Vanderbilt History Seminar
The Vanderbilt History Seminar was established in 2008 to serve as center for historical inquiry at Vanderbilt University. Each year VHS sponsors six to eight seminars on a common and capacious theme on which new and important historical work is being done. Political violence, the historical life of things, boundaries, rich and poor, heterodoxies, sovereignties, performance, the politics of religion, senses and emotions, and water, are the themes that the VHS has sponsored since its founding.
Each seminar is organized around an unpublished paper submitted in advance by an invited scholar. After brief introductory remarks first by the invited scholar and then by a lead commentator, the seminar devotes itself to rigorous and wide-ranging examination of the submitted work. The seminar typically brings together 35–55 faculty and graduate students and joins specialists with generalists in a common and often spirited conversation. Seminar participants are encouraged to stretch their intellectual horizons beyond their specialties. A typical year of seminars will feature papers focusing on as many as seven different centuries and countries scattered around five of the world’s continents. Across a year of these discussions, regular seminar participants have an opportunity to learn a great deal about a historical theme and also to refine their thinking about key historical topics and processes. Seminar presenters, who are drawn from all over the United States and also from abroad, and from the ranks of senior and junior scholars, often remark on both the breadth and depth of the questions and critiques sent their way. That they are receiving this commentary on work that is still in development makes the feedback especially valuable to them.
For the reasons noted above, the Vanderbilt History Seminar is an exceptionally vital center of intellectual exchange. Housed in the Department of History, VHS welcomes the participation of historically minded scholars from every part of the university and beyond. Graduate students are particularly encouraged to participate in these seminars.
To receive regular notices about VHS events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list.
2023 – 2024 Schedule
Faculty Directors: Celia Applegate & Nicole Hemmer
Schedule of Speakers
- Monday, September 11, 2023, 3:10pm: Midnight in Algiers: Jews, the French Empire, and the Uprising That Turned the Tide in World War II, with Ethan Katz from UC Berkley, Sarratt 189
Past Themes and Speakers
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2022-23 Participants
Ruth Rogaski, Knowing Manchuria: Environments, the Senses, and Natural Knowledge on an Asian Borderland
Moses Ochuno, Emirs in London: Subaltern Travel and Nigeria’s Modernity
Michael Bess, Planet in Peril: Humanity’s Four Greatest Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them
Priya Satia (Stanford University)
Ned Blackhawk (Yale University)
Byrn Lecture, Samuel Moyn (Yale University), Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2019-20 Participants
Carina Johnson, Pitzer College
"Europa Virgo, Christian India, and the Early Modern Family Romance"
Ari Kelman, UC-Davis
“From Manassas to Mankato: How the Civil War Bled into the Indian Wars"
Daniel Beer, Royal Holloway College, University of London
“Civil Death, Radical Protest and the Theatre of Punishment in the Reign of Alexander II”
Elizabeth Thornberry, Johns Hopkins University
“Imagining African Law: Black Intellectuals and the Politics of Custom in Segregationist South Africa”
Rohit De, Yale
"Mobile Indian Lawyers and Local Histories of Minority Rights"
Patrick Geary, IAS/Princeton
“The New Genetic History and the End of the Roman Empire”
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2018-19 Participants
Nicholas Guyatt, Cambridge University
"Dartmoor Prison and the Pre-history of Carceral Segregation, 1813-1815"
Ari Joskowicz, Vanderbilt University
"Surveillance, Witnessing, and the Craft of History: Romani Holocaust Testimony and the Perils of Digital Scholarship"
Russell Rickford, Cornell University
Beth Bailey, University of Kansas
Panel discussion on Freedom in the United States since the 1960s
Anne Eller, Yale University
"It's Going to Rain Blood: Spiritual Power, Gendered Violence, and Anti-Colonial Lives in the Ninetenth Century Dominican Borderlands"
Indrani Chatterjee, University of Texas Austin
"Abolition as Primitive Accumulation"
Alison Frank Johnson, Harvard University
"The Emperor, The Minister, and the Executioner: Capital Punishment in the (Late) Habsburg Monarchy”
Monica Kim, New York University
"A More Perfect Hunger: The Korean Peasant and US Military Intelligence, from Rice to Uranium"
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2017-18 Participants
Joshua Reid, University of Washington
Book Discussion: The Sea is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs
Peter Lake, Vanderbilt University
Crying Like A Protestant: Dublin Jail, 1640
Paolo Squatriti, University of Michigan
The Restless Resource: Medieval Europeans and Water
Benjamin Cohen, University of Utah
Ruth Mostern, University of Pittsburgh
Methods and Challenges: Asian Hydro-Histories in the Long Durée
Gregory Cushman, University of Kansas
Book Discussion: Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History
Michael Christopher Low, Iowa State
Drinking the Sea: Desalinated Dreams, Fossil-Fueled and Filtered from the Pacific to the Persian Gulf
Sarah Hamilton, Auburn
Spanish Wetlands in the Anthropocene
Andrew Needham, NYU
Jason Scott Smith, University of New Mexico
Methods and Challenges: Water and US Infrastructure
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2016–2017 participants:
William Reddy, Duke University
Barbara Rosenwein, Loyola University of Chicago
Daniel Smail, Harvard University
Senses and Emotions Roundtable
Alistair Sponsel, Vanderbilt University
Hearing, Fearing, and Exploiting the Unfamiliar Sounds of the 1940s
Kristina Kleutghen, Washington University
The Terms of Vision in Late Imperial China
Emily Thompson, Princeton University
The Boys Upstairs: Sound Projection in the American Film Industry, 1926-1933
Jacob Baum, Texas Tech University
The God of Paste: Ritual Conflict and the Sense of Touch in the Second German Reformation, ca. 1577-1617
Beth Conklin, Vanderbilt University
Rethinking Cannibalism: The Interplay of Sensation and Emotion in an Amazonian Ritual
Margrit Pernau, Max Planck Institute, Berlin
Emotions and Colonial Modernity: Indian Muslims 1857-1914
Carol Lansing, University of California Santa Barbara
Male Humiliation and the Exercise of Power in Medieval Italy
Thomas Dodman, Boston College
When Emile Went To War: Becoming A Citizen-Soldier
Mark Smith, University of South Carolina
In Praise of Discord: Injecting Noise into Sound History
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2015–2016 participants:
Michael Laffan, Princeton University
From Javanese Court to African Grave: How Noriman of Cirebon became Tuan Skaapie of Merantau, 1717-1810
September 14, 2015
Katherine Moran, St. Louis University
The Imperial Church: Visions of Catholicism in the New American Empire
September 28, 2015
Myles Osborne, University of Colorado, Boulder
"Mau Mau are Angels...Sent by Haile Selassie": Reading a Kenyan War in the 1950s Caribbean
October 26, 2015
John Ondrovcik, University of Mississippi
On the Trail of the "Invisible One": Max Hoelz & the Power of Invisibility in Revolutionary Germany
November 9, 2015
David Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley
Christianity and Its American Fate: Where HIstory Interrogates Secularization Theory
November 30, 2015
David J. Wasserstein, Vanderbilt Univeristy
Is the Islamic State an Islamic State?
January 25, 2016
Laura Stark, Vanderbilt University
Logics of Service: How Anabaptists Became "Human Subjects" of Medical Experiments During America's War in Korea
February 8, 2016
Margaret Chowning, University of California, Berkeley
Catholic Ladies and Culture Wars: Gender, Politics, and the Church in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
March 14, 2016
Vinayak Chaturvedi, University of California, Irvine
Geography, Blood, and the Making of Hindu Hegemony
March 28, 2016
Cecile Fromont, University of Chicago
Envisioning Cross-Cultural Knowledge: Capuchin Images of Early Modern Kongo and Angola
April 11, 2016
The theme this year is performance. We have chosen it because it enables us to speak to a number of themes and periods, through notions of ritual performance, in both politics and religion, the performance of various gender and social roles, politics as forms of spectacle and performance, not to mention performance more conventionally defined in terms of the theatre, preaching, and music. our intention is to address as wide a range of historical analytics- political, religious,social, cultural- and periods as possible while retaining a common core of concerns, questions, and interpretative approaches so as to ensure a vibrant conversation throughout the year.
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2014–2015 participants:
Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"We'll Show You Boys How to Dance": Intertribal Space, Dance, and Kiowa Art, 1920-1940
September 22, 2014
The theme of “sovereignties” offers VHS an opportunity to examine forms of power over a vast temporal and geographic terrain, from the most ancient kingdoms and empires to the modern nation-state. From this perspective, this theme will allow us to engage with fresh and exciting work in political, intellectual, and social history, much of it stimulated by living through an era of global history in which the borders and powers of nation-states have become deeply unsettled. This unsettling has prompted interest in other kinds of polities across history—empires, city states, confederacies, and tribes—and how they have exercised control over their territory and peoples. It has also generated interested in the deployment of power by groups living “in between” territorially demarcated polities, both on land and at sea. We intend to explore the meanings of sovereignty and power in these borderlands and international maritime zones. And we will be keen to connect our interest in sovereignty to recent work on the break up of colonial empires, the formation of post-colonial and post-independence states, and the religious, ethnic, and racial identities that flourished in these political spaces.
Issues of sovereignty raise intellectual and social questions as well as political ones. We are interested in how different societies and legal regimes have defined sovereignty over time. We will chart how medieval polities began to distinguish the rights of rulers and subjects, and of “superior” and “inferior” groups, in varying parts of a domain, and how such distinctions congealed over time into early modern discourses about “sovereignty.” We will explore the ideologies and practices of “popular sovereignty” launched by the Atlantic Revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. And we will inquire into attempts made by rulers, from absolute monarchs to ordinary heads of families, across a broad array of state and non-state polities, to exercise sovereign power over the persons and, in many cases, the actual bodies of those who comprised their households. Thinking about “household sovereignty” will make gender and reproduction key categories of our historical exploration.
Sovereignty raises questions, finally, not just about political power and patriarchal rule but also about mastery over the self. Self-rule, virtue, and a capacity for independence have been foundational elements of republicanism wherever it has appeared (ancient Greece and Rome, early modern Italian city states, eighteenth-century France, British America and Spanish America); on the other hand, a wide variety of discourses across history, from the theological to the medical and psychological, have challenged this vision of the autonomous, knowing, and disciplined self. We will use the opportunity afforded by the sovereignty theme to explore varying conceptions of personhood across time and space.
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2013–2014 participants:
This theme will explore the history of heterodox, or dissenting, ideas, traditions, communities, and practices across a wide range of societies and centuries. It will examine not merely formally defined and anathematized heterodoxies, but a wide range of challenges to conventional outlooks, practices, and normative beliefs. A great deal of work on what we are calling heterodoxy is underway in the subfields of religion, politics, gender and sexuality, and the history of medicine and science, among others. Religious sects and schisms, slave religions, and utopian communities; social movements that challenge mainstream, or orthodox, conceptions of politics, sexuality, gender roles and family life; “heretical” ideas about disease and health, the universe (Galileo), the economy (Keynes) and race: all these topics, and others, fall within the ambit of the heterodoxies theme. We want to explore the diverse meanings of heterodoxies as well as the historical circumstances under which heterodoxies emerged, flourished, and supplanted orthodoxies, or were contained, co-opted, and crushed. Heterodoxies often drew the attention of (or became the occasion for calling into being) powerful institutions charged with eliminating dissent, purging political nonconformity, or imposing doctrinal purity. The auto-da-fé of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions, the public executions of the French Revolutionary Terror, and the Stalinist gulags stand among the most famous examples of this tendency to root out heterodoxy through violence. Heterodoxies have sometimes themselves become violent, as the cases of early twentieth century anarchism and late twentieth-century strains of radical Islam demonstrate. Authorities have also tried to label, contain, and sometimes impugn heterodoxies by generating scientific discourses about deviance; heterodoxies, from this perspective, are bound up with the production of knowledge. Encounters between the heterodox and the orthodox, both violent and nonviolent, both formal (through state and scientific interventions) and informal (through the activities of everyday life), thus constitute an additional subject for this VHS theme. Precisely because the question of heterodoxies appears both specific and flexible, it promises to become a key concept in historical research that can cut across fields and bring historians into productive conversations. Given the scope of its interests, VHS is well placed to make an important contribution to this project.
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2012–2013 participants: