Interdisciplinary Methods of Comparative History

Course Description: 

Historians routinely engage in comparisons. But not all history is comparative history. What distinguishes comparative historians is that they make more or less explicit use of comparison as a method traditionally based in the social sciences. More recently, transnational and global approaches to the past have thrown older models of comparison into disarray. How might these changing understandings of the ways in which we compare, as well as new notions of transfer and connectedness, propose changes to our disciplinary as a whole? This course is designed to give students the opportunity to reflect on the aims, key assumptions, and concepts, of comparison in history, its various applications, its benefits, and the challenges it faces in selected historiographies across the medieval, early modern and modern periods. Its aim is to sensitize students for the variety, importance, and implications, of comparative approaches, without, however, offering a comprehensive catalogue of methods or equipping students with a standard toolbox for comparativists. The course is divided into two parts. Following a general introduction, three weeks will be devoted to an overview of comparative history in order to bring into sharp relief the possibilities and limits of the various concepts of comparison and to establish a common set of vocabulary as a platform for ensuing discussions. The second part will trace the ways in which historians have engaged in comparative projects across different periods. In order to mediate between theory and the practice of historical research, the seminar combines general readings and class discussions with more focused presentations on individual periods provided by invited specialists from both the Medieval Studies and the History Departments

Learning Outcomes: 

A critical understanding of the evolution of historiographical debates about the use of comparison in history. An understanding of the relative merits and demerits of comparative approaches and of the various historiographical responses to them. An ability to read and prepare for discussion complex theoretical readings as well as recent historical scholarship across disciplines and periods and to familiarize oneself with the key concepts of comparative history, transfer history, entangled history, global history etc.


Students are expected to complete the readings and be prepared to discuss them in class. Students will be assessed by means of a combination of class participation (20%), preparation – depending on class size at least once per semester – of three distinct discussion questions to stimulate and sustain an intellectual conversation related to the weekly readings (20%) and a final essay (60%) based on a comparative historiographical topic of their choice (c. 3000w).