Syllabus: Hist 820-99 (Spring 2011)

Hist 820-99: World History as Discipline

Prof. Jonathan Dresner
Online Course
Spring 2011
Phone: 235-4315
Office: RH 406F
Office Hours: MWF 11-1,
TuTh 9-11

This is not a survey of World History, that ubiquitous introductory course, but a study of the way in which scholars have broadened the study of history by crossing national and regional boundaries. The focus of the course is on the fields of comparative and transnational history as a whole, so we’ll be looking at examples of regional, topical and global histories which go beyond traditional methods and boundaries. There’s a great deal of creative and productive history being done at this level, and we’ll be looking at some good work as well as discussing the problem of translating complex global histories into narratives that undergraduates and secondary students can understand.

I will primarily be using Angel for course materials and discussions, but this website is my primary vehicle for my undergraduate World History surveys, and the resources and syllabi here may be of use during the course. (In the event of an Angel failure, this website will have the major assignments, course schedule, etc.) I will have a detailed syllabus available soon, but here is the list of books for purchase and study. Feel free to get the books for purchase from any source; the campus bookstore should have copies as well. The books listed in the library are almost all available as e-books through the ACLS digitial humanities library collection, so you will not need to purchase them (though you may, of course) nor will you need to physically go to the library to read them.


History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts and often-dramatic actions. This information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.


For Purchase:

  • Thomas Bender, A Nation among nations: America’s Place in World History, Hill and Wang (2006), 978-0809072354 or 0809072351
  • Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, Penguin (Non-Classics) (August 5, 1986), 0140092331
  • Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours, Harvard University Press (March 31, 2005) 0674016882
  • Ross Dunn, ed., The New World History: A teacher’s companion, Bedford/St. Martins 2000, 0312183275
  • Jane Burbank & Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference. Princeton UP, 2010 0691127085

Library Resources:

  • Ichioka, Yuji, Before Internment (will be on reserve)
  • Richards, John F. The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. (Electronic version through Axe)
  • William McNeil, Plagues and Peoples (Electronic Version through Axe)
  • Dunn, Ross E., The adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveler of the fourteenth century (E-book through Axe)
  • Iriye, Akira, Global community the role of international organizations in the making of the contemporary world. (Electronic Version through Axe)

Course Goals

Students will gain a strong background in the practice of history as done by professional historians and the issues of World history. Students will apply their learning to the selection and execution of an in-depth historiographical essay.



Students are expected to behave respectfully towards their peers and instructor. Online comments must be constructive and reasonable. Disruptive behavior will result in participation penalties. This does not mean that there can’t be lively discussions and disagreements, but personal attacks, vulgar language, threats, and failure to give others a chance to speak and be heard are not acceptable.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this course. As a graduate student, you should know what plagiarism is and how to properly document your sources in your work. If you have any questions, ask.


Advising is a very important resource designed to help students complete the requirements of the University and the History program. Students should consult with their advisor at least once a semester to decide on courses, check progress towards graduation, and discuss career options and other educational opportunities. Advising is a shared responsibility, but students have final responsibility for meeting degree requirements.

Student Accommodation

Any student with a documented disability who would like to request accommodations should contact the instructor as early in the semester as possible. For more information, contact the Center for Student Accomodations (235-4309,


All schedules, assignments, and policies in the syllabus are subject to change. Check the website, which will have the most current and accurate information possible, as well as copies of course handouts.

Reading and Assignment Deadlines

All assignments are due — posted or drop-boxed — by 7pm on the date indicated. Since you have to complete the readings to do the assignments, you will want to make sure that you start doing them well before the deadlines. Comments — replies to at least two of your colleagues — should be posted within 48 hours of the assignment deadline. Comments must be substantive and civil.

Professionalism: Preparation, Attendance and Preparation

This is not just an online classroom: it is a work space, and you are adults. You are expected to be present and prepared, not only physically but intellectually, and to carry out your assignments in a timely and careful fashion. You are responsible for keeping track of assignments, due dates, and announcements made through the course website.

The essence of scholarship is constructive engagement; the best learning comes from doing. It is very important that everyone keep up with the readings, and come prepared to think and talk and question and listen. The class should be a collaborative conversation, with a wide range of contributions; this requires respect and civility towards your classmates as well as your instructor. Specifically, students are responsible for responding in a timely fashion to each other’s postings with comments, arguments and constructive criticism. Asking good questions is an important form of participation. Asking questions which can be easily answered by referencing the syllabus, course website or textbooks is not.

Absences may be excused for unusual school-related events (not athletic practices), illness or family-related problems, but only if I am informed in advance (email is fine) or you have documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused absences and late assignments will affect your professionalism grade. Failure to complete assignments, or consistently sloppy or incorrect work, will also affect your professionalism grade.

There will sometimes be homework assignments which do not fall into the above categories which will be considered part of the professionalism grade. The first is that all students are expected to find the student information form on the course website, complete it, and email it to the instructor before the next class.

Final Grade Distribution:

Professionalism: 20%

Writing assignments: 30%

Historiography Essay assignments: 20%

Historiography Essay: 30%


Writing Assignments

To go along with the readings in the first half of the course, there will be short writing assignments. These will serve as the starting place for the discussion forums. You are responsible for commenting substantively on at least two other students’ work for every assignment. Assignments are due no later than 7pm on the day indicated. Comments should not be posted until after 7pm, so that you can read the entire class’s work before commenting. Your grade will be based on thoughtfulness and responsiveness to the question, not on structure, grammar, or polish. If no word limit is noted, you may write as much or as little as you wish to answer the question.

  • The first assignment (1/19) is to write a short essay explaining your idea of, experience with and interest in World history. Also, any questions you have about the course, syllabus, assignments, etc.
  • For the first set of Dunn readings, (1/26) there are three assignments, each of which should be posted in the appropriate discussion forum:
    • First, pick a chapter in each section to write a short summary — 500 words or less — focusing on the chapter’s thesis and most interesting evidence.
    • Second, for another chapter in each section, pick out a place where the author is significantly revising or arguing against other historians’ views and explain what the disagreement is and why it matters. You may need to do some research on this, to get a clearer picture of what the argument is about. Cite your sources.
    • Finally, from another chapter (just one, this time), pick something that looks like it would be interesting to follow-up on with more research and explain why, what sort of question you would focus on, and what sort of evidence would be necessary.
  • For the second set of Dunn readings, (1/26) there are three assignments, each of which should be posted in the appropriate discussion forum:
    • First, pick a chapter in each section to write a short summary — 500 words or less — focusing on the chapter’s thesis and most interesting evidence.
    • Second, pick a non-western region of the world – India, Middle East, Latin America, East Asia, Africa, etc. – and discuss how the scholarship in these sections (you can include previous readings from Dunn, as well) are trying to reshape or revise the history of this region. 1000-2000 words.
    • Finally, from another chapter (just one, this time), pick something that looks like it would be interesting to follow-up on with more research and explain why, what sort of question you would focus on, and what sort of evidence would be necessary.
  • For Bender, A Nation Among Nations(due 2/9): there are three assignments, each 500-1000 words
    • Which chapter do you think is most convincing and thoroughly transformative of the conventional nation-state narrative of US history? How would you approach this in a US history course?
    • Which chapter do you think is the least convincing or minimally transformative of the conventional nation-state narrative of US history? Why doesn’t this chapter work for you?
    • How much world history should be part of a course on US history? Or should US history be abandoned entirely in favor of a regional or global history?
  • For Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (due 2/16):
  • S&P represented a significant new work in a number of directions: the integration of anthropological and historical insights; multi-national analysis on a topic that isn’t diplomatic or military history; the application of scientific and medical knowledge to history; placing food at the center of historical process.
  • There are two assignments, each 750-1250 words.
    • In his introduction, Mintz says that “The relationship between the production of sugar and its consumption changed over time,” (8) but he separates production and consumption into separate chapters. Put them back together: how does the relationship between production and consumption of sugar change over time?
    • Aside from the obvious imperialist desire to control production and trade in valuable commodities (i.e. don’t talk about that!), how is sugar related to, controlled by or indicative of power?
  • For Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (due 2/23). Pick two of the three to write 750-1250 word essays.
    • Bailyn’s survey of Atlantic history draws on much earlier research but is it’s own original conception. Contrast Bailyn’s argument about Atlantic history with either Bender or Mintz. Do not focus on differences in scope — obviously these three books focus differently — but rather on the underlying narrative and structure of the history. This will, of course, require a concise statement of the underlying narrative and structure of the history of the two books, as well as a critical appraisal of their differences.
    • A recent survey of Atlantic historiography dismissed Bailyn’s book with a single sentence: “In 2005, Bernard Bailyn approached the Atlantic largely as the study of Europe and the Americas.” (Games, Alison. “Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities.” American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (June 2006): 754) Assuming this is a fair critique, and I think it is, would Bailyn’s argument have to be revised to include Africa, and if so, how?
    • How much Atlantic history should be part of a course on Early Modern European history? Or should Europe be abandoned entirely as an historical region in the Early Modern and Modern eras in favor of Atlantic or global history?
  • For Theda Skocpol, States and social revolutions: a comparative analysis of France, Russia, and China (1979) (3/2): Pick two of the three to write 750-1250 word essays.
    • Comparative history is about finding historical situations that are, in fact, comparable and learning something from the exercise. My father says “You can draw any line  you want through a single data point, and any curve you want through any two data points.” With three exemplars of a social revolution, and many revolutionary situations that don’t fit her definition, does Skocpol have enough material to support strongly the conclusions she is drawing from her model and cases? Or, to put it another way, does her argument for comparative history as a system of analysis (see esp. pp. 35-37) actually work, and does she do it well?
    • When I read comparative arguments, I’m often very conscious of the way in which the comparisons depend heavily on the quality of the underlying scholarship, and the way in which a non-expert in a region like Japan or China can be misled by outdated or badly selected material. (Barrington Moore, Jr., who Skocpol cites repeatedly as a model, was an excellent example of someone very poorly served by the work he relied on for societies about which he knew nothing.) Skocpol’s depiction of the French, Chinese and Russian revolutions is based on 30+ year old scholarship. For one of these three revolutions, discuss how the prevailing views have changed since, and whether this affects Skocpol’s analysis.
    • Analyze the present situation in North Africa and the Middle East using Skocpol’s definitions of a social revolution. How does the situation in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Bahrain so far compare or contrast with the French, Russian and Chinese models? Zhou Enlai’s “It’s too soon to tell” is not, by the way, an acceptable answer: Does the situation at present resemble a social revolution at this stage, and what, if anything, does this mean for the likely development of these societies? If you don’t believe Skocpol’s model has that sort of predictive power, feel free to make that argument as well.
  • For Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, there are two assignments (and an opportunity for extra credit) of 750-1250 words each (due 3/9)
    • One of the theses of the book is that the nation-state is neither “natural, necessary [nor] inevitable.” (3) What do they mean? Is empire the only alternative to the nation-state in their view? Do you agree?
    • The organizing principle and main thesis of the book is “that for most of human history empires and their interactions shaped the context in which people gauged their political possibilities … all had to take empires, their ways of rule, and their competitions into account.” (3-4) Pick a chapter to evaluate in detail: what empires dominate the age, how do they rule, and how does their rule and competition “shape the context” for people or states who are not subjects of the empires in question? Specifically for this chapter, and for the work as a whole, is this a successful argument?
    • Extra Credit (minimum 500 words): Pick a region of the world (a large country like China, or a group of small countries like Central Africa) that comes up more than once and discuss how Burbank and Cooper handle that region across time and whether their narrative is convincing.

Historiographical Essay

Historiography is the study of history itself: the themes, growth, errors, changes and methods of historians. For this essay you will either examine the work of a particular historian who has made a significant contribution to the field, or you will examine a topic or school of thought within world history. You will need to come to a conclusion about the state of scholarship on the topic, as well as your own ideas for fruitful directions or new questions.

For the first assignments (Topic, Scholarly Bibliography, Online/Primary sources, Annotated Bibliography, Thesis/Outline) you will post your assignment in the appropriate discussion forum and you will comment on at least two other students’ assignments.

The drafts (partial, complete, final) will be turned in through the Angel Dropbox. I will repost the final version of all essays and each of you will read and comment on all of them.

Topic Selection due (1 page) 3/2 (W)

A short description of the subject and basic issues you’ll be researching.

Scholarly bibliography (monographs, journals) due 3/16 (W)

Library work! You must find at least three monograph and five journal article citations. The library catalog and digital databases are good, but don’t forget to go into the library and look around.

Annotated and expanded bibliography 3/30 (W)

Based on your instructor’s feedback and your own searches, evaluate your resources for utility and expand on them if possible. “Annotation” means short commentaries making it clear to your readers the relevance and value of the sources for your paper.

Thesis and Outline 4/6 (W)

First, a clear statement — a paragraph, at most — of the issue, the state of scholarship, and your perspective. Then, an outline (bullet points, classic outline, whatever format is clear and useful to you) explaining how you will present the material, and bring your reader to that conclusion as well.

Partial Draft  (10+ pages) 4/14 (W)

This is an incomplete draft, but it should be a substantial portion of the essay. It does not have to be the first ten pages. Include your outline (revised, no doubt) so that I can see where it all fits together and what remains to be done.

Complete Draft (20+ pages) 4/27 (W)

Ideally, this will be a complete, but unpolished, draft.

Final Essay (20+ pages) due. 5/6 (F)

This is the finished product: thesis, argument, conclusion, citations (bibliography, too, though that doesn’t count for pages).

“No society, not even a democratic one, is great enough or good enough to make itself the final end of human existence.” — Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944)

Administrative Deadlines and Instructional Holidays are in Italics

Assignments and Tests are in Bold

Date Topic/Event
1/19 (W) First Day of Class: Personal Experience of World History
1/25 Last day for full fee refundLast day to add new classesLast day for late online enrollment
1/26 (W) Ross Dunn, ed., The New World History, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 7
1/28 Final day for dropping course without grade report
2/2 (W) Ross Dunn, ed., The New World History, parts 5, 6, 8, 9
2/9 (W) Bender, A Nation Among Nations
2/16 (W) Mintz, Sweetness and Power
2/23 (W) Bailyn, Atlantic History
3/2 (W) Reading Class choice: Iriye, Dunn, McNeill, Richards or IchiokaResearch Topic Selection due (1 page)
3/9 (W) Burbank&Cooper, Empires in World History
3/15 D/F Grades Due Noon
3/16 (W) Scholarly bibliography (monographs, journals) due
3/21-25 Spring Break
3/30 (W) Annotated and expanded bibliography
4/4 Summer/Fall Early Enrollment Begins
4/6 (W) Thesis and Outline
4/8 Final day for dropping course unless withdraw from school
4/15 (F) Partial Draft  (10+ pages)
4/27 (W) Complete Draft (20+ pages)
5/6 (F) Final Essay (20+ pages) due.
5/5 Last day to withdraw from university
5/9-13 Comment and discuss papers

“Undoubtedly the desire for food has been, and still is,
one of the main causes of great political events.”
— Bertrand Russell

“When two cultures collide is the only time when true suffering exists.”
— Hermann Hesse

“Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable
by any competent journalist or historian.” — Joseph Pulitzer

“The most tragic paradox of our time is to be found in the failure of nation-states
to recognize the imperatives of internationalism.” — Chief Justice Earl Warren

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