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Theory and Method in Social/Cultural History (Graduate)

By Marcus Rediker at the University of Pittsburgh

The appearance and spectacular growth of social and cultural history over the past thirty years has been one of the most important developments in the discipline of history. This colloquium is designed to introduce graduate students to the key theories, methods, and issues in social and cultural history. We begin by studying Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim, three social theorists whose works have deeply and subtly shaped the new tendencies in historical analysis. Then we shall sample the social and cultural histories, reading influential studies that exemplify major genres, topics, and trends: working-class history, women’s history, gender history, quantitative history, the social history of ideas, mentalité, African-American history, post-structuralism and post-modernism. Our examples of such work will be drawn primarily from histories written in France, Great Britain, and the United States.

Students will write two-page papers each week, reflecting on the assigned reading. Another assignment will be to make a 10-minute presentation to the class on one of the week’s assigned texts or topics. Our main objective over the course of the semester will be to come to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of social and cultural history as we attempt to expand the possibilities for theoretically- and methodologically-informed historical analysis.


  • Peter Burke, The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School, 1929-1989
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
  • Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made
  • Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, volume one
  • Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness
  • Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller
  • Christopher Hill, Liberty Against the Law: Some Seventeenth-Century Controversies
  • Ian McIntosh, ed., Classical Sociological Theory
  • Ken Morrison, Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought
  • Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Afrotopia: the Roots of African American Popular History
  • Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
  • E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class