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Comparative History: Comparative Colonialisms

Graduate students interested in exploring comparative historical approaches have the option of mastering literature in one of four sub-fields: "Historiography," "Comparative Ethnicity and Nationalism," "Comparative Gender," and "Comparative Colonialisms." Each of these fields allows graduate students to situate their own focused research in broadly conceived historiographies.

Comparative Colonialisms

This field approaches the comparative study of colonialisms through debates about the past by turning to the spatial and temporal constructions of modernity and what is sometimes called postmodernity. One manner in which this can happen is to draw cultural critics and historians of Europe, and the U.S., but also Latin America and Africa into comparative historical conversations about non-western studies. Continuing the dialogues with the social sciences that comparative studies have always entailed, this field seeks to integrate literary, historiographical, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic theories into these discussions by questioning the development of nations and identities, and the disciplinary constructions of modernity, ethnicity, gender, and culture.

For the purposes of this area of study, we will avoid positing a past time of tradition that has been overcome by modernity. “Tradition” and “modernity” both come into focus at the same time, and scholars can only recognize tradition in the light of modernity. What we must call “culture,” for lack of a better term, cannot be separated from the colonial moment and posited as an unchanging part of non-European civilization waiting for Europeans to uncover, interpret, document, or eventually reconstruct it. What social scientists call “tradition” developed within an atmosphere in which 19th century discourses of progress and science were percolating, both contributing and drawing from European, African, and Asian intellectual exchanges. This course will strive towards a re-envisioning of European histories that show the influence of Asian, African, and New World knowledges on the constitution of European mentalities.

Associated Faculty

Jordanna Bailkin
Professor, Jere L. Bacharach Endowed Professor in International Studies
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Europe--Medieval to Modern Times

    Students may work with Professor Bailkin in British, French, or European Cultural History. A field in British history would include the social, political, and cultural history of Britain (including Ireland) and Empire from the eighteenth century to the present. Students will develop subfields on major historiographical questions such as the development of the welfare state, race and immigration, urban identity, gender and the family, "four nations" approaches to British history, and the impact of decolonization on the metropole. A field in French history will place particular emphasis on late-19th and 20th-century France. Students will develop subfields on topics such as the state's treatment of prostitution, natalism and the First World War, and French identity after the European Union. Students pursuing a field in European Cultural History may approach this field by examining the individuals, institutions, and ideologies that have contributed to major cultural currents in modern Europe, including the production of the categories of "high" and "mass" culture and the social and political impact of new visual and literary traditions. This subfield will also trace the development of cultural history through and beyond the linguistic turn.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)*

    Students may work with Professor Bailkin on fields of study encompassing Comparative Gender and/or Comparative Colonialisms. A field in Comparative gender will incorporate a comparative approach to the history of women and gender. Students will develop fields on major historiographical questions such as the development of protective family legislation in Europe and the United States and the globalization of feminism. Students pursuing a field in Comparative Colonialisms will examine England's economic, political, military, and cultural treatment of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales compared to its overseas dominions. We will consider the relationship between "white" and "non-white" colonies as part of the larger racial politics of European colonialism.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Professor George Behlmer
Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Europe--Medieval to Modern Times

    Graduate study in the "Modern Britain" field will focus on the social, cultural, and political dimensions of British history from the advent of industrialization (circa 1760) through the Second World War. Within this broad time period, students will develop expertise in several historiographic themes. These themes, in turn, will be established through negotiation between the student and the field supervisor. Examples of themes negotiated with current and former graduate students include the following: the Victorian missionary movement; law and working-class culture; the authority of medicine; feminism and militancy; the policing of manners; and British responses to Irish revolutionary challenges.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)*

    This field will focus on the process by which Great Britain acquired and subsequently relinquished the world's most extensive colonial empire. The chronological focus here is from 1781 through the 1970s. Its territorial focus will be on British colonial policies in the Pacific and the Caribbean, as well as on the tortured colonial relationship with Ireland.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Photo of Arbella Bet-Shlimon
Assistant Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Modern Middle East: In this field, students will aim to develop general proficiency in the political, social, and economic history of the Middle East—currently conceived as the Arab World, Turkey, and Iran, and more broadly conceived as Southwest Asia and North Africa—from the 19th century to the present. This field will focus on the following topics: nation building, state formation, and associated political discourses; Western colonialism, neocolonialism, and neoimperialism in the Middle East and North Africa; the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire; the formation and influence of key ideologies such as Arab nationalism, Sunni and Shiite Islamisms, and Zionism; wars, diplomacy, and refugee crises; and coups and revolutions. Students are expected to demonstrate familiarity with historiographical trends in the study of the modern Middle East in addition to an understanding of historical events and themes.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Comparative Colonialisms in the Modern Middle East: In this field, students will examine the various forms that colonialism and imperialism have taken in the Middle East (Southwest Asia and North Africa) since the 19th century in comparative perspective. Topics to be covered include: the growth and decline of American, British, French, and Portuguese imperial enterprises in the Middle East; the League of Nations and the mandate system; British protectorates in the Persian Gulf region; empires centered in the Middle East region, such as the Ottoman Empire and Oman; settlements and expulsions; and the development and decline of monarchies.


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Professor Vicente Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professorship
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Asia--Pre-History to the Present

    This field is constructed with an emphasis on island Southeast Asia and the Philippines from 1521 to the present.

    Division: United States History

    Asian American socio-cultural histories, with an emphasis on Filipino Americans and Filipino overseas workers

    Division: Comparative History (Historiography, Comparative Ethnicity & Nationalism, and Comparative Colonialisms)*

    A field in Comparative Historiography will include Nationalist and postcolonial conceptions of history, deconstruction, critical theory especially as these relate to the politics of translation, religion, and media technologies. A field in Comparative Colonialisms will carry a focus on United States and Spanish imperialism in Asia and the Pacific. The field in Comparative Nationalism and Ethnicity focuses on the historical and technological conditions for the rise of nationhood, as well as the role of mass media, translation and the languages of power in nationalist discourses.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Ileana Rodriguez-Silva
Associate Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Latin America

    Students working in Latin America with Professor Rodriguez-Silva will learn about the social and cultural histories of Latin America and the Caribbean, especially during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While students will follow the topic and area of their choosing, they are expected to master the main historiographical and methodological debates within this field. Major topics of analysis are the multiple forms of colonialism and imperialism, forced labor systems, processes of nation-state formation, race and ethnicity, migration and diaspora communities, and, most importantly, subaltern politics.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Gender & Comparative Colonialisms)*

    In preparing a field in Comparative Gender with Professor Rodriguez-Silva, students will learn about the history of women, the historical shifts in definitions of womanhood and masculinity among the diverse populations of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the crucial role of sexuality in the political and economic organization of colonial and national states. Students may also prepare a field in Comparative Colonialism, in which they will analyze the multiple forms of and the historical transformations in colonial relations established in the Americas since pre-Columbian times to the present.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Benjamin Schmidt
Professor, Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Europe--Medieval to Modern Times

    Professor Schmidt offers a field covering the social, political, and especially cultural history of Europe from around the mid-fifteenth century through the mid-eighteenth century. Topics vary from year to year, and students tend to play a considerable part in shaping their own programs of study. Recent graduate seminars have examined courts and court culture; habits of collecting and the practice of early modern "science"; Europe's encounter with the Americas; the expansion of early modern geography and the culture of curiosity; the history of reading, literacy, and the book; visual culture in early modern Europe. Europe's engagement with the non-European world is also included in the field: early modern expansion, colonialism, and globalism.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)*

    Students may work with Professor Schmidt to develop a field in Comparative Colonialisms that focuses on the early modern world.  This field might focus on the West--the history of the Atlantic World and the colonial (and imperial) enterprises that commenced from ca. 1492--or the to the East, in the latter case considering how European interventions in Asia fit into broader, early modern colonial and imperials trends.  This field would be done from a European perspective, to be sure, yet in a manner that explores how European colonial programs and golbal engagements fit into larger cultural and political developments of the period from ca. 1450-1750.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Laurie Sears
Professor, Walker Family Endowed Professor in History
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Asia--Pre-History to the Present

    Professor Sears offers fields covering the material and human history of Indonesia from the beginnings to the present. Students focusing on the period before 1800 will emphasize local cultures and early kingdoms through the study of religion, architecture, art, archaeology, economics, ecology, and textual studies (literature, laws, chronicles, and oral traditions). Students working in the modern period will focus on the social, political, cultural and economic changes in Indonesia from 1800 to the present. Emphasizes the growth of staes, imperialism, nationalism, the transformations of modernity, independence and the challenges of gendered, ethnic, and religious identities in the post-colonial world.

    Division: Comparative History (Historiography & Comparative Colonialisms)*

    The goal of the Historiography field will be to look at the intersection of history and theory through a critical investigation of ideologies, post-modernities, the breakdown of rationalism, and the de-centering effects of postcolonial and feminist theories. How does post-modern critical discourse affect historical studies? What is the fate of history in the postcolonial world? Can one be a feminist, a Marxist, and a post-modernist? (Would one want to be?) By taking an interdisciplinary approach to "culture," theory, and history, this field will blend together a number of different methodologies associated with ethnography, semiotics, Frankfurt school theory, Birmingham school media criticism, feminist theories, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, postcolonial theories and deconstruction. The emphasis will be on different ways of "seeing" and how these intersect with changing notions of subjectivity. Each student will construct an individual list of required readings for this field specific to his or her research interests.

    This field in Comparative Colonialisms approaches the comparative study of colonialism by investigating spatial and temporal constructions of modernity and what is sometimes called post-modernity. The field draws novelists, cultural critics, and scholars of Asia and Europe into comparative historical conversations about "non-western studies". Continuing the dialogues with the social sciences that comparative studies have always entailed, this field integrates literary, historiographical, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic theories into these discussions by questioning the development of nations and identities, and the disciplinary constructions of modernity, ethnicity, gender, and culture.

    For the purposes of this field, we will avoid positing a past time of tradition that has been overcome by modernity. Tradition and modernity both come into focus at the same time, and scholars can only recognize tradition in the light of modernity. What becomes known as "culture" comes into focus in the 19th century as colonial empires are consolidated and colonial scholars begin the process of cultural representation that has sometimes been named Orientalism. What we must call culture, for lack of a better term, cannot be separated from the colonial moment and posited as an unchanging part of non-European civilization waiting for Europeans to uncover, interpret, document, or eventually reconstruct it. What social scientists call "tradition" developed within an atmosphere in which 19th century discourses of progress and science were percolating, both contributing and drawing from European, African, and Asian intellectual interactions. This field strives towards a re-envisioning of European and Asian histories by highlighting the mutual exchanges between Asian and European knowledges and mentalities. Each student will construct a different list of required readings for this field specific to his or her research interests.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


    View Laurie Sears's complete profile

Stephanie Smallwood
Associate Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Students may work with Professor Smallwood to develop a field in African history focused on sub-Saharan Africa in the pre-colonial period. The field broadly encompasses the economic, political, and socio-cultural history of African societies before c. 1880, with special attention to Africa's evolving relationship to the West, and slavery and slave trading both within sub-Saharan Africa and across desert/ocean boundaries. Students will work in consultation with Professor Smallwood to develop a course of study that balances historiographic coverage and thematic/conceptual agendas specific to their individual needs and interests.

    Division: United States

    Students preparing a field in United States history with Professor Smallwood will focus on the territory's social and cultural history in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Major themes students are expected to explore in depth include European exploration, cartographic representation, cultural interactions among Native American, European, and African peoples, and racial slavery.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)*

    Students may work with Professor Smallwood to develop a field in Comparative Colonialisms that focuses on early modern Atlantic history. The field examines European colonial regimes in the Americas, commercial and cultural ties between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and free and coerced migrations within the Atlantic arena. Special attention is given also to methodological and theoretical discourses relating to the study of comparative history and epistemological critiques of "modernity."

    Students working in this field are encouraged to consult with other appropriate faculty specialists in African history, early modern European history, colonial Latin American history, as well as those offering other specialized fields within the Comparative Colonialisms rubric.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Professor Lynn Thomas
Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Examines methodological and conceptual issues in the study of sub-Saharan Africa since 1500 focusing on pre-colonial political and social institutions, slavery and the slave trade, European colonialism, anti-colonial resistance and nationalist politics, and postcolonial challenges. Emphasis on exploring the usefulness of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class as analytical categories in African history.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Gender & Comparative Colonialisms)*

    The field in Comparative Gender explores historical scholarship on gender, focusing on 19th- and 20th-century Africa and another period and place of the student's choice, by examining the emergence of women's history; the relationship between Marxism, feminism, and poststructuralism; the framing of gender as a social and symbolic construct; and the analytical intersections between gender, race, sexuality, and class. The field in Comparative Colonialisms approaches European colonialism in Africa and Asia during the 19th and 20th centuries by examining scholarship on the relationship between capitalism and colonialism, violence and the routinization of colonial power, colonial categories of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and gender, and resistance movements and nationalist politics.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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Professor Adam Warren
Associate Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Latin America

    Students wishing to work on the Latin America field with Professor Warren may focus on any countries in the region and any time periods, although they are particularly encouraged to consider working on mainland Spanish America during the colonial and early postcolonial periods. Special emphasis will be placed on examining and understanding the historiography produced in Latin America itself, and students will be expected to articulate how such literatures differ from the anglophone historiography. With that in mind, reading knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is encouraged, but not required.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms & Comparative Ethnicity & Nationalism)*

    The field in Comparative Colonialisms examines scholarship on Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in Latin America. While students may read on a wide range of topics of their choosing, special emphasis will be placed on exploring how the relations between colony and metropolis, the structure and practice of colonial power in the colonies themselves, and the forms of popular political culture prevalent in the colonies changed during the early, mid, and late colonial periods. Topics to be covered may include the broader colonial economic system, peasant and slave labor systems, the invention of the ~SIndian~T and other colonial identities, religious conversion as a tool of colonialism, indigenous and African religious practices, and popular resistance movements. By reading general theoretical literature on colonialism we will also examine the question how does one relate Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in Latin America to later forms of colonial rule elsewhere in the world.

    The field in Comparative Ethnicity and Nationalism examines nation-building processes and the politics of race and ethnicity in Latin America, focusing primarily on the Andean region and Mexico since 1821 while also drawing on literature about Brazil for comparative purposes. Topics may include peasant and Indian nationalism, questions of citizenship and liberal equality for Indians versus the maintenance of colonial legal and political categories of race and caste, debates about the abolition of slavery and national identity, medical scientific research and debates about racial degeneration as a national problem in Latin America, ethnicity and social revolutions, and nativist "indigenista" political movements.

    *Students may not offer a field in the Comparative History division as a first field.


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