Department of History

Nicole Bourbonnais

Advisor: Lara Putnam
Doctoral Thesis: Out of the Boudoir and into the Banana Walk: Birth Control Campaigns and Reproductive Politics in the West Indies, 1930-1970
Date of PhD: 2013
Current Position: Assistant Professor of International History, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies; Geneva, Switzerland

I am currently working as an Assistant Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.  The school has two large interdisciplinary Masters programs in international affairs and development studies, as well as MA/PhD programs in a number of disciplines, including an “international history” department that focuses in on transnational social movements, international governance, and global connections.  The courses I teach reflect this concern, looking at themes like inequality and gender/sexuality across a multitude of geographical sites, crossing national borders and traditional regional divisions.  My research is also becoming increasingly international in scope, moving from the history of birth control and reproductive politics in the English-speaking Caribbean to a much larger study of transnational birth control/reproductive rights activism in the twentieth century.

My graduate training at the University of Pittsburgh has undoubtedly played a critical role in preparing me for this position.  First and foremost, I learned how to read more books/articles in a week than I had thought was humanly possible, which I now appreciate as I design new classes and projects.  The “thematic” courses on Atlantic history, world history, power and inequality…etc also taught me how to think coherently across borders and exposed me to a range of historiographies, making the transition to “international historian” a fairly natural one.  At the same time, I’ve appreciated how my mentors at Pitt managed to ground these big ideas and themes within the fabric of daily life through their strength in micro-history and social history approaches.  Indeed, coming out of Pitt, I thought it was obvious to everyone that pirates, nuns, enslaved peoples and sex workers were critical historical actors.  As I engage more with traditional literatures on international history and organizations, I have been fascinated to learn that this is, in fact, not always the case!  Sharing these perspectives and approaches with my students – who come from all different geographical and academic backgrounds – has been a great experience.