Research Areas

In addition to geographic and chronological specialization, the McGill Department of History and Classical Studies offers particular thematic strengths in the following areas:

Atlantic World

Where previous scholarship has often separated the history of American colonization into separate national narratives, the thriving field of Atlantic history brings together scholars and approaches from early Canadian, colonial American, Latin American, Caribbean, African, and early modern European history and emphasizes the study of early modern colonialism and empire from a decentred, transnational perspective. McGill is particularly rich in specialists in these areas. Applications are warmly encouraged from students wishing to pursue graduate work in Atlantic world history from a comparative perspective.

The McGill History Department holds a substantial grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation for the study of the French Atlantic world, a program involving seminars, workshops, and conferences with speakers invited from around the world, organized in collaboration with colleagues at l’Université de Montréal and Concordia University. For more information go to the French Atlantic Website, or contact catherine.desbarats [at] (Professor Desbarats)

Empire & Colonization

The study of colonialism requires a decentred approach to multiple areas and networks. No department can be exhaustive; ours nonetheless provides a good environment for the consideration of comparative themes in the history of colonialism and empire. A number of scholars in the department have a strong interest in colonialism, from a number of different perspectives. These include Hans Beck and Michael Fronda (empires in the ancient classical world); Gwyn Campbell (slavery and colonialism in the Indian Ocean world); Catherine Desbarats (French colonialism in New France); Elizabeth Elbourne (the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century British empire, with a particular focus on South Africa); Elsbeth Heaman (British North America); Catherine Legrand (US and Canadian enclaves in modern Latin America; French-speaking missionaries in the Caribbean); Lorenz Luthi (imperialism and the Cold War); Laila Parsons (British colonialism in the Middle East); Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert (early modern Portuguese colonialism in Latin America).

The study of imperialism also benefits from the department’s research clusters in the history of the French Atlantic and in the history of science, both of which frequently sponsor speaker series and conferences on imperial topics, as well as from the Indian Ocean World Centre, which recently sponsored a major conference on sexuality and slavery, and from the Champlain-St.Lawrence speaker series, which regularly explores colonialism and native-settler relations in northeastern North America. Students are also invited to draw on expertise across the university in other departments and may benefit from the comparative and historical work being carried out in locations such as the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, the Centre for Developing Area Studies, the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (Faculty of Law), and the interdisciplinary programs in Social Studies of Medicine and the Institute for Islamic Studies.

Gender, Sex and Sexualities

The histories of gender (the social meaning of the distinction between the sexes) and of sexuality (sexual identities and discourses) have made a significant impact in the historical profession during the last three decades. Questions about gender roles are now considered to be central, not only by historians of women, but also by historians of labour, race, and ethnicity; science and medicine; nationalism and imperialism; and many others. Sexuality is likewise seen to be a fundamental category of cultural and social analysis, and in investigating the historical and theoretical constructions of sexuality and identity (homosexual, heterosexual, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and so on), historians have brought the subject from the margins to the mainstream.

The McGill History Department is rich in expertise in the history of gender and sexuality, with research in areas as diverse as the historiography and theory of gender and sexuality; gender and sexuality in modern Canada, the United States, Britain and Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia; and queer history in early modern and modern Britain. The department also plays an active role in interdisciplinary programs and research in the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women and in the Sexual Diversity Studies program of the Faculty of Arts.

Historiography and Historical Theory

Historical theory is a well-established and acknowledged aspect of the historical discipline in every research university. Unlike the specific techniques of research methods adapted to particular fields of history, theory addresses the foundational questions of historical knowledge across every field and specialization. In its modern formulation, historical theory is focused on epistemology, periodization and time, human agency and the self, constructions of gender, narrative construction, and all intersections between complex language and history. Postmodernism and the linguistic turn in the humanities have had a deep and lasting impact on history, touching every area of research. Students who are interested in the study of history at an advanced level need some sophisticated acquaintance with the theoretical dimensions of the discipline.

History of Medicine

Department members who specialize in medical history include Professors Tone, Heaman, Schlich, and Weisz.

History of Science

History of Science is an interdisciplinary field with strong links to science and technology studies, history of medicine, communication studies, philosophy, museum studies, and history of technology. Applications are encouraged from students wishing to pursue an MA or PhD in history with a specialization in the field. The seminar in history and philosophy of science, along with the Mossman Lectures in the History of Science and Ideas, make McGill a dynamic environment for graduate work. Recent Mossman Lectures have featured Donna Haraway, Simon Schaffer, and Lorraine Daston. For more information, please visit McGill History of Science or contact nicholas.dew [at] (Nicholas Dew) .

Current research strengths of the Department include Chinese science and technology, medieval and early modern European science, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, science and empire (especially the Atlantic world), and science and medicine in modern Canada. Enrolled students are also encouraged to work with scholars from other departments in the Faculty of Arts in framing interdisciplinary projects. The wider Faculty community has strengths in the history of ancient science (in Philosophy), Islamic science (in the Institute for Islamic Studies), the history of communications and associated technologies (in Art History and Communication Studies), and the history of medicine (in Social Studies of Medicine).

NOTE: Funding is now available on a competitive basis for PhD students working on topics in history of science, through McGill’s participation in the SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster, Situating Science. Prospective students are warmly encouraged to apply for doctoral study and apply for this funding. For more information, please contact nicholas.dew [at] (Nicholas Dew) .

Indian Ocean World

Indian Ocean World (IOW) studies is a new, exciting, and rapidly expanding field of research in which McGill plays a pivotal role: Its Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC)  was the first centre of its kind, and is the world’s leading research centre in IOW studies. The IOW, a macro-region running from Africa through the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia to the Far East, emerged as the world’s first ‘global economy’ in the BCE/CE changeover, 1,500 years before the so-called European ‘Voyages of Discovery.’ Its emergence was facilitated by the monsoon system, a regularly alternating biannual system of winds unique to the Indian, Indonesian and China seas that largely regulated sailing patterns across the oceans, and rainfall and therefore agricultural patterns in their hinterlands. The monsoons and other climatic and environmental factors are thus central to IOW studies, as is the historical nature of human-environment interaction, and its shifting pattern over time and space. These, rather than essentially Eurocentric paradigms of space (e.g. ‘continents’, ‘area studies,’ ‘nation states’) or time (‘medieval,’ ‘early modern,’ ‘modern’) form the basis of historical research in the IOW.

The IOWC is the recipient of major funding for research into the rise and development of the IOW global economy in the context of human-environment interaction, and the history of human bondage in the IOW. It has also established major interdisciplinary and international research networks, and is home to a sophisticated and growing data base on human-environment interaction in the IOW.

Funding is available on a competitive basis for PhD students interested in working on topics related to the IOWC mandate. Prospective students should contact the //iowc [at]">IOWC by email, after consulting the range of IOWC research activities available.

Intellectual History

Intellectual history is the study of ideas and the people who had them in their historical contexts. Intellectual history at McGill looks at the ways in which people thought, and articulated their thoughts in words and practices, in the past. Our intellectual historians range from specialists in the ancient world to the present day, and we have particular strengths in Asian, European and North American intellectual history. Students who wish to pursue graduate work in intellectual history are also able to take cognate courses in political theory, philosophy, and literary studies in other departments at McGill.

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