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Thematic Interests and Areas of Excellence

  With nearly forty full-time faculty members, the Vanderbilt History Department trains graduate students in a wide range of fields and methodological approaches. Our temporal and regional strengths span from antiquity to modern history, with faculty members and graduate students focusing on the Americas, Eurasia, or Africa, as well as interconnections across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean.

   Our thematic and methodological interests are wide and varied, yet we are committed to three areas of excellence that offer unique opportunities for interdisciplinary research as well as trans-departmental and trans-institutional collaboration:

                                                             ● Legal History
                                                             ● Economics: Labor, Business, Capitalism
                                                             ● Race and Diaspora

Legal History: Vanderbilt is home to a thriving community of legal historians. We range chronologically from the ancient Mediterranean to the twenty-first century, and our faculty and graduate students have written on topics as diverse as ancient violence, the history of prostitution, racial passing, citizenship, Islamic law, policing, capital punishment, sovereignty and state building, privacy law, American slavery, and the intersections of religion and law. Our community is centered on the Legal History Colloquium, a trans-institutional seminar that brings together faculty and students from the Law School, the Divinity School, and the College of Arts & Sciences working on legal historical themes. The colloquium strives to be international and comparative in methods and scope. Students in Legal History take a graduate seminar on Methods in Legal History, which introduces them to the wide-range of work done by legal historians. Working in consultation with their adviser, students of legal history write one of their two graduate seminar papers on a legal topic; they also have opportunities to serve as teaching assistant to faculty in diverse areas of legal history.

Economics: Labor, Business, Capitalism: The Vanderbilt History Department offers a rich setting for the study of the history of economy, widely conceived, including labor and business history, the history of capitalism, trade networks, and general questions of economic development as they connect with politics, culture, religion and social history. Ranging temporally from the classical/medieval era to the modern world, and geographically from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States, the Vanderbilt History faculty is interested in the study of commodities, thought, empire, trade, free and unfree labor, finance, cultures, and the global development of capitalism. Our view is capacious, with wide interest in legal, political, and regulatory regimes that influence such processes. Working with faculty across the department, we encourage comparative and transnational forms of historical inquiry. Vanderbilt also offers connections with a robust team of formal economic historians in the Economic Department and a strong undergraduate Economics-History major.

Race & Diaspora: Vanderbilt’s History Department also focuses on complex histories of racial formation, as well as race and migration. Hence, the unique history of African peoples dispersed by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades is of particular interest. Deploying local, national, transnational, and transdisciplinary approaches, students work closely with accomplished scholars in the History Department, as well as other academic departments, such as the African American & Diaspora Studies Department (AADS), to study a wide array of interrelated topics. These include race as a concept, ideology, and system, as well as the role of race in shaping identity and culture in the Americas and other parts of the world. Likewise, students examine theories of race & diaspora, encompassing historical phenomena such as settler colonialism, racial enslavement, labor migrations, deportation, colonialism, and post-colonialism. In addition, research can extend to the analysis of subsequent mass demographic movements and the creation of “new” racialized peoples, homelands, communities, cultures, and ideologies as historical groups responded to upheaval and sought opportunities. Therefore, scholarship on race and diaspora also attends to manifestations of social, religious, economic, and political oppression and social control, and the attendant struggles of resistance and adaptation. This, in turn, leads us to scrutinize race alongside state formation, racialized citizenship, capitalism, state-building, and surveillance. As with all work on race, centering analyses of gender and sexuality is a priority in order to provide a deeper understanding of racial identities and structures. In addition, examining race and diaspora from the ancient world through the 20th Century and in relationship to Native American, Asian, and Jewish diasporas is also possible.

Coursework: Graduate students will be required to take a course in one of these areas in their first or second year and write one of two research papers in this area. Ideally, the department will offer team-taught core courses on a rotational basis by historians from different chronological or geographic areas. Pending staffing issues and student numbers, alternatives for completing coursework in the area of excellence will be approved. The new thematic courses will complement specialized courses dealing with their regions and periods and languages. Because history requires in-depth knowledge of a region, place, and culture, and by and large, the academic job market is organized in relation to geographic and temporal specializations, the department will continue its commitment to offering high-level training in all periods and regions of history, while adding new seminars that allow for training more broadly in each of our areas of excellence.

Admissions: Graduate students will select an area of excellence from a drop-down menu in Slate; prospective advisors will submit a note to the admissions committee explaining the candidate’s fit. Therefore, applicants are strongly encouraged to reach out to prospective advisors to figure out how their interests could connect with our areas of excellence initiative and to explain in their Statement of Purpose how they envision benefitting from it.

Beyond the three areas of excellence, other thematic and methodological interests represented by the faculty include: 

African American

Atlantic World




Citizenship / National Identity / Nationalism

Comparative / Transnational


Digital Methods

Diplomatic / International

Disease and Public Health



Gender, Sexuality, LGBTQIA

Historiography / Theory and Method

Iberian World




Material Culture

Mediterranean World


Peace and Conflict


Popular Culture



Social Movements



Science, Medicine, and Technology

United States and the World

World / Global / Transregional

Please click on the links to the right of this page to learn about the research of our faculty and graduate students. Information about recent Ph.D. recipients can be found by clicking on Recent Graduates for each section.