University of Pittsburgh

Graduate Program

Transnational/Thematic History

From their matriculation into the program, graduate students will explore comparative histories—transnational, transregional, and global themes—as part of a graduate training that will enhance their ability to place the subject of their specific research into a larger historical context. Core seminars will be regularly offered on each of the following transnational themes.

The transnational themes are designed to provide linkages across time, space, and disciplines within the Department of History and between faculty in the department and those housed in other departments of the University.

Atlantic History

Atlantic History is a dynamic field of historical scholarship and teaching focused on the common, interactive history of Europe, Africa, and the Americas, especially the Caribbean, from the late fifteenth century to the present. It concerns the transnational flows of people, cultures, ideas, and commodities, and their connections across time and space. Atlantic history also offers rich opportunities for comparisons, whether regional, topical, or thematic, and at the same time functions as an important constituent part in a larger world history. Crucial to Atlantic history are ships, trade, port cities, and links among various economies and to other oceanic systems; the formation of empires and the rise of capitalism; migration and diasporas; and cultural encounters, relations, and identities regarding class, gender, religion, ethnicity, and “race.”

Faculty participants include Reid Andrews, Seymour Drescher, Laurence Glasco, Laura Gotkowitz, Bernard Hagerty, Van Beck Hall, Holger Hoock, Patrick Manning, Richard Oestreicher, Lara Putnam, Marcus Rediker, Pernille Røge, Rob Ruck, and Molly Warsh.

Power and Inequality

Power and Inequality examines the origins and maintenance of different forms of human inequality across time and space, as well as social mobilizations that have challenged them. Seminars within this theme are inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on the scholarly literatures on power and inequality generated by sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and others as well as historians.  Questions addressed include: How do elites and ordinary people influence the distribution of social, economic, and political power: and how has this varied across time and space? How do different forms of inequality based on race, class, ethnicity, gender, and spatial disparities interact? Is the overlapping of multiple dimensions of inequality best understood as a matter of additive disadvantage, compound/intersectional social positioning, or via some other model? How do differently scaled systems of inequality—those functioning within the realm of household, community, polity, and international system—relate to one another?

Departmental faculty working on this theme include Reid Andrews, Seymour Drescher, Larry Glasco, Maurine Greenwald, Bernard Hagerty, Van Beck Hall, Irina Livezeanu, Patrick Manning, Richard Oestreicher, Lara Putnam, Marcus Rediker, Rob Ruck, Gregor Thum, Bruce Venarde and Molly Warsh.

Texts and Contexts

Texts and Contexts studies the constitution and significance of objects and ideas, as well as their circulation and transmission. Combining approaches in cultural and intellectual history, this thematic field is primarily concerned with the meaning of things. Clifford Geertz once described man as “an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” Texts and Contexts identifies, explores, and interprets these “webs of significance” over time and space.

We define "texts" broadly. Any structure charged with meaning is considered a text. Most narrowly, it refers to literary artifacts from the great classics to dime novels. Artworks from cave drawings to digital imagery are texts as are everyday objects, such as clothes, furniture, and cars. Architecture, urban planning, and maps produce meaning through the organization and manipulation of space. Moreover texts are not limited to material artifacts. Rituals, for instance, constitute texts that are particularly rich in meaning, from everyday etiquette to highly codified ceremonies of religious or political communities. Texts, in short, encompass all human artifices susceptible to historical interpretation.  To draw conclusions about past societies by exploring their texts, this theme relates texts to their "contexts"—the specific socio-economic, technological, political, and cultural circumstances of their production and reception. Foregrounding the epistemological challenges the reconstruction of these contexts poses, Texts and Contexts engages with methodological issues of fundamental importance to history as a discipline.

Faculty working in this thematic field include William Chase, Janelle Greenberg, Maurine Greenwald, Holger Hoock, Peter Karsten, Vincent Leung, Irina Livezeanu, Lara Putnam, Evelyn Rawski, Pernille Røge, Gregor Thum, Bruce Venarde and Molly Warsh.

World History

World History has arisen as a logical yet exciting expansion of historical studies into wider relations in space, time, topics, and scale. At Pitt, the World History Centerlinks the varied elements of world history through its involvement in research, advanced study, and teaching. The graduate theme treats world history as a distinctive historical literature in the core seminar, as an entry to cross-disciplinary studies in the course on theory and methodology, and as a guide to multiple perspectives on the past through a course on macrohistories. Other courses (including directed readings) address specific issues in global context, with particular attention to empires as a factor in world history. Faculty members mentor students in defining and executing world historical research projects, linking documentary specificity with global connections. Within the world history theme, students may develop specializations in social, cultural, or economic issues, explored over short or long periods of time. In addition, students choose a regional specialization and satisfy its requirements; they also develop further expertise in languages. Thus, studies in world history draw on the richness of Pitt’s transnational themes, emphasizing the interplay of regional and local histories with global patterns. Meanwhile, the program has taken the lead in creating a world-historical dataset and in building collaborative ties across disciplines at Pitt, with the Global Studies Center, and among world historians worldwide. Many department members have expressed interest in ensuring that all graduate students gain formal training in this expanding field.

Faculty participants in the World History theme include Seymour Drescher, Niklas Frykman, Laurence Glasco, Laura Gotkowitz, Bernard Hagerty, Holger Hoock, Diego Holstein, Peter Karsten, Vincent Leung, Patrick Manning, Richard Oestreicher, Lara Putnam, Evelyn Rawski, Marcus Rediker, Pernille Røge, Molly Warsh and Mari Webel.