Areas of Study
The Department of History admits students into one of twelve especially strong temporal and geographic areas of study. Students have the ability to develop expertise in additional subfields (such as for a minor), whether geographic, temporal or thematic. For a complete listing of thematic fields, see our Research Specialties page.
African history is a new and dynamic field dating back to the 1960s. It was linked to the decolonization of Africa and the need for new national states to have a usable past. During the next four decades the field of African history has moved away from colonial and Eurocentric formulations to stressing African agency and creative adaptations and representations. It relies on innovative fieldwork as well as more traditional archival research.
Minnesota has one of the leading programs in African social history in the country. Our overarching concern is to put African women and men—in their classes, families, communities, and workplaces—firmly into our scholarship. In our courses we challenge old analytical categories and artificial temporal or spatial divides to examine dynamic relations of power, and conflict and negotiations at the local, national, and transnational levels.
Ancient history at the University of Minnesota has a long pedigree of excellence under leading historians. Faculty work closely with the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies to train you in the linguistic and textual skills necessary for ancient history.
The study and teaching of East Asian history has undergone tremendous expansion and change in the past decade, reflecting the region’s growing global significance. The historiography of East Asia is similarly undergoing great change and taking on importance well beyond the field. The East Asia faculty at the University of Minnesota have diverse historiographical interests and strengths, specializing in the early modern and modern periods. Together, the East Asia faculty bring a broad range of research interests to the table, from science and technology, to gender and identity, to urban and rural history. The work of our faculty and the training we provide to our graduate students emphasizes both attentive archival work and engagement with ongoing debates in and outside our respective fields. Our graduate students typically work across Asia and with colleagues specializing in other regions of the world. A strong comparative focus is encouraged. Many of our graduate students have received GRPP grants that provide summer funding to work jointly with faculty members on research papers. Our East Asia library has a growing collection. Through a consortium with other Big Ten schools we have access to tens of thousands of volumes via interlibrary loan. The China Center also offers potential resources to students.
South Asian history is a vibrant field of study, and the University of Minnesota’s program takes advantage of the current advances in cultural studies as well. South Asian subaltern studies has made a substantial impact on history as a field in general.
We have one of the strongest medieval European history graduate programs in the country, with numerous graduate students and a large undergraduate following for our survey and topics courses.
Our range of specialties is broad, from Mediterranean history to Scandinavia, from the early to the late Middle Ages, from economic history to politics, military history, and institutions, to women, gender, and minorities, to exploration and cross-cultural contacts, to legal history, church history and the crusades.
Our seminars are increasingly moving beyond a Eurocentric focus. The field of medieval history at Minnesota has a long tradition of scholarship enlivened by new focuses in social, cultural, and gender studies. The Center for Medieval Studies and the Center for Early Modern History provide important resources and intellectual community for medievalists at Minnesota.
Europe: Early Modern
The definition for this era in the history of western and central Europe has changed over time. Today, the imprecise term "Early Modern" conveys that the focus has shifted to those institutions, behaviors, and patterns of thought that persist from the time of the Black Death to the era of the French and Industrial Revolutions that cannot easily be categorized as just medieval or modern. Seminars offered by faculty in this field are often comparative, or emphasize themes common to different centuries and countries.
The study of modern European history (history since the era of the French Revolution) addresses concerns that reverberate throughout the modern world. Europe’s development of industrial capitalism restructured the global economy through markets and imperialism. The emergence of the nuclear family system and the reconstruction of gender relations that typified nineteenth-century middle-class ideals have also had far-reaching consequences.
Modern European political development has been marked by the construction of "public spheres" and civil societies with their concomitant notions of limitations on government, but also by the institution of the nation-state with its potential for totalitarianism and racism.
Indeed, at the center of much scholarship in modern European history, including that of our own faculty, are the tensions between the impulse to question and remake human institutions that has been characteristic of European culture and politics since the Enlightenment, and the equally prevalent impulse toward domination and control.
This is a very exciting time to study Latin American history. The boom in social history continues, while newer approaches influenced by cultural studies, gender analysis, legal studies, and new political history have also taken off. Current research is integrating the insights of social history into a fresh analysis of politics and state formation, examining how groups such as indigenous communities, urban workers, and women both reacted to and helped shape state policies and national identities. In addition, as we enter a new millennium, historians continue to challenge traditional periodizations; many studies, for example, now bridge the late colonial and early republican eras. Minnesota's Latin American program has strengths in many of these diverse areas. Additionally, the geographic strengths of the History faculty cover much of the continent, with particular strengths in MesoAmerica, Chile, Peru, and Colombia from both colonial and modern perspectives.
Several of the Department's centers and workshops include comparative perspectives to Latin American history, such as the Center for Early Modern History and the Comparative Women's History Workshop. Finally, many students take courses in other departments with excellent faculty in areas like Latin American politics and Spanish and Portuguese literature.
Middle East and Islamic World
Although the program in the Middle East and the Islamic world is the history department’s newest area of graduate study, its faculty is already among the largest and most comprehensive of any comparable history program in the United States. Outside of the department, students are also encouraged to work with a list of more than a dozen scholars in related fields of both the humanities and social sciences. In addition, the University of Minnesota has begun an aggressive expansion of its related language offerings, which now include regular instruction in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.
United States: Early
New directions in the field of early American history involve the reconceptualization of the old US colonial history to a new broader focus on North America in the early modern Atlantic world, and bridge the divide from the colonial to the post-Revolutionary periods.
The new approaches draw on international, comparative, and interdisciplinary perspectives on the interactions between Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans in North America. They focus on borders, encounters, and frontiers; and explore questions of authority, identity, meaning, practice, relationship, and causality in economic, political, religious, social, and cultural arenas.
Our department is particularly strong in the social and economic history of early America, with specialization in race and gender.
United States: Modern
Modern US history is an exciting and rapidly changing field. The University of Minnesota has been at the forefront of these changes and is well positioned to continue that leadership. Social and cultural history, in particular, have been central to the reshaping of historical approaches and interpretations, fields in which this department has long been very strong. Our thematic sub-fields, in addition, link faculty and students to comparative workshops within the department and a wide range of interdisciplinary programs throughout the university.
The University of Minnesota has become the premier training ground for quantitative methods in US history, with an emphasis on social, economic, and demographic studies. The Minnesota Population Center is creating one of the largest historical population databases in the world. The Center provides training and employment for many of our students.
Scholars of modern American history research and teach on a wide variety of topics including comparative and global histories of migration and immigration, gender, sexuality, class, nationalism, Native Americans, race, the law, and American capitalism.
Comparative Early Modern
The field of comparative early modern history is in many ways unique to the University of Minnesota, reflecting broad faculty strength in this period, a common interest in relating the histories of different parts of the globe and the presence on campus of the James Ford Bell Library. Our proseminar on comparative early modern history (HIST 5631) is taught every year and offers an introduction to the scholarly literature that attempts to visualize the period in global terms. Every year there are also three or more graduate courses, some of which may have a comparative theme, featuring an off-campus visitor.
When you choose comparative early modern as a field you typically work closely with two faculty members in different areas (e.g. Europe and China), who then collaborate in setting your general examination.
Comparative early modern history draws its faculty from the diverse geographical areas and the varieties of methodological and theoretical approaches represented in the department. Many of the participants teach and write in more than one field, such as medieval and early modern, or early modern and modern.