We encourage applicants to contact potential advisors directly to discuss research interests and resources at Brown, and to look at what our current graduate students are working on.
Fields of Study
The field of African history ranges from the 15th through the 20th centuries and covers the eras of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the colonial period, and decolonization. Regionally, our specializations are Francophone North Africa, Lusophone West and Central Africa, and Anglophone South Africa. Global considerations in our research include the Atlantic World, the Portuguese, French, and British empires, scientific networks, and anti-colonial movements. Brown’s Africanist historians have conducted research in Algeria, Cameroon, France, Ghana, Great Britain, Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Topical interests include empire, slavery, trade, public health and medicine, settler societies, political movements, science, and environment.
Atlantic World history refers to relationships and interactions between the peoples of the Americas, Africa and Europe, from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century, as these regions came to constitute a single, integrated system, joined rather than separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Its study focuses on themes such as migration and colonialism; the African slave trade, New World slavery and its abolition; trans-oceanic commerce and the development of history’s first worldwide cash economy; violence, mixing and transculturation among Europeans, Africans and indigenous Americans; negotiation of knowledge about medicine, geography and the natural world; and the evolution of imperial systems and the wars of Independence.
The Department of History at Brown University includes eleven scholars who research and teach on the Atlantic World, with special focus on North America, Mexico, the Andes, Brazil, the Caribbean, Angola, and the British Isles, along with their interrelationships. Members of the group have leadership positions at the John Carter Brown Library (among the world’s best rare-book libraries for the Americas in the Atlantic World) and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and are active in the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Andean Project.
The East Asia history program at Brown explores the particular historical trajectories of China, Japan and Korea, their interaction within the region, and their place in early modern and modern global histories; it is well positioned both to provide solid training in foundational fields of study and to foster the development of exciting new research agendas. The work of our faculty embraces a wide range of methodologies and analytical frameworks; we have engaged with initiatives in environmental history; science and disaster; history of the book and print culture; comparative urban history; war and displacement; and religion and society. Recent and current graduate students have worked on topics including Japanese mass culture; the birth of the modern Chinese examination; and borderlands and mapmaking. We frequently work with students and faculty across fields, particularly in trans-Pacific history, the history of science and medicine, and the culture of knowledge. We collaborate closely in graduate training with colleagues elsewhere in the Brown community as well, including American Studies, East Asian Studies, and the Watson Institute.
The Early Modern period most commonly refers to the period from roughly 1500 to 1800. Those centuries saw the beginning of a new world system, with the New World and Old World becoming interdependent. The period is often considered to have laid the foundations of modernity because of the rapid transformations in society and politics, economics, law, warfare, culture, religion, ideas, and science and technology; such profound transformations have also made it a kind of testing-ground for many explanations of historical change. Members of the department study such themes in and between the British Isles and in western and eastern, and northern and southern Europe, as well as North America, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia. Research materials are strongly represented at the Hay and Rockefeller Libraries while interdisciplinary programs such as that from the Center for the Study of the Early Modern World foster collaboration with students and faculty in other departments and are complemented by the Department’s Medieval and Early Modern History Seminar (MEMHS); the presence on campus of the John Carter Brown Library makes the study of the early modern Americas and their connections to Europe, Asia, and Africa during the colonial period particularly vigorous.
At the moment, the History Department has seven modern European historians engaged in active research and graduate training. While recognizing the continuing relevance of the nation state, the European faculty is characterized by diverse thematic and methodological perspectives. It offers training in British, French, German, East-European, Russian and Soviet history as well as specialization in the history of genocide, the Holocaust, intellectual and cultural history, the history of science, digital methods, Jewish history, minorities, the Cold War, science and politics, and aesthetics and modernism. Perhaps the hallmark of the modern European graduate program is its flexibility and dependence on a series of faculty and student-run workshops. It encourages transnational and interdisciplinary dissertations and strives to provide incoming students broad training.
The Department of History at Brown University includes eight scholars actively involved in research and teaching on Latin America and the Caribbean, with particular strengths in Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru. Faculty members also reach beyond their immediate geographical contexts to participate in other clusters in the department, such as African, Atlantic, and U.S. imperial and borderlands history. History faculty hold key leadership positions in several Brown initiatives and institutions, including the Andean Project, Brazil Initiative, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and the John Carter Brown Library. Many of them collaborate with the Watson Institute for International Studies on programming and scholarship. Faculty working on Latin America and the Caribbean also research and teach around several unifying thematic axes, especially gender and sexuality, history of science and medicine,race and ethnicity, and environmental history. Many of them share a broad interest in international and transnational histories of the region, from the colonial period (with strengths in Atlantic, imperial, and indigenous history) to the early national and modern eras (with attention to transpacific, Caribbean, and Cold War sociopolitical connections).
Historians have frequently used the Middle Ages as a laboratory for thinking about alterity. Traditionally defined as the period from roughly 300 to 1500, these centuries saw the collapse of Roman imperial structures and the emergence of startling new cultural, economic, political, and social forms. Equally central to the Middle Ages were the early development and entanglement of Christianity and Islam, fostering a complex Mediterranean world system. In this period forms of European colonialism and colonization evolved that lay the groundwork for later developments across the globe as the contraction and expansion of networks of exchange reshaped connections between Europe, Asia, Africa and even the Americas. Faculty work on these themes across Continental Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. Areas of focus include entanglement across ethnic, religious, and cultural lines; the imagination and experience of space/place; the history of power, captivity, violence and trauma, and the larger Mediterranean world. Students are encouraged to explore the period through a diverse array of approaches and methodologies, including cultural, religious, and social history, archaeology, material culture, and visual culture. Collaboration across disciplines and historical fields is strong, bolstered by the Program in Medieval Studies, the Medieval and Early Modern History Seminar (MEMHS), and opportunities for graduate students to form other interdisciplinary working groups. At Brown, the field in medieval history particularly underscores the ways in which the Middle Ages are in dialog with other time periods and global geographies.
Middle East Studies at Brown University is in the midst of rapid expansion in terms of faculty, graduate students, cutting-edge research initiatives, and innovative programming. The core growth is in the Department of History, which welcomes applications from graduate students interested in deeply grounded, globally contextualized, and ethically engaged knowledge production on this pivotal region.
The specializations of our faculty cover the social, cultural, legal, and economic history of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia during the early modern and modern periods (17th-20th centuries). Their published works employ both materialist and discursive approaches to histories of capitalism and political economy; Islamic law and society; family, gender, and social transformation; empires, settler colonialism and nationalist politics; displacement and partition; constitutional movements and state formation; and the history of finance and energy during the Ottoman, Mandate, and decolonization periods. Colleagues in other departments at Brown include historians of early Islam and the Mamluk period.
As specialists in a region straddling three continents, our faculty are especially interested in how the peoples of the Middle East shaped their own histories while producing South-South and North-South connections across Africa, Asia, and Europe, as well as the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Atlantic worlds.
Faculty: Hal Cook, Bathsheba Demuth, Nancy Jacobs, Jennifer Johnson, Jennifer Lambe, Steven Lubar, Rebecca Nedostup, Tara Nummedal, Ethan Pollock, Lukas Rieppel, Daniel Rodriguez, Neil Safier, Kerry Smith
“STEAM” faculty are engaged in teaching and research on a broad range of critical issues that center on our epistemic and practical interactions with the material world, including the relationship between nature and culture, head and hand, innovation and material constraint, and the entanglement of material resources, material culture, and the exercise of power. Our research engages the history of alchemy, biology, technology, the body, human interactions with non-humans, land use, mathematics, museums, psychiatry, medicine and public health, and risk and disaster. We work in Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States from the early modern period to the present. Our faculty are affiliated with programs in East Asian Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, and Science and Technology Studies, and collaborate with the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Watson Institute.
Faculty: Vazira Zamindar
The study of South Asia in the History Department, albeit a small field, draws on considerable thematic and comparative strengths from other fields and from across the university through the vibrant Brown India Initiative and the South Asian Studies program. Drawing upon a critical engagement with the politics of knowledge and the very making of geographic and political categories that we think with, our focus remains primarily in modern and contemporary history. Some themes of interest have included empire and borderlands, nationalism and minorities, violence, displacement and refugees, as well as Muslim intellectual thought and postcolonial theory. In addition, the annual South Asia Graduate Student Colloquium has served to foster transnational and interdisciplinary conversations and build wider scholarly networks for graduate students working on South Asia.
Faculty: Howard Chudacoff, Bathsheba Demuth, Linford Fisher, Christopher Grasso, Françoise Hamlin, Steven Lubar, Mark Ocegueda, Lukas Rieppel, Emily Owens, Seth Rockman, Naoko Shibusawa, Robert Self, Ken Sacks, Tracy Steffes, Michael Vorenberg
The U.S. history program has a long tradition of excellence in research and teaching, with many of its faculty having won prizes for their publications and pedagogy. A close-knit group of ten faculty with broad, overlapping interests, they combine the sensibilities of social history with the insights of cultural history, producing fine-grained studies of lived experience and devoting particular attention to Americans on the margins of the dominant society. In their research and pedagogical endeavors, they share a commitment to interdisciplinarity and transnational approaches. While the Americanists train graduate students in all periods, from the colonial era to the turn of the twenty-first century, they have particular strengths in Early America and the Atlantic World, the economic and legal history of the nineteenth century, and the post-1945 period. The Americanists also work with faculty working in other geographic regions, as well as with faculty in American Studies, to strengthen comparative and transnational approaches. Major thematic strengths include the history of capitalism, political and legal history, the history of civil rights, and the history of domestic and foreign policy. Americanist faculty and their graduate students are currently working in a range of subfields: material culture studies; the history of science, technology, and the environment; the history of social, political, and cultural movements; comparative legal history; histories of children and childhood; the history of sexuality; U.S. in the world, with special emphasis on transnational Asian/American history and transnational labor history; history of education; the history of religion in America; and Native American history.
With strong ties to related programs, centers, and libraries across the Brown campus, the Americanist faculty and graduate students benefit from specialists and resources outside the department as well as within. The John Carter Brown Library, for example, houses one of the finest collections in the world for the study of Early America and the Atlantic World, and it has a large fellowship program that provides an always exciting intellectual community. The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, one of the first institutes of its kinds, offers fellowships as well as a steady stream of workshops and lectures. The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and the Watson Institute for International Studies open up many intellectual exchanges between the Americanists within the History Department and those in related programs such as Africana Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and Urban Studies.