutions, explore their causes, and trace their implications in political, culture, social, and economic life. Along the way, we will introduce the historiography of revolutions and social movements and you will produce a substantial research paper based on primary source evidence.