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HSTRY 494 A: Colloquium in Historiography

Meeting Time: 
M 3:30pm - 5:20pm
SAV 169
Professor Vicente Rafael
Vicente L. Rafael

Syllabus Description:

Course Description:

The theme for this colloquium is the United States Empire in Comparative Perspective. We will read some of the more recent scholarship that situates US national and imperial histories in relation to other imperial and postcolonial histories--for example, those of Spain, Britain, Native American and an emergent "Third World"--around such topics as imperial ideology, war, slavery and abolition, nationalism, colonialism and diplomacy; along the axis of race, gender and immigration. The goal of the course is to develop some ways of thinking critically and comparatively about the paradoxical nature of the United States as simultaneously an empire and a republic, at once peripheral and central to the spread and mutation of a certain “Western” civilization, a place founded on democratic institutions and ideas, yet sustained by undemocratic practices and ideologies.


Course Requirements:

There are three requirements for this class:

This is a reading intensive class. You’re expected to complete the assigned readings, attend each class and participate actively in the discussions. Since this class meets only once a week, attendance will be crucial and unexcused absences will negatively affect your final grade. Please make sure to allot enough time for the readings since they are substantial and often challenging in both their length and complexity.


Each of you will be expected to help lead at least one of the discussions (along with one other student) of the reading for a particular week. I will say more in class about these weekly discussions and what will be expected of you.


You will also be required to submit a longer, 15-20 page seminar paper on a topic of your choice, but one which touches on some of the major themes of the course, in consultation with me. The paper should involve the use of primary and/or secondary sources. However, it is also possible to write a paper that would engage in a sustained way one or a set of the readings in class, or synthesize the major topics that the readings take up, or trace the development of a set of themes as they migrate from one reading to another. I encourage you to meet with me during my office hours to discuss the topics for your paper. The papers will be due on the Monday, June 8, 3:30pm by e-mail attachment to


Final Exam option. If you are unable for some reason to come up with a research topic for your paper by week 9, you have the option of writing a take home final exam based on the readings and discussions that I will provide. The exam will consist of a series of questions from which you will have to choose at least three. You will be expected to write about 4-5 pages on each question for a total of about 15 pages and will be due no later than Monday, March 18, 3:30pm on Word by e-mail attachment to


Required Texts: (at the U Bookstore):

J.H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830 Yale Univ. Press, 2006.

Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora, Harvard Univ. Press, 2007

Matthew Karp, The Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy, Harvard Univ. Press, 2016.

Pekka Hamalainin, The Comanche Empire, Yale Univ. Press, 2009.

Simeon Man, Soldiering Through Empire: Race and the Making of the Decolonizing Pacific, Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2018.


Schedule of classes:


March 30: Introduction.

Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(4), December, 387–409 (Reader on Canvas).


Robin D.G. Kelly, “The Rest of Us: Rethinking Settler and Native,” American Quarterly, Volume 69, Number 2, June 2017, pp. 267-276

Start reading J.H. Elliott, Empires in the Atlantic World, Introduction, chapters 1-8.


April 6: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, No class.

Continue reading: J.H. Elliott, chapters 1-8; 9-12, Epilogue.

Josep M. Fradera, “Reading Imperial Transitions: Spanish Contraction, British Expansion, and American Irruption,” in McCoy and Scarrano, Colonial Crucible, 34-62,

[posted on Canvas]


April 13: Discussion of above readings.


April 20: Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora, please read entire book.

            Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, Chapters 1, 2 and 7, excerpts posted on Canvas.


April 27: Matthew Karp, The Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2016.


May 4: Pekka Hamalainin, The Comanche Empire, Introduction, chapters 1-6, 8 and Conclusion.


May 11:  Simeon Man, Soldiering Through Empire: Race and the Making of the Decolonizing Pacific


May18: TBA


May 25: Memorial Day. No class


June 1: Catch up day


June 8: Papers due by 3:30pm. Please submit them typed, double spaced in Word format (12 pt. Times Roman) to


Catalog Description: 
Advanced seminar examining central issues in historiography. Emphasizes reading, discussion, and writing.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:05pm