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Each seminar is organized around an unpublished paper submitted in advance by an invited scholar.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.