History and Theory in Global Perspective

History 703: History and Theory in Global Perspective

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Professor Patrick Iber

The goal of this course is to think through theoretical approaches for understanding and writing history, with special attention to global perspectives and global historiography. We will consider major theoretical frameworks that have influenced the writing of history, and study both the thinkers that put forward those frameworks and examples of works that carry forward those visions. We will also be asking if grand theories need modification, change, or fall apart if uprooted from their European or North American origins. Are theories of history Eurocentric in a problematic way? What ways of understanding emerged from the “global South” (if that is a meaningful category to use), and how do they differ from theories originating in Europe? How do landmarks of historiography inspire research in new areas of the world? How does including Latin America, Asia, and Africa modify the way that we think about theoretical approaches to studying and writing? We will look at major intellectual trends, from Marxism to subaltern studies. The course will mix discussion of theory with the reading of classic works of history, helping students develop ideas about their own approaches to their work.

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

  • Gain an understanding of important theoretical influences on historical writing and analysis,
  • Critically evaluate the strengths and weakness of different theoretical approaches to history,
  • Communicate ideas in written work and discussion according to professional standards,
  • And analyze how global perspectives change our understanding of historiographical debates. 


Covid grades will be determined by choosing “A” letter from a can of Campbell’s Alphabet soup OR:

Discussion, 32%: should be active, engaged, thoughtful, and open to learning from others. 

Discussion leadership, 16%: starting in week 3, I will ask one or two of you to be responsible for kicking off discussion. You should prepare a very brief introduction – on the order of a paragraph or two – saying what you think the key issues at stake are in this week, and posing an open-ended question that provides a good place for beginning the conversation. This will take some preparation and possibly coordination, if you’re not the only person involved.

Final paper, 52%: at the end of the course, students will write a paper of approximately 20 pages engaging with a theorist (or theorists) of their choosing. How might the ideas of this person be applied to historical analysis? What sort of questions do they help answer? What does their approach leave out? You may choose to analyze historical work that uses that theorist, or you may choose to consider how you would apply the theory in your own work, or you may propose a different approach for the final paper as long as it fits within the boundaries of the class. The theorist you choose need not be one of those discussed during the class.

Don’t let grades interfere with your learning.

Sep 3: Introduction to the class

Leszek Kolakowski, General Theory of Not-Gardening, https://themonkeycage.org/2009/08/kolakowskis_general_theory_of/

“Theory, History, and Social Science,” from William H. Sewell, Jr., Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation, 1-21; available as proquest ebook through library web site

Boaventura de Souza Santos, The End of the Cognitive Empire, 1-16.

Theorizing Capitalism & Development

Sep 10: 

Marx and Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx-Engels Reader, 469-500, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx-Engels Reader, 594-617, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/

José Carlos Mariátegui, Seven Essays on Peruvian Reality, “Outline of the Economic Evolution,” and “The Problem of the Indian,” 3-30, PDF will be provided

Sep 17: 

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, introduction, chapter 1, 4-6

Sep 24: 

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, pp. xviii-xxxviii, 71-89

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton, introduction, chapters 1-4, & 10, pages ix-97, 274-311

Theorizing Nation and Archive

Oct 1: 

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed., London: Verso, 1991, pp. 1-9, 37-82.

Claudio Lomnitz, “Nationalism as a Practical System: Benedict Anderson’s Theory of Nationalism from the Vantage Point of Spanish America,” pp. 329-359 from The Other Mirror: Grand Theory through the Lens of Latin America, Miguel Angel Centeno and Fernando López-Alves, eds., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Prasenjit Duara, “Transnationalism and the Challenge to National Histories” in Thomas Bender, ed. Re-thinking American History in the Global Age

Oct 8: 

Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, pp. 128-175

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera [selections]

Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, “On Borderlands,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (September 2011): 338-361.

Oct 15: 

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).

Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973,  pp. 1-42 

Theorizing Gender

Oct 22: 

Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, 15-50, 68-90

Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses(University of Minnesota Press, 1997). ix-xviii, 31-79. 


Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, 6 (July 1991): 1241-1299. 


Finn Enke, Transfeminist Perspectives in and Beyond, pp. 1-15


Any chapter of Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America, edited by Zeb Tortorici, University of California Press, 2016.

Theorizing Race

October 29:

Barbara Fields, “Ideology and Race in American History,” from Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, edited by J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982, pp. 143-177.

Ann Twinam, Purchasing Whiteness: Pardos, Mulattos, and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies, Stanford University Press, 2015, 3-78, 237-296

Theorizing Domination

November 5: Subaltern Studies

Ranajit Guha, “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency” in Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak, eds., Selected Subaltern Studies, 45-86


Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, 1988, pp. 271-313


Florencia Mallon, Peasant and Nation, p. 1-22, 137-246, available through library website

November 12: Foucault

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 3-69, 195-228

Paulo Drinot, “Foucault in the Land of the Incas: Sovereignty and Governmentality in Neoliberal Peru,” from Peru in Theory, 167-189.

Bernard Harcourt, The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order, pp. 1-77


November 19: 

Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.


Luis González y González, Pueblo en Vilo: microhistoria de San José de Gracia or in English as San José de Gracia: Mexican Village in Transition, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974.

OR another microhistory of your choosing.


Where have we been, where are we going?

Dec 3:

William Sewell, “The Political Unconscious of Social and Cultural History, or, Confessions of a Former Quantitative Historian,” from Logics of History, 22-80, available through the library web site via proquest ebooks

Stuart Hall, chapter from “Cultural Studies 1983” by Domination and Hegemony, pp. 155-179 or Culture, Resistance, and Struggle, 180-206.

Dec 10: writing

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