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Option Courses

Optional Courses

Students are required to select two options, normally one in Michaelmas Term and one in Lent Term. All options are taught as two-hour weekly discussion seminars over eight weeks and attendance is compulsory.

For each option, students will be required to write a 3–4,000 words essay which will count towards 10% of the overall mark.

Please note that this list of options changes from year to year and options may not run depending on demand and staff availability.  

At the discretion of the MPhil Director and Course Convener, students may be able to take options from the Faculty's other MPhil courses in place of an option on their home MPhil, or they may be able to audit additional classes. 


Options for 2017-18

New Worlds in Early America (Dr Seth Archer)

Early America was a complex, shifting world of nations, colonies, and families that interacted on various levels. Identities were often fluid, and a new life (or world) could be just around the corner. For enslaved persons, building and sustaining bonds of kinship and community proved challenging amid forced migration and brutal labour regimes. For Native Americans, colonial pressures constrained their choices, reduced their numbers, and eventually swallowed up their homelands. Yet time and again people adjusted to the new worlds thrust upon them. Life for colonists was no more static or predictable, even for those who formed “nuclear” families or espoused a belief in predestination and a purified Church. Adaptation, in a word, was key for everyone. How did bonds of kinship and community shape human experience in early North America? In what ways did cultural encounters, migration, enslavement, missionization, and environmental crisis bear on community and identity formation among the continent’s varied populations? What were the general contours of life for non-elites before 1820?

This Option Course is a graduate foundation seminar in early American history. It covers several, if by no means all, key debates in the field, including Native American and early settler contact, slavery and race, gender and the household, ecology, demography, and religion. The course will help students acquire the skills necessary to pursue advanced (PhD) research in early American history as well as topics in social, cultural, and environmental history. Students will also consider approaches to teaching the subject.


Race and the Problem of American Citizenship, 1775-1850 (Dr. Nick Guyatt)

In March 1785, the New York Council of Revision met to consider a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery which had recently passed the state legislature. The meeting was routine: the Council, comprising the governor and the state’s leading judges, were required to approve all bills before they could become law. The meeting’s outcome was extraordinary: the Council declined to approve the law because it did not grant citizenship to freed slaves or protect citizenship for New York’s free black population. “They are entitled to all the privileges of citizens,” the Council maintained, “nor can they be deprived of these essential Rights without shocking those principles of equal liberty which every page in the [state] constitution labours to enforce.”

This course examines the relationship between ideas about race and debates over black and Native American citizenship in the early United States. It invites students to reflect on the rich and complex landscape of racial thought in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, and on the urgent processes that applied this body of thought to the diverse peoples living east of the Mississippi River. “All men are created equal” was not originally intended as a rallying cry for racial liberation, but it was quickly appropriated by white reformers and people of colour to challenge the exclusionary and violent tendencies of early U.S. nation building. In this course, we’ll think about how early Americans navigated the crucial questions of race and belonging, and about how intellectual, political and social histories converged on a simple question: could African Americans and Native Americans become citizens of the United States?

Drawing on a wide mix of primary sources and on the latest scholarship in the field, this option helps students to acquire the skills necessary to pursue advanced (PhD) research in American history, especially in topics relating to race, slavery, Native American and African American history.


Liberalism in America (Prof. Ira Katznelson)

To probe the character, standing, meaning, and vulnerabilities of political liberalism in the American experience, this course sits at the intersection of ideas and institutions. It navigates key texts, including those by Locke, The Federalist, and Tocqueville, as well as Hartz, Dworkin, and Rawls; considers critical junctures, including the Founding, Civil War/Reconstruction, and New Deal; focuses on Congress and the hinge of political representation; explores questions of popular sovereignty as a form of legitimacy within modern states; and examines two liberal margins, matters of security and exigency and matters of membership and toleration, both of which bear on the content and scope of liberty. As each of these subjects can be advanced by way of comparison and a global sensibility, the class will be particularly attentive to considerations that cross borders.


The USA and Cold War Europe (Prof. David Reynolds)

This option addresses two interrelated themes – how Europe was shaped by the superpowers during Cold War and how Europeans shaped the Cold War – over the half-century from 1941 to 1991.

Major topics will include: the emergence of bipolarity, the German question, European integration, the Atlantic Alliance, Détente, the Eastern European revolutions, and the Soviet collapse. The central focus will be inter-state relations and their domestic ramifications. Attention will be given to the changing political economy, both within states and in the world at large, and to the tensions between and within alliance blocs. The course will also explore the role of political leaders within the larger structures of international relations and the influence of ideology on both states and leaders.

The two-hour seminars will take the form of an introductory overview each week, followed by student presentations on selected readings and group discussion.