Fall Semester 2024


"Childhood in Americas"

October 11, 2024

Rachel Devlin, Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

This course explores two aspects of U.S. history that have long been ignored: first, the family has been the most basic form of social organization in the western world during the modern period; second, that children and child rearing have come to play an increasingly central role in American culture, society and politics over the last 150 years. Topics include transformations in ideologies of motherhood; coming of age under the system of racial slavery in the south; the relationship of men and masculinity to boyhood, fatherhood and family life; changing customs in youthful, heterosexual romance; the “divorce revolution” of the twentieth century and its effect on children; the sentimentalization and eroticization of childhood; the emerging cultural power of teenagers and their place in American society; the rise of right wing family politics in the late twentieth century; international adoption; and the commercialization of childhood over the course of the twentieth century.


 "Jane Austen and her World"

November 1, 2024

Lynn Festa, Associate Professor, Department of English, Rutgers University

Why are there so many soldiers stationed in the seemingly sleepy provincial towns where the novels of Jane Austen are so often set? Jane Austen may conjure up images of a circumscribed world of country towns, flowing dresses and decorous manners, but she lived at a moment of immense historical turmoil, marked by famine, political repression, civic tumult at home, and slavery, revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars abroad. Focusing on Pride and Prejudice, this session will address both Austen's formal contributions to the novel—above all, her development of free indirect discourse-- and the historical and cultural contexts out of which her writings emerged. We will draw on a broad range of materials, including vindications of the rights of man (and woman!), debates on the slave trade, reports on the Revolutions in France and Haiti, and satiric prints as well as images of a seemingly tranquil British countryside by Gainsborough and depictions of the devastation of war by Goya. Together we will paint a picture of the world Jane Austen inhabited and of the relationships her novels establish to the greater world beyond her immediate grasp. What is at stake in the decision to represent— or to block out— historical events happening elsewhere in the world?


"The Crusades in Context"

November 15, 2024

Anthony Di Battista, Lecturer, Department of History, Rutgers University

The Crusades are considered by many historians to be the great culminating act of the medieval drama. The quest to recapture Jerusalem became for many European Christians an act of both penance and pilgrimage. As the crusades progressed (and continued to fail) many other elements of medieval culture came into relief against a backdrop of war. This seminar will examine the background causes of the crusades and discuss what they reveal about the European class system, the balance of power, and the economic implications of establishing crusader states in the Levant.


"The Mongol Empire in World History"

December 6, 2024

Kenneth Linden, PHD, Rutgers University

In this seminar, we will explore the cultural, political, artistic, literary, religious, gender, and environmental history of the Mongol Empire. The Mongol Empire, founded by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, was the largest empire in history, and transformed Eurasia and the world, the impacts of which continue to be felt today. We will look at primary sources written by Mongols, Persians, Chinese, and Europeans to explore the impact of their rule and how Mongols were seen by themselves and by others. Using these sources, we will discuss how the environment and nomadic animal husbandry shaped Mongolian life and was in turn shaped by Mongolians. Then we will explore how the Empire set the template and boundaries for future empires and nations, including today’s China, Russia, and Iran. Lastly, we will discuss how the Mongol Empire plays a central role in modern Mongolian identity and problematize the stereotypes of Mongols as violent barbarian boogeyman to many people across the world.


Spring Semester 2025


"Histories of the Little Ice Age: Climate Change and Climate Extremes in European History, c.1300-1850"

January 24, 2025

Alastair Bellany, Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

This seminar will explore the environmental, social, political, and cultural impact of a centuries-long phase of fluctuating climatic cooling usually known as the Little Ice Age, c.1300-1850. We will explore arguments about the role of non-human nature as an agent of historical experience and change; learn about the ways that historians are collaborating with paleoclimatologists to reconstruct the history of past climatic fluctuations using evidence from both “the archives of society” and “the archives of nature”; and look at recent scholarship debating the role that climatic extremes may have played in subsistence crises (dearth and famine in the 1590s and 1690s) and political conflict (the general crisis of the seventeenth century). We will end with a detailed case study of how volcanic eruptions may have disrupted global climate and thus put heightened stress on societies, cultures and polities; here we will focus, in particular, on the climatic and historical impact of the 1783 eruption of the Icelandic volcanic fissure at Laki.


"Lincoln and the Civil War"

February 7, 2025

Louis Masur, Board of Governors Professor & Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History, Rutgers University

Lincoln once proclaimed that "the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present." In this workshop we shall examine Lincoln's ideas about nation, secession, slavery, emancipation, democracy and peace. His beliefs never remained static, and he changed his mind in response to changing conditions. We will pay particular attention to his ideas for how to reconstruct the nation once the war was over, ideas he did not live to see come to fruition.


"Mapping History"

March 7, 2025

Jack Bouchard, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

We all love maps, and many of us love working with maps in our research and teaching. Some people just love staring at them for hours online or in our living rooms. The Internet loves maps as well, and we live in a golden age of detailed, creative, and free maps. They are informative, fun to look at, and can tell us all manner of wild things about our world, past and present. Alas! Maps are also liars and persuaders, tools of oppression and liberation, agents of empire and state-formation and capitalist extraction. Maps are windows into lost worlds and onto worlds that never existed. They are tools to navigate the world around us, or gross over-simplifications of that world which are unsuitable to help us find our way. They are ways to mark what divides and unites us, to show how we are connected through roads and bisected by waterways, or to show who owns what and how much it is worth. Maps have existed for as long as humans have, yet most were never meant to be preserved.

Maps have a history, and maps are essential to history. This workshop revolves around the exploration of two problems: the history of maps, and history with maps. We will start by studying how humans have made, used, and interpreted maps over time. We will learn the ways that cartography has changed in the past several thousand years, how this has shaped human behavior and changed how we see the world. This includes, importantly, the history of navigation and space without maps. One of the things we’ll soon learn is that maps are only one of, and often the least important, the many tools humans use to make sense of space, place and navigation. In the second part, we will study how historians have used, and continue to use, maps as tools to understand the past. In part this means how they have researched, interpreted and deployed historical maps as evidence. But we will also explore how historians have made and used maps which contain information about history – the maps in your textbooks, infographics, data-maps, etc.


"How do Working People Sustain Global Cities?"

March 28, 2025

Tatiana Seijas, Associate Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

The term “essential workers” entered our popular lexicon during the 2020 pandemic, when we all recognized the people who provide goods and services that sustain our everyday lives. Our seminar will consider the role of food vendors, transporters, and healers in Mexico City to understand the long legacy of workers who make urban life possible. Mexico City during the seventeenth century was a global city, with residents from around the world who maintained commercial and cultural ties to Asia, Europe, and Africa. Essential workers made those global connections possible and contributed to the local economy by feeding, transporting, and caring for their neighbors. We will examine historical maps, review primary sources, and discuss urban history more generally to consider historical parallels and what they reveal about the current state and future of cities such as New York and Los Angeles.


"Epidemics in the United States"

April 11, 2025

Elaine Lafay, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

In this seminar we will analyze how epidemic diseases have impacted society and culture from seventeenth century smallpox outbreaks through recent and ongoing experiences with COVID-19. Through a study of selected outbreaks, this seminar examines how people in different eras have responded in times of medical and ecological crisis. Major themes include infectious disease and its impact on society; changing theories of disease causation; the development of public health measures; the persistent tensions between individual liberties and public interest; ecological understandings of disease and place; patient activism; social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; and contemporary policy and responses to health threats.


"The Caribbean in the making of the West"

May 2, 2025

Marisa Fuentes, Associate Professor, Department of History and Women's & Gender Studies, Rutgers University

From a U.S. vantage point, the Caribbean stays in the background of our news cycle unless a hurricane or earthquake devastates a small island nation. Even then, only if that weather pattern is headed for U.S. shores. To recenter the Caribbean in world history, this seminar will explore the profound significance of early Caribbean history to the making of the “West” from the first interactions between Europeans and Indigenous, to early forms of capitalism, racial slavery, racial hierarchy, and exploitative labor systems (plantations) that destroyed natural environments. We will read a mix of primary and secondary sources, maps, and images to understand the early developments and trajectories of economic and racial systems that began in the Caribbean and are still with us today. We will also explore Indigenous and African responses to these systems in armed conflict and cultural traditions.