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Research Specialties & Topics

The Department of History at the University of Minnesota engages in research covering a wide variety of geographical regions, time periods and intellectual themes. The list of areas and topics presented here is by no means an exhaustive intellectual inventory of all the ideas that our faculty and students grapple within their teaching and research. Rather, it is an attempt to suggest particular, often overlapping, streams of instruction, conversation, and practice in the department.

Geographic Fields of Study

Place is one of those complex and necessary categories that helps organize the study of history. We ask students not only to be aware of the geographically bounded nature of social, political, economic, and cultural processes, but also to study the connections and interactions between units of place, like cities, states, nations, or continents. Moreover, bounded places represent the outcome of complex, often violent, processes that fix names onto landscapes and make claims on the identities of individuals. At the same time, places also help organize teaching and education and thus the department pays careful attention to the general areas of specialization within the historical profession, even as they undergo scrutiny and critique. Therefore, while students are expected to identify professionally with a global region, we strongly encourage them to travel across boundaries for their own intellectual growth.

Temporal Fields of Study

The periodization of history has long provided the raw material of intense intellectual debate, with the principal conflicts concerning the moments of transition from one period to another. These labels are understood today as a convenient shorthand for grouping process and problems. Moreover, we need to recall that some of these labels, like “medieval,” are relevant only to certain regions of the world, and that understandings of how civilizations and cultures develop in time always present the raw material for conflict and debate.

Thematic Fields of Study

While the discipline of history has traditionally defined itself according to the temporal eras and geographic regions studied by its practitioners, increasingly important to historians’ self definitions are the intellectual themes, problematics, and questions they explore. Faculty at the University of Minnesota Department of History study a remarkable variety of subjects, topics, and themes. These reflect the often intricate ways that fields and subfields within the discipline have evolved, as methodological trends take shape and are applied to new terrains, and as the present moment offers up new intellectual perspectives and previously unavailable standpoints from which to construct accounts of the past.