History Department
History Department

Thematic Fields

There are 14 thematic fields in which faculty have expertise. For a brief description of each field, click on the link "show description" under each one.

The sidebar has a complete listing of faculty specializing in each field. This information is also available on one page from the faculty Thematic Field list by group.

Atlantic History

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The “Atlantic” is an ocean but also a category to approach the histories of the peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. With the late medieval and early modern European expansion to Africa and the New World, these three continents became increasingly interconnected as peoples, commodities, ideas, and diseases moved back and forth across the ocean.

Our faculty and graduate students study the social, cultural, intellectual, and material history of these interactions. We adopt a multitude of disciplinary and methodological approaches and promote comparative and transnational narratives. We consider that an Atlantic perspective should not exclude but enrich local, national, and global historiographies.


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Borderlands history emphasizes the longer histories of peoples and places where national and imperial boundaries are drawn and re-drawn. Current social, political, and economic transformations (and technological advances) have forced people across the globe to grapple with projects that cut across nation-state configurations. At The University of Texas at Austin, scholars of Borderlands history have been wrestling with ways to incorporate the importance of place to the movement of goods, people and ideas for the last century.

Earlier generations of scholars at the university led the way in creating the field of Borderlands history. Americo Paredes, Eugene Bolton, Carlos Castaneda and Walter Prescott Webb crossed national boundaries to research and narrate the ongoing struggles of Mexicans in Texas, the creation of Texas, and the shifting environmental and cultural make-up of the Great Plains.

Eugene Bolton initiated the study of the Spanish Borderlands as a separate field of inquiry here in Austin. Building on, and moving beyond, Walter Prescott Webb's pioneering history of the Great Plains, George I. Sanchez's emphasis on the effects of the built environment on migrant school children, and William Goetzmann's intellectual history of Western landscapes, the faculty currently emphasize the complex factors that link cultures, nations, environments, peoples, and places together.

The multi-dimensional character of Borderlands history emerges from faculty working on Colonial America, American Indians, Latin America, Mexican American Studies, Ethnic Studies, American Studies, Modern European, American, and Asian history.

Business and Economic History

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The thematic field of Business and Economic History examines the role of markets, entrepreneurship, and industry in local, national, and global contexts. The diverse interests of the faculty, whose geographic specializations include Asia, Europe, and the United States, engage historical methods with economic phenomena to produce some of the most innovative scholarly work being conducted in the field.

Faculty research and teaching interests include: studies of major industries and corporations, the cultural politics of consumption and production, Black Business History in the United States and the African Diaspora, examinations of entertainment industries and entrepreneurs, national and global monetary systems, small business ownership and property rights, and the impact of capitalism on politics and culture.

Center for Black Business History

Diaspora and Migration

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The mobility and mixing of peoples, products, ideas, and socio-political systems have characterized much of human history although the late second millennium rise of nation-states has obscured this reality and its implications for historical transformations. The Diaspora and Migration thematic field seeks to complicate nationalist narratives by restoring migratory subjects and their attendant complexities, hybridities, and ellipses to our contemporary understandings of how socio-cultural processes and networks have adapted, ruptured, and re-emerged in the globalizing past. We also focus on the transmission through transcontinental migration of ideas and cultural forms in the modern era, whether in the fields of literature, religion, science, the arts, or scholarship.

Our research strengths include intra-African movements of people instigated by state formation, politics, trade, and culture; as well as the global dimensions covering the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, and Atlantic diasporas. We explore patterns of African integration into the world system through multiple approaches that reveal the internal and external processes and consequences of major historical developments.

Empire and Globalization

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Historians at The University of Texas have established a prominent place in the study of empires and imperialism and are leading the profession’s current effort to write histories that transcend traditional national and regional boundaries.

University historians of empire and globalization engage in a high level of collaborative work and have staked out an advanced position in the new historiography of globalization. We support graduate study in British imperial history; global political economy; colonialism and decolonization in the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia; and imperial aspects of Spanish, U.S., Habsburg, Ottoman, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian history.

Gender, Sexuality and Family

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With 20 associated faculty members, the Gender, Sexuality, and Family group it is among the largest thematic fields in the History Department, and one of the strongest and most dynamic faculties in the United States for research and study in this field. The program has particular strengths in the comparative study of women and gender; the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, and nationalism; theories of sexuality and their practices within sexual communities; links of family and kinship to property and economics; relationships between gender and religion; and the roles of gender within political culture.

In addition to our research and teaching, a lively community of graduate students and faculty work together to pursue mutual interests and engage in learning outside of the classroom, particularly in the interdisciplinary Gender Symposium, which brings us together on alternate Fridays to discuss work in progress as well as scholarship in the field as a whole.

Intellectual History

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Intellectual history is the study of human knowledge and the diverse contexts that shape its production and circulation. While intellectual history once referred primarily to the study of elite intellectuals largely in Europe and North America, in recent decades, it has expanded in critical and more inclusive ways. One factor that makes our department's thematic field in intellectual history especially strong is its transnational and global reach.

Those working in intellectual history may be informed by methods from fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, literary and critical theory, science studies, legal studies, religion and philosophy. Some intellectual historians work on formal and informal institutions of education; others examine the work of ideology and/or discourse in the flow of ideas and their dynamic relationship to social and political developments; still others continue to work on canonical intellectuals, doing non-canonical readings of canonical texts.

International Relations

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Several faculty offer courses in the history of international relations, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These courses often examine not just the diplomatic, economic, and military interactions among states but also the cultural, social, and intellectual climate in which those interactions occur.

Major topics include imperialism, globalization, the origins and conduct of wars, the impact of technology, and the links between economic and geopolitical change. Students working in these areas can benefit from the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, the Harry Ransom Center, and the Center for American History, among other major archives located on campus.

Medieval and Early Modern Worlds

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The department has great strength in the medieval and early modern worlds, not only in Europe but through other regions, especially the Americas and Asia. Faculty specialize in early modern Europe, in medieval Europe, in premodern Asia and in the colonial history of the Americas.

Thematic interests range widely. They include gender, family and sexuality, religion, socio-legal history, intellectual history, history of the book and print culture, and the history of the Atlantic (see the Atlantic History field).

Mexican American/Latino History

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Our field builds from a focus on Mexican Americans and Latinos as ethnic groups and as communities with historical and contemporary ties to Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. We examine the many politics, policies and cultures in which Mexican Americans and other Latinos make their lives. We place our studies within American history and the history of the Americas, including the Mexican Borderlands, and consider Mexican American/Latino history to be a long-standing bridge across historical disciplines. Our analyses emphasize emerging forms of community and historical inequalities within and without Mexican American and other Latino communities. We share academic and programmatic interests with scholars in the Department of History and associated disciplines in the College of Liberal Arts.

Our faculty and graduate students emphasize relations with Mexican American and other Latino communities outside the university setting, often through the Center for Mexican American Studies, as well as other venues. These activities include oral history, public history, research internships, and other forms of historical inquiry.

Race, Ethnicity and Nation

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The Department of History houses faculty with an array of interests in the intersecting histories of race, ethnicity and the nation in all of their formations. Faculty may approach these subjects as both social constructions, which are contested and change over time, and as lived realities that deeply shape people’s options, actions and associations. The field offers an exciting space for collaborative and comparative work and for the sharing of theoretical and historical approaches to race, ethnicity, and the nation across geographic areas and within global contexts.

The thematic field opens participants to the wider university community through individual faculty affiliations with African and African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Latin American Studies, Mexican American Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies.

Religion and Culture

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The faculty in the Department of History who work in some way with religion reflect in their interests the diversity and complexity of the study of religion itself. They embrace all of the major geographical areas of the globe and their chronological focuses range from the late Roman Empire to the present. Their interests embrace all of the world's main religious traditions.

Some consider religious affiliation or identity as one category of analysis among others. They study the intersection of religion and other aspects of human experience: science, law, psychology and social reform, visual and material culture, and politics and national or local identity.

Others study specific religious beliefs systems in their institutional frameworks and the ways in which they reflect and inform significant social and cultural developments.

Some focus on the close analysis of texts while others look specifically at new religions or at the intersection of gender and religion.

Two professors bring a trans-Atlantic and comparative perspective to the study of religion in the early modern Atlantic world.

The study of religion in the History Department is enriched by the growing interdisciplinary Religious Studies Department at the university and by the wealth of interaction within the department and the university across fields and disciplines. Students also have access in Austin to the libraries and collections of the Roman Catholic Chancery, the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, which currently houses the national archives of the Episcopal Church.

Science, Technology and Medicine

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The history of science, technology, and medicine has recently emerged as an important area of strength within The University of Texas History Department. The work of department faculty members spans many fields, periods, and regions, ranging from mathematics in pre-modern China to psychology in 20th-century America.

Members of our faculty also study the interaction of science and culture in the early modern Atlantic world, the history of natural history and evolutionary biology, medicine and public health in the 20th-century U.S., technology and the environment in the American West, the role technology has played in U.S. economic development, the relationship between materialism and science in 19th-century Europe, the history of mathematics and relativity theory , and the history of physics and technology in the 19th-century.

Visual and Material Cultures

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Just as scholars have come to understand the ways that historical experience is constituted by language and the ways people talk, historical experience is also constituted by the visual environment in which people worked, walked, learned, created, played and fought. Historians of material and visual culture examine the ways people in the past experienced their worlds visually, the artifacts they produced to construct visual and material traces of their experiences, the networks of exchange and power within which producers and consumers of the visual operated, as well as the shifting, often contradictory meanings attributed to vision itself.

We study (and are open to studying) all visual and material artifacts, including (but not limited to): architecture, advertising, books and manuscripts, cartoons, cinema, design, fashion, furniture, iconography, maps, the natural and built landscape/cityscape, painting, photography, performance and performing arts, posters, public behaviors, ritual objects and regalia, and textiles.