-- Faculty by Geographic Fields of Study

The History faculty are aligned in seven broad geographic fields of study covering many time periods. Many members of the faculty are associated with more than one field. Please click on the field names below for more information.

Africa

African history has always been an innovative field with an experimental edge, distinctive for its new questions, approaches, methodologies, and frameworks of interpretation. African historiography presents the rich possibilities of an evolving scholarship, and the productive tensions of working on unsettled epistemic ground.

The University of Michigan is one of the world’s premier sites for training in African history. Our program is distinctive for its attention to historiography, anthropological history, and science and technology studies (STS).  Our research interests, scholarship, and teaching embrace all the continent’s major regions. Core faculty and their specific interests include:

  • Gabrielle Hecht:  labor, health, technology, mining and natural resource governance; southern Africa (especially South Africa and Namibia), as well as Gabon and Madagascar
  • Nancy Rose Hunt:  medicine, healing, reproduction, gender, semiotics, and violence; central Africa (especially Congo-Kinshasa, Rwanda, Burundi), as well as Ghana
  • Derek Peterson: religion, literature, vernacular culture; east Africa  (especially Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania)
  • Rudolph Ware:  Islam, precolonial Africa, Africa and the Atlantic, epistemology, colonial situations; west Africa (especially Senegal and Western Sudan), slavery

Africa figures in the work of a number of other historians at Michigan. Professor Emeritus David William Cohen, one of the architects of our field, plays an active role in our intellectual community. Several faculty members work on North Africa in various time periods, among them Joshua Cole, Juan Cole, Hussein Fancy, and Ian Moyer. Brandi Hughes, Penny von Eschen, and Kevin Gaines have published on the history of African-Americans’ engagements with Africa. Farina Mir and Mrinalini Sinha study the relationship between eastern and southern Africa and the world of the Indian Ocean.

This unusual combination of strengths in the canonical and the fresh mixes the latest approaches to matters vernacular, medical, religious, technological, political, environmental, economic, and digital with 21st century versions of teaching about historical and anthropological processes in Africa.

Our undergraduate students meet us in small seminars and lectures courses, learn to do primary source research in Ann Arbor, and travel to Africa for summer research in order to write original theses under our supervision. Several core classes are regularly offered: History 246, a survey of African history from ancient times through the early modern period; History 247, a survey of modern African history; History 355, on health and illness in African worlds; History 362, on the history of African literature; History 357, on Islam in African history; and a topics course on the history of technology in Africa.

Our doctoral students work with complex, layered, and sometimes multi-sited methodologies, and attend to multiple time depths and scales. They track social reproduction and violence, read bodies and texts, and interpret objects and signifying speech. They examine power, everyday life, as well as therapeutic, religious, technological, and linguistic mediations. We particularly encourage our doctoral students to learn vernacular languages and engage in long-term fieldwork.

Current doctoral students work on a great range of subjects: Rwandan immigrants’ unsettling presence in twentieth century Uganda; the genealogy of fictional writing in the Zulu language; decolonization and the 1968 generation of university students in Congo-Zaire; the politics of dissent in independent Mozambique; epistemologies of Islamic scholarship in precolonial West Africa; the architecture of road transport in Madagascar; missionary labors in nineteenth century Sudan; regional traders and informal energy infrastructures in Guinea; and maternity nursing care in Sierra Leone. In the last decade, our graduates have accepted positions at Concordia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Queens College, Rice University, University of Johannesburg, University of KwaZulu Natal, University of Manchester, and Vanderbilt University.

We regularly convene the African History and Anthropology Workshop (AHAW), which engages our own faculty and doctoral students as well as graduate students and faculty in African studies from across the university. Founded in 1997, this workshop is an important venue for jointly training doctoral students in historical and ethnographic thinking and practice, and offers a forum for U-M and visiting scholars to share and debate precirculated works-in-progress in regular sessions and small conferences.

Outside the History Department, U-M offers many opportunities for students to enrich their study of Africa. The Department of Afro-American and African Studies offers a range of classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Its distinguished faculty come from a variety of disciplines, do research in many African countries on such themes as environmental politics, health, postsocialism, religious cultures, extractive economies, music and dance, nationalism, cinema and performance, and development economics.

The African Studies Center, founded in 2008, coordinates the research that U-M scholars do in collaboration with African colleagues. The ASC annually hosts a cohort of 14 Africa-based scholars, who come to Ann Arbor for six months of sabbatical. The ASC also supports a series of academic conferences—in the humanities, the social sciences, and the hard sciences—that rotate between Michigan, Ghana, and South Africa, and collaborations are currently being developed with specific African universities.

African language training is a collective undertaking with the ASC and DAAS working in concert. Three years of Swahili are currently on offer, and U-M students can also study Akan, Bambara, Zulu, and Wolof in Ann Arbor.

For more information on our allied programs, click on the following links: African Studies Center, Department of Afro-American and African Studies, the Joint Program in Anthropology and History, and the Science, Technology, and Society Program

 

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Asia

The History Department at the University of Michigan has a long distinguished tradition of exploring the civilizations of South, Southeast and East Asia. The department currently has a diverse group of faculty specializing in different aspects of Asian history, ranging from imperial and modern China, medieval and modern Japan, colonial and modern India and Pakistan, the Indian Ocean, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia. Faculty research interests include gender, cultural, intellectual, legal, institutional, diplomatic and economic history. Given the colonial legacies of the Asian region, many faculty members also have strong commitment to research in imperial, global, colonial, and postcolonial history.

True to the strong cross-disciplinary traditions of the History Department, many of our faculty members have joint appointments in other departments and are active participants in programs such as anthropology and history, history and women's studies, and medieval and early modern studies. All our faculty are also affiliated with regional centers such as the Center for Chinese Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Center for South Asian Studies. The study of Asia at UM is also greatly enhanced by the presence of the Asia Library, which is one of the leading Asian research libraries in the nation.

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Europe

Content in preparation.

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Global & World

Since 2007, the Department of History has made a strong commitment to developing a program of graduate education in global history. This commitment was informed both by enthusiasm about the intellectual vigor of this new field and by the practical necessity of preparing graduate students for an academic job market that demands competence in global history. The field of global history rose to its present prominence due to a convergence of developments: the intellectual challenges to Eurocentrism and to self-contained national and regional histories; the curricular demands of engaging an increasingly diverse student body in American high schools and colleges; the need to recover the precedents and to understand the historical complexities of the “globalization” that dominates our present moment; and, not least, contemporary global shifts in economic and political power. These practical circumstances have resulted not just in the expansion or the diversification of the existing curriculum and intellectual field, but in a fundamental reconsideration of the methodological practices and theoretical assumptions of historical research. As the history of the nation-state has become increasingly recognizable as a peculiar preoccupation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, global historians of the twenty-first century are able to understand anew the connections and interactions among nation-states, as well as the ever-fluid relations among peoples and polities prior to the nation-state. 

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Latin America & Caribbean

Michigan's excellence in the study of Latin American and Caribbean history overall is coupled with an extraordinary depth in research and teaching on Brazil and the Caribbean that is unique among top-ranked universities.  Several of our faculty also have significant research projects underway in Central America, Mexico, and Argentina.  Our work spans issues of law, race, slavery, gender, religion, dictatorships, and migration, with temporal strengths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Much of our work is situated within the framework of Atlantic and African Diaspora studies and overlaps significantly with African, African-American, and Latino history.  We take a methodologically varied approach to the study of Latin America's past, drawing on social, political, cultural, and intellectual history, as well as ethnography.

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Middle East

The Middle East field at the University of Michigan's History Department covers the Ottoman Empire (beginning in the 13th century), early modern and modern Iran (Safavids, Qajars and more recent history), and the Arab world under Ottoman rule, in the European colonial period, and under conditions of independent nation-building since World War II.  (Students interested in the period before the Ottoman Empire, and especially those interested in the classic caliphates or Mamluks, should apply to the Near Eastern Studies Department).  Michigan's Middle East historians have a long tradition of interest in social history, historical anthropology, Islamic movements, and cultural history.  The Department is also well-supplied with historians who work on the frontiers of the Middle East, from Spain to South Asia.

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United States

The U.S. History field at the University of Michigan is characterized by its breadth and variety. Faculty within the U.S. field investigate a range of time periods and topics, and approach their research from a number of different perspectives.  

Chronologically, field members work anywhere from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries, with particular strengths in the Colonial/Revolutionary/Early National periods and in the Twentieth Century.

Topically, U.S. historians at Michigan explore everything from Archival to Business/Economic to Labor to Social to Western/Borderlands history. The field is especially well represented in the areas of African American, Atlantic, Gender/Sexuality, Intellectual/Cultural, Native American, Political, Popular Culture, Race/Ethnicity, and Urban history, as well as the history of Medicine and of Religion.

Methodologically, members of the field pursue approaches that include, and often combine, textual interpretation, quantitative analysis, intensive archival research, micro-history, comparative analysis, ethno-history, and oral history. Field members also look beyond the borders of the United States, with many involved in transregional and/or global investigations that examine the American story in relation to Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Atlantic world.

Enhancing the strengths of the field, U.S. historians have close connections with the Program in American Culture, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Women’s Studies Program (indeed, many faculty are jointly appointed with one of these departments).  The U.S. field at Michigan thus offers students the opportunity to explore almost any topic in which they might be interested with the confidence that there will be faculty able to help guide them in their work.

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