West, Nation, World

taught by David M. Wrobel

Download complete syllabus at this link.

Course Description: “West, Nation, World” examines the North American West in the larger contexts of U.S. national and global history.  The course reflects recent trends in the field of western history away from a singular emphasis on the region and its presumed exceptionalism and towards larger geographical and relational framings that help illuminate core themes such as empire and indigenous experiences, labor and migration, and environmental issues.  We also need to acknowledge the deep scholarly roots of contemporary global positioning of the West.  While the course focuses mainly on the 19th and 20th centuries, or first required course readings also address the second half of the 18th century.  This is a colloquium style course that is focused on classroom discussion of required course readings, and comparative oral and written analysis of those readings and additional scholarly works.  The course will also include videoconferencing with some of the authors.

Course Objectives: The course is designed to:

  1. provide a set of frameworks to think about the history of the North American West in global context and introduce you to a body of recent scholarship on the topic;
  2. introduce you to the wide range of approaches to researching, framing, and writing works of historical scholarship, through conversations with professional historians;
  3. help you develop your analytical, organizational, and prose skills (including rewriting) through the review essay format;
  4. provide preparation for students taking a comprehensive examination in western American, Native American, or environmental history.


Course Structure: During a good number of our sessions we will have the opportunity to conference with the authors of required readings, via the Blue Jeans system, and a couple of the authors will be with us in person.  We will meet in the Collaborative Learning Center Conference Room in the Bizzell Library for our conferencing sessions, and in the Western History Collection classroom, Rm. 452, in Monnet Hall whenever we are not videoconferencing—this is all marked clearly in the Schedule section of the syllabus.

Course Readings: Required readings will include the following works + a relatively small number of additional articles that I will provide in PDF file format:

Global Wests

  • David Igler, The Great Ocean, Pacific World’s from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • James Belich, Replenishing the Soil: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo World, 1783-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • David Wrobel, Global West, American Frontier: Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013).

Empires & Indigenous Experiences

  • Benjamin Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
  • Anne Hyde, Empires, Nations, and Families: A New History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).
  • Margaret Jacobs, White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).


  • Ian Tyrell, Crisis of the Wasteful Nation: Empire and Conservation in Theodore Roosevelt’s America (University of Chicago Press, 2015).
  • Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Donald Worster, Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Labor & Migration

  • Kornel Chang, Pacific Connections: The Making of the US-Canadian Borderlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).
  • Mai Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton University Press, updated edition, 2014).
  • Deborah Cohen, Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Weekly Schedule:

Wk 1, Aug. 23: I: Course Introduction; II: The Great Ocean (P&D)

Wk 2, Aug. 30: I: The Great Ocean (VC); II: Replenishing the Earth (P&D)

Wk 3, Sept. 6:   I: Replenishing the Earth (D); Session II: Global West, Am. Frontier (P&D)

Wk 4, Sept. 13: I: Global West, Am. Frontier (C); II: Blood & Soil (P&D)

Wk 5, Sept. 20: I: Blood and Soil (P&D); II: WHQ Genocide Forum (P&D); Essay 1 (P)

Wk 6, Sept. 27: I: Blood and Soil (VC); II: Empires, Nations, and Families (P&D)

Wk 7, Oct. 4:   I: Empires, Nations, and Families (P&D); II: Empires, Nations, and Families (C)

Wk 8, Oct. 11:  I: White Mother to a Dark Race (P&D); II: Essay 2 (P)

Wk 9, Oct. 18:  I: White Mother to a Dark Race (VC); II: Crisis of the Wasteful Nation (P&D)

Wk 10, Oct. 25: I: Crisis of the Wasteful Nation (VC): II: Plutopia (P&D)

Wk 11, Nov. 1: I: Plutopia (VC); II: Shrinking the Earth (P&D)

Wk 12, Nov. 8: I: Essay 3 (P); II: Shrinking the Earth (VC)

Wk 13, Nov. 15: I: Pacific Connections (P&D); Pacific Connections (VC)


Wk 14, Nov. 29: I: Impossible Subjects (P&D); II: Braceros (P&D); Essay 4 (P)

Wk 15, Dec. 6:   I: Impossible Subjects (?); II: Braceros (?); Essay 4, Essay 4 (P)

Additional Readings:

  • Week 2: Walter Nugent, “Comparing Wests and Frontiers,” Oxford History… (1994)
  • Week 3: David Wrobel, “Considering Frontiers and Empires” WHQ (2015)
  • Week 4: Gregory Smithers, “Rethinking Genocide in North America,” OHGS (2010)
  • Week 5: WHQ Forum on Genocide and Native Americans WHQ (2016)
  • Week 10: Nancy Langston, “Paradise Lost,” Environmental History (2009)
  • Week 13: Mai Ngai, “Western History and the Pacific World” WHQ (2012)
  • Week 14: Grace Pena Delgado, “Border Control and Sexual Policing” WHQ (2012).

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