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 for and against them. The questions covered by this theme include: How do different forms of inequality based on race, class, ethnicity, gender, and religion interact?  What are the instrumentalities that create and perpetuate inequality?  How do elites and ordinary people influence the distribution of social, economic, and political power?  What paradoxes and contradictions follow the simultaneous decline in some forms of inequality and the rise in others?  How do differently scaled systems of inequality—those functioning within the realm of household, community, polity, and international system—relate to one another?   This theme sponsors a series of seminars that survey the scholarly literatures on power and inequality generated by historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and others, giving priority to the last two decades of theoretical debate and empirical investigation. 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, in history. 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.

"Texts" is broadly defined under this theme. 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. Texts are not limited to material artifacts but include ideological constructs. 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 that are susceptible to various historical interpretations.

To draw conclusions about past societies by exploring the meaning of their texts, this theme relates texts to their "contexts" - the specific socio-economic, technological, political, and cultural circumstances of their production and reception. Aware of the epistemological challenges the reconstruction of these contexts poses, Texts and Contexts also engages with methodological issues of general importance to history as a discipline. It takes seriously the dictum that “all history is contemporary history” (Benedetto Croce), but it does argue that a meaningful reconstruction of the past — through a study of the many texts that have remained and the possible contexts they suggest — is nevertheless possible.

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 Center links 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 will choose a regional specialization and satisfy its requirements; they will also develop further expertise in languages. On one side, studies in world history draw on the richness of Pitt’s transnational themes, emphasizing the interplay of regional and local histories with global patterns. On another side, the program has established leadership in creating a world-historical dataset and in building collaborative ties among world historians worldwide and with the Global Studies Center at Pitt. 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.