--Students by Clusters of Interest

This section of the website attempts to map the multifarious scholarly, teaching, and intellectual interests of our faculty and students – a departure from the regional/national/period divisions history departments tend to use. The cluster titles demonstrate many kinds of convergence and collaboration. The operative meanings of any one cluster will vary: in some cases there may be an intensive collective collaborations taking place (e.g. through a reading group or workshop series); in others the interaction takes the form of occasional conversations among individuals.

Africa Diaspora, Atlantic Studies

This group explores the role of African and African-descended peoples in shaping global (and particularly Atlantic) histories.  Central to such a project is the study of slavery and colonization and their variegated legacies on both sides of the Atlantic.  Members of our group are also concerned with the relationship between race and nation in the Americas, as well as broader questions of the constitution, mediation, and interaction of black subjectivities across the globe.  We focus on historical processes, such as labor migrations, anticolonial movements, and circuits of intellectual and cultural production that highlight the connections among local, national, and transnational contexts.  In all these pursuits, we maintain abiding interest in often closely linked questions of citizenship, rights consciousness, race, gender, sexuality, and culture.

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The American West

A group of faculty in the department, closely linked to the Program in American Culture, focus on the American West as a physical, political, and ideological space, significant for its place in national mythology, as a venue for the formation of the American state, and as the meeting ground for indigenous communities and for immigrants from around the world.  Our view of this West is capacious, extending from the Old Northwest and Great Lakes north to Canada and south to Mexico. Equally broad are our methodological approaches, which include environmental history, religious studies, culture and politics, ethnohistory, and insights from a range of ethnic studies fields. Faculty research and teaching in this cluster are focused both on the West as an object of regional studies and on the historical trajectories of conquest, colonization, migration, development,  marginalization, and cultural production that have defined so much of the history of the American West and that continue to dominate Western life and politics in the present. 

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Early America

Michigan’s Early America cluster commands a wide range of specialties and methodologies. Nationally renowned for its cultural and trans-regional approaches, it also embraces those who work on social, economic, religious, and intellectual aspects of Native American, White, and African American experience between 1485 and 1850 – on the ocean, along the coast, and deep into the interior.  The cluster’s twelve professors generally work at the intersections of several sub-fields:  some merge legal and intellectual or scientific and medical investigation, some combine cultural and gender history, while still others join social and economic analysis.  In the Early group, transnational exchanges are critical, whether they be Euro-American commercial and intellectual transfers, circum-oceanic evangelical religious movements, complex institutions intertwining African American and Native American lives, or different understandings and experiences of freedom circulating around the Caribbean and Atlantic basins.  Significant synergy occurs in the areas of women and gender, race and slavery, science and medicine, economic and material life, and the Atlantic World.  Enhancing our faculty’s work are the unique collections of the William L. Clements Library; this rare book and manuscript library on the central campus is particularly strong in the intellectual, cultural, political and military history of the Discovery era and the late colonial period, the Early Republic and the decades leading up to and including the Civil War.   Extensive use of its manuscript, print, and visual holdings is made in the training of graduate students.

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Economic History, Social History, Quantitative Methods

Faculty within the Department of History explore economic history from a number of different perspectives and sites.  While some employ mainly quantitative techniques to the study of social structures and relations, others utilize more qualitative methods—with a widespread appreciation of the need to incorporate both methodological approaches whenever feasible and appropriate.  A small but strong group of faculty in the Department use materials and methods from the social sciences to examine how economic behavior is embedded in local, comparative, and global contexts.  They continue to weave ties between economic history and other disciplines, including economics, to explore the social, political, and cultural dimensions of economic change.  Their work often overlaps and interacts with that of faculty in other clusters, and with colleagues elsewhere in the University, including the internationally-known Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).  Work on labor history and some microhistory might also be placed within this framework, and is in dialogue with the scholarship on slavery and postemancipation societies.

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Environmental History

The University of Michigan has in recent years hired several faculty who are on the cutting edge of the emerging field of environmental history.  This cohort includes scholars who teach European, North American, African, and global environmental history, and, exceptionally, spans from remotest to modern time periods.  Specialists work on topics as varied as medieval earthworks, Native American land use, and the environmental impact of the 20th century weapons industry, and how modern tourism reshapes landscapes.  Their work emphasizes the material, cultural, and intellectual connections between humans and their environments, both natural and humanly constructed.  This cohort has been working to build intellectual, institutional, and pedagogical connections with the School of Natural Resources, whose undergraduate offerings now fall under the administration of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

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Gender Studies & Sexuality

A sizeable group of faculty in the Department of History (many with joint appointments in other units) teach and conduct research on the history of women, gender, sexuality, body, and family, with an unusually wide chronological and geographic reach and strong interdisciplinary connections to other schools and departments at Michigan. Nationally recognized and top-ranked, the faculty in this field include particularly strong clusters in early modern and modern Europe, African, Asian, and Latin American history, as well as all periods of American history, including new strength in African-American history, Latino history, African diaspora, and Native American history.  Sub-disciplinary expertise spans intellectual, cultural, social and political history, including particular strengths in history of sexuality; race, empire and imperialism; religion and history of ideas; material culture; bodies, medicine, eugenics and reproduction; feminism and social movements; citizenship and subjectivity; public history and memory; visual history; and history of violence. History faculty members participate in and advise students enrolled in the History & Women's Studies Joint PhD Program.

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Historical Materials

Since at least the nineteenth century, archives and the documents they contain have been a privileged locus for historical research.  Today, however, historians look beyond written documents and official archives to explore the past in new ways. The archive, once approached solely as a place for research, is now also considered as an object to be confronted and analyzed.  The historians associated with this cluster challenge the hegemony of the archives in two ways: they explore visual, oral, and material cultures as alternatives to the document and the archive; they also interrogate the meaning, politics, and production of archives, and the role of archives in the production of historical knowledge.  The goal is both to challenge the archival record and to develop new interpretative strategies for historical understanding by exploring new sorts of evidence in new ways. These historians are thus engaged in scholarly reflection on the nature of historical inquiry and practice through a focus on the texts, sources, and institutions through which historical knowledge is produced. They are concerned with how experience is remembered, recorded, represented, and preserved; how social, political, and institutional authorities underlie and validate understandings of the past; and how non-textual ways of documenting and investigating the past may elude or challenge the hegemony of these authorities in the shaping of historical knowledge. This group is actively involved in developing new media as they work to build connections with the traditional "public goods" on campus -- its libraries, archives, and museums -- to engage with them actively and critically through a variety of interdisciplinary endeavors and initiatives that can both challenge and advance historical knowledge.

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Intellectual & Cultural History

The Intellectual and Cultural History Cluster is composed of faculty who take as their primary concern the historical production and function of culture itself, from popular culture to the history of ideas, and who are excited by the challenge of developing and exploring new ways to understand and think about culture historically – from visual and material culture, to the ways in which cultures and members of them interact across boundaries of class, race, nation, and gender.   Intellectual and cultural formations (e.g., science, medicine, technology, law, art, and religion) regularly travel and migrate across geographical boundaries. We ask how these formations develop -- concurrently, cooperatively, and sometimes contentiously -- in multiple locations and through multilateral channels of communication and transmission over uneven terrain.

The cultural and intellectual historians at Michigan include specialists in virtually every region of the globe, and they approach their subject from a variety of perspectives. Some understand culture in a broadly anthropological sense; others study more self-consciously institutionalized traditions of formal ideas, theories, techniques, and arguments; still others examine and analyze artifacts of material culture and mass media; and some concern themselves with the rules and regulations that guide particular institutions. Central is the conviction that ideas, beliefs, symbols, cultural objects and the arts are not epiphenomenal but rather integral to human history; they are means both for interpreting the past and explaining why things happened as they did.  By studying them we aim to foster a dialogue about culture across cultures to understand the construction of boundaries and the limits of meaning and understanding, even as we bring cultural and intellectual history into dialogue with politics, society, and the economy.

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Law & Society

Faculty within the department are in dialogue with a group of colleagues in the U-M Law School, exploring shared and overlapping research and teaching interests in the area of Law and History. In addition to well-established large courses on legal history (one on Anglo-American legal history and one on Constitutional Interpretation), there are now several seminars that address law and history, including one on race and citizenship and another on slavery and the law in the United States and in Latin America. Recent small conferences organized on campus have focused on race, gender, and the law, and one of these has yielded a volume on gender, honor and the law in Latin America. The faculty in this cluster characteristically use judicial records in their research, and interpret those records both in the light of social history and of jurisprudence. This interest in exploring the interplay of doctrine and practice makes the crossing of the boundary between the History Department and the Law School particularly easy, and two of our faculty now hold joint appointments in the two units.

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Medieval & Early Modern Studies

Historians in the Department who work on the medieval and early modern periods (ca. 500-1800) are dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of worlds that form a counterpoint to modernity and offer a vantage point from which to understand and interrogate it.  Visual, print, and material cultures; religion; gender and sexuality; and the meeting of cultures across the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Pacific are of particular interest.  Faculty and graduate students participate in a variety of interdisciplinary reading and discussion groups including the Premodern Colloquium, the Eighteenth-Century Studies Group, and the Atlantic Studies Initiative.  History is also one of the core disciplines of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Program (MEMS), in which graduate students can earn a certificate while completing requirements for the doctorate.

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Nations & Nationalism

Within historical studies, the question of nation has increasingly emerged as an important site of investigation and theoretical reflection.  It has been clear that European-seated ideas of the nation have long been embedded within Western ideas of progress and modernity, for example, but only recently have these interconnected ideas been brought under far-reaching critical review.  They are challenged in particular by the refiguring of colonial and post-colonial histories, with their attention to migrations, diasporas, and globalizing communities.  In the ensuing debates, the very idea of the nation per se has been called into question:  what the nation is, was, has become, or could be.  Historians are asking whether other trajectories or frames of understanding of historical process might prove more productive not only for historical understanding, but also for political, social, and economic justice.  The question of “the nation” has become central to a new critical examination of Eurocentrism and Euro-philosphy, displacing the teleologies of origins, formation, and elaboration.  Such discussions now reach beyond the historical frame of the nation altogether to examine institutional developments, ideologies, and forms of identification in more global and more trans-historical frameworks and through more pluriversal grammars.  Moreover, as the professions of history are themselves increasingly seen as the arts of nation, the new critical engagement with “the nation” holds the possibility of strong critical examination of the very project of History itself.

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Politics & Power

Faculty from many of the chronological/geographical subfields within the department study formal political history, state formation, national ideologies, citizenship, and reform and revolution.  They examine power in its circulatory, socioeconomic, and sociocultural dimensions, as well as the formation of political subjectivities, and the rise and fall of political hegemonic blocks.  One distinctive feature of the University of Michigan’s History Department is the close connection between studies of this kind, and work in social history.  That is to say, the imagined distinction between political and social history does not constitute a line of cleavage for this department—many of the same faculty work in both areas.

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Race & Ethnicity

We study the ways that racial and ethnic categories come into being, especially the manner in which they shape and are shaped by relations of power, social movements, elite and popular thought, and cultural production.  This cluster has considerable strength in the Americas, but bridges significantly into other regional fields such as Africa, Europe, the Atlantic, and the Pacific. We work across areas of specialization to construct an approach that is both comparative, marking how race works differently in different contexts, but also transnational, analyzing the ways that interactions among societies, especially imperialism and migrations, depend on, underwrite, and reconfigure local processes of racialization.  We maintain interdisciplinary ties with ethnic studies programs and African American Studies on campus, as well as area studies. Our faculty members and graduate students also seek to integrate the study of race and ethnicity into many other thematic specializations, considering by what means ideas and experiences of race and ethnicity intersect with other imaginings and structurings of difference, including class, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, politics, science and technology, and space, to name a few.

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Religion

Religious history can be approached from many different directions. Some of our faculty in this field study religious institutions, others look at religion as a form of collective identity, others explore the history of religious thought, and still others focus on devotional practices and the cultural history of religion. The study of religion also encompasses the closely related concept of "the secular." Everyone in the religious history cluster is committed to an interdisciplinary perspective that reaches out towards anthropology, sociology, philology, literature, politics, and more.

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Science, Technology & Medicine

Many faculty in the Department of History teach and write about the history of science, technology, and medicine, in fields ranging from ancient China to modern Europe, modern Africa, and the United States.  This group combines a nationally top-ranked cohort of medical historians with a dynamic new Science, Technology and Society Program (STS).  History faculty comprise most of the leadership of campus-wide interdisciplinary units in this field, including the Program in Society and Medicine’s medical history group, the Center for the History of Medicine, and the STS Program.  Their work emphasizes the study of the dynamic interrelationship of sciences, technologies, and cultures over time, an approach facilitated by the high degree of integration within history and other core departments. within history and other core departments.

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