Comparative History: Comparative Colonialisms

Graduate students interested in exploring comparative historical approaches have the option of mastering literature in one of five sub-fields: "Historiography," "Comparative Ethnicity and Nationalism," "Comparative Gender," "Comparative Colonialisms," and "Global and Comparative Environmental History." 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

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 modern British 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.

    Required course work for a first field in modern British history includes completing HSTRY 590 as well as two supervised directed readings.

    For those selecting modern Britain as a second field, HSTRY 590 is required, plus one supervised directed reading.

    For those selecting modern Britain as a third or fourth field, HSTRY 590 is recommended. Depending on research and training needs, a directed reading may be substituted.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Students pursuing a field in Comparative Colonialisms will examine a variety of colonial histories: typically, British, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and American. We will consider the relationship between "white" and "non-white" colonies as part of the larger racial politics of colonialism. Although the emphasis is usually on European colonial histories, I have worked with a number of students who are interested in U.S. imperialism, and can tailor the field accordingly.

    Students who are selecting Comparative Colonialisms as a second field are required to take HSTRY 590 when available, plus one supervised directed reading.

    Students who are taking Comparative Colonialisms as a third or fourth field are strongly encouraged to take HSTRY 590, and required to undertake one supervised directed reading.



    View Jordanna Bailkin's complete profile

Photo of Arbella Bet-Shlimon

Arbella Bet-Shlimon

Associate Professor, Williams Family Endowed Professor in History
  • 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.

    View Arbella Bet-Shlimon's complete profile

Liora Halperin--headshot

Liora Halperin

Professor , Joint Appointment: Jackson School of International Studies
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa and the Middle East

    Students may work with Prof. Halperin to develop a field focused on the history of Modern Israel/Palestine. This field will situate Palestine/Israel within both Middle East and Jewish historiography, with the particular emphasis depending on the student’s research and teaching objectives. It will draw together works in both Israel Studies and Palestine Studies, pertaining to cultural, economic, social, political, and intellectual history.

    Division: Europe, Africa and the Middle East, or Russia

    Students may develop a field with Prof. Halperin on Jewish history during the Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern periods. This can be structured as primarily a Europe or Russia field or as primarily a Middle East field, but will in any case explore interrelations between these fields and, secondarily, between these fields other world regions. This field may examine the evolution of relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims; Jews and the state; forms and challenges of emancipation; commercial networks; cultural, linguistic, and social history; the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism; and Jewish contact with and entanglements with colonial and imperial projects.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Students may develop a field with Prof. Halperin that explores variants of modern colonialism in global perspective; the interplay of colonialism, civic nationalism, and ethnonationalism; the economic history of empire; and the emergence of the field of settler colonial studies.

    Division: Comparative History (Ethnicity and Nationalisms)

    Students may develop a field with Prof. Halperin exploring modern ethnonational movements in comparative perspective with particular emphasis on Europe (including Eastern and South Eastern Europe), the Middle East, and South Asia. This field may integrate readings on language revival efforts, cultural movements, anti-imperial nationalisms, and the emergence of the nation-state system and concepts of autonomy, minority rights, partition, and migration.

    View Liora Halperin's complete profile

Vince Rafael 2022

Vicente L. Rafael

  • 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.

    View Vicente L. Rafael's complete profile

Ileana Rodriguez-Silva

Ileana Rodriguez-Silva

Associate Professor, Roseman Endowed Professor in History
  • 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.


    View Ileana Rodriguez-Silva's complete profile

Benjamin Schmidt

Benjamin Schmidt

Professor, Jon Bridgman Endowed Professor in History
  • 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.


    View Benjamin Schmidt's complete profile

Stephanie Smallwood

Stephanie Smallwood

Associate Professor, Dio Richardson Endowed Professor, Joint Appointment: Department of Comparative History of Ideas
  • 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.

    View Stephanie Smallwood's complete profile

Professor Lynn Thomas

Lynn M. Thomas

Professor, Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor in History
  • 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.


    View Lynn M. Thomas's complete profile

Christopher Tounsel

Christopher Tounsel

Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies, Director, African Studies Program
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Students may work with Professor Tounsel to develop a field in African history focused on
    North Africa and/or sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial and postcolonial eras. The field
    could concern social, political, religious, and economic subjects of study including slavery and
    abolition, the Scramble for Africa, resistance and nationalism, Pan-Africanism, Christianity and
    Islam, and other subjects. Students will work with Professor Tounsel to develop a course of
    study that incorporates canonical scholarship, general and nuanced coverage, and specific
    themes tailored to their interests and needs.

    Division: Comparative Histories (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Students may work with Professor Tounsel to develop a field of Comparative Colonialisms that
    focuses on 18-20 th century imperialism in Africa, Asia, and the Atlantic World. The field could
    examine colonial regimes following the “Scramble for Africa,” social and political connections
    between Africa and the non-African world, and networks/solidarities forged between colonized
    populations in Africa and beyond. Special attention is given to print media, state and non-state
    actors, intra- and inter-state organizations, and religious institutions.

    Division: Comparative Histories (Comparative Ethnicity and Nationalism)*

    Students may work with Professor Tounsel to develop a field of Comparative Ethnicity and
    Nationalism that focuses on racial, ethnic, and religious nationalism in the colonial and
    postcolonial worlds. The field could explore such areas as Pan-Africanism, colonial and
    postcolonial liberation movements, Church-State relations, political theologies, and politically-
    active non-state actors.


    View Christopher Tounsel's complete profile

Professor Adam Warren

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.

    View Adam Warren's complete profile