Welcome to the Department of History at Brown University. I’d like to extend a warm greeting to all current and prospective students, undergraduate and graduate, as well as to our community of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and researchers. I would especially like to welcome two faculty members joining the department this year, Holly Case in modern Europe, and Brain Lander in environmental history and ancient China.
This is a rich and rewarding time to find myself chair of the department. History at Brown has evolved in two quite important and far-reaching respects in the last decade. The faculty has expanded significantly in size, by nearly twenty-five percent, and its specializations now range even more widely throughout the world, as more scholars of Africa, East Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East have joined the department. As a result of both developments, the department can now offer undergraduate courses and graduate training in almost all regions of the world. I hope you will consult our faculty page, where you can meet our renowned faculty, as well as our graduate page, which features our PhD students and details our doctoral fields and program.
The department takes pride in its combination of strength in traditional geographic fields—Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and United States—and strategic convergences in thematic, trans-regional, and connected histories. Strategic convergences, which cross or connect the geographic fields, encourage a dynamic departmental culture that contextualizes historical change within larger cross-cultural, transnational, or global processes.
Thematic and regional convergences are processes, not static entities. Some (including Borderlands and Displacement; Empire, Slavery, and Race; and Science, Technology, Environment, and Medicine, or STEaM) are established intellectual collaborations, supported by workshops, lecture series, conferences and ties to other units on campus. Others are just consolidating into workshop form (Legal History, for example) and yet others (such as Economies and Cultures; Gender and Sexuality; and Oceanic Histories) are nascent, involving faculty research and conversations that in time will yield more formal structures.
Three additional features of department life in 2017-2018 are worthy of attention here. First, the History Department, and the university as a whole, is in the second year of implementing its Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP), which calls for increased attention to race (and other forms of identity) and hierarchies of power in teaching; commitments to making the History community inclusive and welcoming; and greater faculty diversity. Second, during the 2017-2018 academic year, the department is one of twenty history departments nationwide participating in an AHA/Mellon workshop focused on “career diversity” for its PhD graduates. We have already developed two external internships for PhD students in conjunction with the Rhode Island Historical Society and the National Park Service, and with the assistance of AHA/Mellon we hope to develop additional programming in the future.
Finally, as the department has expanded in size and geographic coverage, we’ve also introduced innovative curricular reforms. The most notable of these has been the development of what we call “History 150s” (so named for their numbering in the catalogue). These are introductory courses designed to span multiple continents and to cover centuries of time; they are wide-angle introductions to global historical phenomenon that draw students from across campus, and they have served this purpose exceedingly well. Thus far, we’ve offered History 150s on the history of capitalism, prisons and incarceration, alchemy, and refugees and will introduce two new courses in the coming year, one on piracy and one on trials. The History 150 program has become a staple of the department’s curriculum, and I look forward to future proposals for new and exciting offerings. Please consider consulting our undergraduate page, where our curriculum is featured along with a link to our Department Undergraduate Group (DUG).
I invite you to linger over the faculty summaries and other entries here on the web site. It’s in the teaching, achievements, and scholarship of the faculty and students that we can see the true life of the department. We remain grateful for the department’s extensive network of alumni, both undergraduate and graduate, and for its many friends across the Brown campus and in the profession.
Robert Self, Chair