Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies


Race and Caste, 2021-22

The definition of "race" in the United States is largely a colonial legacy that has been difficult to discard. It usually means "color" as cultural boundaries, often regardless of class. Its history in places like Texas highlights the role that some groups play as a foil or critique of this peculiar US colonial legacy that includes the Black-White binary. Clearly “race” and “caste” have had vastly different meanings in different parts of the world over time. Further, the different regions and cultures of the globe have had a variety of mechanisms for maintaining social differentiation and hierarchy within and without, including patriarchy, religion, ritual practices, and labor. Racial regimes of power and representation are often replaced as they meet resistance from the oppressed. The history of race and caste is often no more than the story of constant social, cultural and political transformations. Discourses, tools, and concepts mutate, travel, and change. The IHS this year invites discussion of “race” and “caste” in the broadest possible terms both to expand our understanding of how social differentiation, hierarchy, oppression, and resistance have worked and to set off, by contrast, the particular forms that are dominant in the United States.

Climate in Context: Historical Precedents and the Unprecedented, 2020-21

The present climate crisis seems to confront us with a rupture with the past. What can historians offer in the face of scientists’ predictions of unprecedented warming and the breakdown of the planetary systems that have sustained civilizations? As anthropogenic climate change subverts the traditional timescale of historical consciousness, do old distinctions between human history and natural history collapse? Does this situation call for new forms of historical writing, or are traditional approaches as relevant as ever? For its 2020-21 theme, the Institute for Historical Studies calls for projects that grapple with the challenges that climate change presents to the discipline of history.

Taking the category of “climate” in broad terms, we seek scholars whose work explores the historical and historiographic complexities of environmental breakdown. How have history and our understanding of the past shaped social responses––or failures to respond––to environmental concerns? How might social, political, economic, or cultural crises have unexpected historical connections to environmental change? Might we find precedents for the “unprecedented” by uncovering and analyzing the historical roots and analogues of contemporary climate change? For example, how have people understood, adapted to, and recovered from climate events and other environmental disruptions across different time periods and places around the world? Can history offer an alternative to visions of the future that appear to be determined by prevailing climate models, and help provide us with new ways of understanding human agency, adaptability, and resilience? We invite proposals of historical projects that engage these and other questions, in all time periods and all parts of the world.

We expect to offer two or three residential fellowships in 2020-2021. For more information about the institute's fellowship and application process, please visit:

Collectives and Commons: Global Histories, Emerging Futures, 2019-20

Recent years have witnessed a global rise in new forms of socialism, new socialist ideas, and new types of collectives. As seemingly common resources like air and water, public spaces, even ideas, have become privatized, theorists and activists have sought to reclaim the “commons” and to rethink life in common. Rising social inequality makes the project especially urgent. In response, social activists have been experimenting with local and global forms of collective organization, while scholars have been investigating the many varied histories of collectivity. 

The Institute for Historical Studies welcomes applications from scholars who are re-examining historical collectives, commons, non-capitalist forms of production, and socialisms in all their variety. What variants of non-individualist and collectivist experimentation have been proposed in the past? What alternative forms of subjectivity, affect, and aesthetics did they produce? How have they conceived in new ways the human-nature relationship? Given that twentieth-century state socialism revealed a potential for coercion and violence, what alternative conceptions of state sovereignty or of the law have been proposed? How have different cultural traditions led to different conceptualizations of collective social organization?

We invite proposals of historical projects that engage these and other questions pertaining to ideas and practices of collectives, commons, socialisms in all time periods and all parts of the world. We expect to offer two or three residential fellowships in 2019-2020. For more information about the institute's fellowship and application process, please visit:

Genealogies of Freedom, 2018-19

The meaning of the word “freedom” is often taken for granted today, as if it means the same thing to everyone. This is true for the English term as well as for its equivalents in other languages. Yet the concept and practice of freedom have a rich and complex history, one that has been written, in Foucault’s phrase, on “entangled and confused parchments.” For its 2018-19 theme, the Institute for Historical Studies calls for projects that can help us understand the dynamic, shifting course of concepts of freedom over time and space. We seek an understanding that is attentive to disparity, contingency, and rupture, and that takes into account issues of language, religion, class, race, gender and sexuality.  Among the questions that might be considered: How is the freedom of one group dependent upon the “unfreedom” of others? How have social practices served to thwart legally mandated freedoms (as in post-abolition societies)? How have theology and ideology molded conceptualizations of freedom? When cultures have come into contact, benignly or violently, how have concepts of freedom been conveyed across cultural and linguistic barriers?

Migration, Exile, Displacement, 2017-18

The history of humanity is a history of movement. For millennia, people have fled violence, searched for ecological resources, pursued socioeconomic betterment and sought to reunite with kin. Yet all migrations emerge from and give shape to specific historical contexts, with their distinctive conjunctures of (geo)political forces, economic conditions, social conflicts, environmental factors, technological capacities, public policies and ideologies. As demonstrated by contemporary events, migration can produce severe humanitarian crises, marked by suffering among the displaced and by political challenges to states faced with accommodating them. It has set off conflict and political controversy; it has also led to remarkable acts of courage, creativity, cooperation, and compassion. Inevitably, whether voluntary or forced, state-sponsored or unofficial, migration transforms the political economy and cultural landscape of both the sending and receiving regions, as well as the individuals, families, and communities involved. For its 2017-18 fellowship theme on the history of migration, exile, and displacement, the Institute for Historical Studies welcomes applications from scholars whose research explores the origins, meanings, and impacts of population movements in history.

Food and Drink in History, 2016-17

Source of life, source of strife: food and drink are central to historical experience across time and cultures, whether in connection with the pleasures and terrors of everyday life or the long evolution of life on Earth.  As a window onto economies, societies, and civilizations, food and drink have a venerable historiographical lineage, including the Marxist tradition of E.P. Thompson’s classic work on grain riots and the moral economy of the English crowd and the Annales school publications that focused on material culture and long-term social structures.  As markers of social boundaries and identities, reflections of spiritual and moral values, and implements of ritual, food and drink hold critical symbolic and performative value in human history.  And as nutritional and psychoactive substances, food and drink are central to the history of public health and human emotions.  Drawing on diverse disciplines and methodologies, food studies has fueled in recent years a vast popular and scholarly interest in the histories of culinary practices, nutrition and health, global economic development and food security, animal rights, and agro-environmental change.  For its 2016-2017 annual fellowship theme, the Institute for Historical Studies welcomes proposals from historical-minded scholars of all eras and geographic regions that provide new perspectives on the cultural, social, economic, political, environmental, diplomatic, military, medicinal, scientific, and technological histories of food and drink.

Histories of Darkness and Light, 2015-16

There are many associations with darkness and light in all cultures, yet their historic origins, implications, and evolution are less well known. The association of darkness with racial and ethnic prejudice is perhaps the most obvious, but its negative connotations are equally prominent in religion (the darkness of the universe before God created light in Genesis; the darkness of Hell; the witches’ Sabbath); astronomy (black holes); psychology (fear of the night, seasonal affective disorder; the dark side of personalities); anthropology (the use of black in funeral rituals); and medical science (the loss of consciousness and death). Conversely, light has often served both as a metaphor for virtue, success (“light years ahead”), and historical progress (“the Enlightenment”), and as a catalyst for social and cultural transformation (electrification). The Institute for Historical Studies’ theme for 2015-16 seeks to track the histories of darkness and light across time and cultures. The institute welcomes applicants from all fields of history as well as historically-minded scholars whose work can reveal the worlds imagined, created, or destroyed by the histories of darkness and light.

Capital and Commodities, 2014-15

For the Institute’s 2014–15 program, we invite proposals for research into the history of capital and commodities.  The co-development of financial and ecological crises, the global proliferation of mass consumerism, and ongoing social and military conflicts over access to natural resources suggest the critical importance of historicizing the study of capital and commodities.  Indeed, over the last several decades, historians have compiled an impressive body of work on the history of commodities and their production, circulation, uses, and cultural significance. Research into commodity chains has forced historians to consider questions of social identity formation and has invigorated analysis of systems of communication and representation.  Historical studies have also revealed the impact of commodity production and consumption on natural landscapes and sociopolitical formations.  Recent globalized economic crises have further helped focus scholarly attention on how commodity exchange and capital creation involve the conjunctural dimensions of history:  credit booms and debt crises, cycles of inflation and deflation, economic growth (and its intellectual constructions) and limits to growth.   In this vein, the Institute encourages analytical approaches that underscore the sociocultural, political, environmental and intellectual underpinnings of the history of capital and commodities.  We especially welcome proposals that encompass broad timespans (including the medieval and early modern periods) and that reach across geographic areas and disciplinary boundaries. 

Trauma and Social Transformation, 2013-14

Catastrophes-- whether war, genocide, mass rape, enforced disappearances, or environmental disasters --inevitably leave their mark on the social fabric.  Civic trauma is an unavoidable, and yet little-explored, element and consequence of such tragedies. For the Institute's 2013-14 theme, we seek proposals that analyze trauma as a transformative historical experience for individuals, families, communities, and nations. Projects may include but are not limited to the suppression of trauma and processes of individual healing and collective transformation; the cumulative toll and intergenerational nature of trauma; trauma as a catalyst for geographic displacement, social reform, and political mobilization; varied cultural and historical understandings and representations of trauma; the fetishization and commercialization of trauma; and the methodological challenges of integrating trauma into historical analysis. Drawing from the fields of human rights, psychoanalysis, memory studies, sociology, anthropology, the cognitive and neurosciences, and semiotics, applicants are encouraged to employ interdisciplinary approaches to the historical study of trauma. From the testimonial to the theoretical, the medieval to the modern, and from the secular to the religious, we invite papers from across periods, sites, and historiographical traditions that foreground trauma as a frame for historical analysis.

Rethinking Diplomacy, 2012-13

For the 2012-13 theme, the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas Austin envisions a fundamental and substantive re-thinking of scholarly approaches to diplomacy as a worldwide, multi-disciplinary, historical practice.

Applicants should state unambiguously how they take a new and creative position vis a vis the individuals, communities, and states that have frequently defined the historical study of diplomacy.

We are particularly interested in exploring the meaning and practice of diplomacy in pre-modern times and non-Western societies and in a wide range of questions. How have different societies defined diplomacy? What were the underlining concepts of diplomatic engagement?  In what ways was the practice of diplomacy gendered?  What was the process by which one became a diplomat? Was statecraft clearly distinguished from actual diplomatic dealing or were the two synonymous? How have individuals and organizations conceived and practiced diplomacy in non-conventional sites and spaces?

This IHS project is part of a broader cross-campus initiative on "Rethinking Diplomacy" that also includes the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the Department of Government, the Center for European Studies, and British Studies. Together, the IHS and the campus-wide initiative aims to interrogate, stretch, and ultimately re-shape the ways the relations between societies and their representatives are conceptualized.

Power and Place, 2010-2012

We find history in unexpected as well as expected places: Auschwitz, the White House, Machu Picchu, Maya Lin’s Vietnam memorial, lunch counters, slave ships, mosques, battlefields, department stores, laboratories, and rainforests. Each of these has meaning as a place that, in ways both instant and profound, evokes historical developments of the greatest importance. In exploring the relationships between “power and place,” we aim to map how places shaped the ways power has been exerted as well as to trace how power has shaped and transformed particular places.

In an era of accelerating globalization, both power and place remain central to the work of historians, and we seek to understand them as broadly defined and imagined concepts. Specific relationships of power, however broad, have been mapped, asserted, negotiated and contested in, through, and around particular places. Place can take many forms (nation-state, cities, institutions, architectural forms, or environments to name but a few), and provide spaces of exploitation, liberation, and conflict, sometimes simultaneously. Nations, institutions, communities, and peoples have confronted, been defined by, or instigated struggles over power, place, and, even placeless-ness. For the Institute's 2010-2012 theme, Power and Place, we seek proposals that analyze the complex interplay between power, place and history.

Global Borders, 2008-2010

From the dawn of history, we humans have defined ourselves with borders and boundaries: markers in space, time, identity, aspiration, imagination, and as many other realms as our hopes and fears have conjured or devised. We are who we are because of the lines we draw; and we always have been.

Drawing inspiration from Texas’s location along America’s southern edge, we seek to understand how borders that are intended to separate peoples, places, and categories also function as sites of crossing and mixing. Many other communities are shaped both by the borders that define them and by border crossings that sometimes pass through and that sometimes sink deep roots. Borders are often places of contested ownership but they can also nurture the interaction and mixing of disparate cultures and peoples. They can serve as potent reminders of how much the human race holds in common and that much about this world cannot be delimited by lines drawn on maps. We are interested in global border dynamics, whether of the Pacific world, Old and New Europe, North and South, or settler and indigenous communities in Africa, to name but a few.

We also seek to understand borders as conceptual, ideological, and often porous divides that maintain systems of difference and inequality. Borders frame social and cultural spaces where different intellectual concepts, artistic styles, aesthetic movements, academic disciplines, or mass media genres encounter one another and negotiate their differences. Broadly imagined borders are functions of environments, religion, mobility, markets, citizenship, and warfare. Crossing borders can illuminate the construction of nations, communities, and intellectual categories and suggest how differing histories might be conceived.