Syllabus Spring 2018: Transnational Intellectual History

History 706


Transnational Intellectual History


Professor Patrick Iber


As transnational history has moved from the fringes to the center of much historical inquiry, it has changed the practice of intellectual history. This course will examine the demands and the opportunities of writing transnational intellectual history. Readings will consider the methodological issues relevant to writing histories of this type, and include monographs that employ a variety of approaches—ranging from digital history to Marxist analysis. The readings are arranged in rough chronological order, and many have something to do with some aspect of U.S. history, but they have been selected more for their methods than for the precise topics that they cover.

The primary goals of this class are to give graduate students an opportunity to

  • Gain an understanding of recent trends in transnational historiography,
  • Critically evaluate the strengths and weakness of historical monographs,
  • Evaluate and apply the methods used for transnational history,
  • Communicate ideas in written work and discussion according to professional standards.


Course expectations:


Discussion, 28%: should be active, engaged, thoughtful, and open to learning from others.


Short responses, 12%: each week of readings (excepting the first) you should write a 300-500-word short response. Print two copies and bring them with you to class. They will be circulated and read by all before we begin our discussion. You can try to answer one or some of the questions posed that week, or comment on any aspect of the reading you found notable and would like to discuss further.


Book review reviews, 8%: Twice during the semester, instead of doing a short response, you will do a review of a book review. Find a review of the book in question from a journal or magazine and assess whether or not it does the things that a book review should do. We will generate a list of tasks for a book review in class. These evaluations should be 500-1000 words long. At least one of these reviews should be written in the first half of the class.


Historiographical paper, 52%: at the end of the course, students will write a paper assessing an area of the transnational historiography of their choosing. They may want to compare shifts in methods used over time, assess the kinds of questions that historians are trying to answer, or evaluate how transnational approaches differ from approaches more grounded in the nation-state. The paper should be approximately 20 pages in length and analyze at least four monographs other than course readings. If your interests take you in another direction, you can clear alternate plans with the instructor.


Don’t let grades interfere with your learning.




Week 1, January 24:

Thomas Bender, “Historians, the Nation, and the Plenitude of Narratives,” 1-21, in Thomas Bender, ed., Rethinking American History in a Global Age, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).


Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, “Approaches to Global Intellectual History,” 3-30 and Frederick Cooper “How Global do we want our Intellectual History to Be?” 283-294 in Global Intellectual History, eds. Moyn and Sartori


Jeremy Adelman, “What is Global History Now?”


Week 2, January 31:

Caroline Winterer, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. ISBN 0300192576.


Methodological spotlight / key question: How do digital methods have the potential to shift our interpretations or alter the kinds of questions we can ask of the past?


Week 3, February 7:

James Sweet, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4696-0975-1


Methodological spotlight / key questions: What counts as intellectual history? Who counts as an “intellectual” for the purposes of investigation? How does the circulation of “ideas” differ in the accounts of Winterer and Sweet?


Week 4, February 14:

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN 9780226006765


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How do we consider the relationship between the production and the reception of ideas in intellectual history? Whose version matters?


Week 5, February 21:

Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN 0674051319


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How do we think about the relationships between ideas and policy outcomes? How should we consider the material foundations of the circulation of ideas in doing history such as this?


Week 6, February 28:

Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780195176155


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How does the multi-sited nature of Manela’s research shape the argument?


Week 7, March 7:

Ruben Flores, Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. ISBN 9780812246209


Methodological spotlight / key questions: Why does so much transnational history make U.S. history essentially from the inside out? What would it mean to take seriously the implications of ideas moving the other way?


Week 8, March 14:

Howard Brick, Daniel Bell and the Decline of Intellectual Radicalism: Social Theory and Political Reconciliation in the 1940s. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986. ISBN 0299105504, available used.


Methodological spotlight / key questions: What would a Marxist history of ideas look like? How would it differ from a non-Marxist treatment of the same subject?


Week 9, March 21:

Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780674064348

And please read this profile of Moyn:


Methodological spotlight / key questions: What are the benefits and costs to writing a deliberate provocation? When and how should we historicize the work of historians?


March 24 – April 1: SPRING BREAK


Week 10, April 4:

Mark Philip Bradley, The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. ISBN 0521829755


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How does the source base and the approach differ from Moyn? How does it provide a different account of human rights consciousness? Which is more convincing?


Week 11, April 11:

Nico Slate, Colored Cosmopolitanism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780674059672


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How much does the story of U.S. history change if it is truly set in transnational context?


Week 12, April 18:

Patrick Iber, Neither Peace nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. ISBN 9780674286047


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How do we understand the affiliations and identities of members of international organizations in both national and transnational contexts? Additionally, since you will have the author close at hand, you may want to consider questions about the writing and publishing process.


Week 13, April 25:

Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 9780520244993


Methodological spotlight / key questions: How does McAlister’s “American studies/cultural studies” approach allow her to ask different questions than someone with a traditional historical approach? Do ways of reading evidence differ?


Week 14, May 2:

No readings; meet in class to discuss final papers in progress.



Final papers are due on May 14th by 2pm.  I would prefer paper copies to my office, as it is easier to provide feedback. Please also email me a copy for my records.



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