Public History and Theory

About the Field

SBTHPAsianUC Santa Barbara defined Public History as a profession in 1976, with a Rockefeller Foundation grant to train historians for public and private sector careers beyond conventional academic employment. Since then, we have produced more than 100 students who apply their historical skills, knowledge and insights in public settings – in museums and heritage sites, businesses, government agencies, non-profit groups and private foundations. To meet the wide range of opportunities presented by the many publics we serve, the UCSB program prepares historians first as historians – broadly-trained scholar-professionals fully versed in the literature, methods, and interpretive debates of the venerable discipline – but also especially conscious of and practiced in the special challenges and resources distinctive to the public practice of History. Public History students regularly take advantage of the History Department’s large and diverse faculty to integrate their particular research and reading interests into their program. Students have opportunity to intern in locally with the Santa Barbara Mission Archives Library, which houses the Franciscan Archives of the West, and hone their interpretive skills with Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, which engages with the public at the history Presidio Santa Barbara and Casa de la Guerra, as well as the Santa Ynez Mills.

The formal course of study for the Ph.D. degree is further enhanced by opportunities to:

  • participate in the editing and production of The Public Historian, the quarterly history journal jointly published by our program and the National Council for Public History
  • spend research or internship quarters in residence at the UCSB Washington D.C. Center, with research grant and teaching assistantship support available
  • meet and discuss the field with prominent visiting public historians in the program’s speaker series; and
  • undertake coursework, research, and internships in the state capital, Sacramento, with the Public History Program’s joint doctoral program at California State University, Sacramento.


Students will work with an unusually broad and dynamic faculty:

  • Peter Alagona, Environmental History, History of Science
  • Randy Bergstrom, History of Public Policy
  • James F. Brooks, American West, Non-profit missions and management
  • Lisa Jacobson, Oral History
  • Mary Hancock, Ethnographic methods, Public Memory
  • Stephan Miescher, Oral History, Africa
  • Harold Marcuse, Digital History, Commemoration
  • Ann Marie Plane, Material Culture, Museums, Colonial America

Joint Ph.D. Program with Cal State Sacramento

The joint Ph.D. program combines faculty and resources with the Capital Campus Public History program of CSU Sacramento in a venture unique in the nation. Students in the joint Ph.D. may take courses and participate in public history research projects at both locations and from the joint faculty, no matter location, through distance learning technology.

Students with the M.A. in public history or equivalent graduate training and experience may apply directly to the Ph.D. program. Those with other training are encouraged to contact the program director to discuss M.A. or preparatory graduate work for entry to the Ph.D. program.

Core Courses and Requirements

All entering public history Ph.D. students will complete the core of courses and requirements: at least six quarters of research seminars, two of which may be fulfilled by research seminars completed in M.A. studies

  • the History 292 A-B-C series (Foundations of U.S. History to 1846; 1846-1917; 1917-present) or parallel courses in Latin American, European, African, and Asian history
  • History 206 (History and Theory: Public History), History 207 (Historical Methods)
  • a public history internship involving research and a report, which may be fulfilled by an internship completed in M.A. studies
  • a graduate course in each of the four examination fields
  • pass examinations in four fields chosen as follows:
    •  general field
    •  specialized field within the general field
    •  third field encompassing the dissertation topic
    •  cognate field outside the department (e.g. art history, anthropology, political science)

The first three of these field examinations will be written and oral; the fourth will be covered by oral examination only. Additionally, Public History Ph.D.s must:

  • pass one foreign language examination
  • complete a dissertation
  • serve as a research assistant or teaching assistant, or comparable employment in public or private sector.






  • History 192 Public History
  • History 205A Public Historical Studies
  • History 205B Public Historical Studies
  • History 217C Research Seminar in Cultural Resources Management, pt. 2
  • History 218A Colloquium in Public History
  • History 295PH Dept Colloquium in Public History

Science, Technology, and Society

Content coming soon…

Commerce, Commodities, and Material Cultures

illustration of an outside produce market

An interdisciplinary research cluster under the auspices of the History Department


About the Cluster

This research cluster includes both faculty members and graduate students who study the meaning and value of commodities, material artifacts, and consumer practices as they circulate through trade networks, regulatory systems, political economies, and social worlds. Members work in a variety of temporal and geographic fields—the ancient world, medieval and modern Europe, United States, Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia. Some root their work in the histories of capitalism, labor, and consumer cultures. Others analyze non-capitalistic and premodern systems of trade and exchange. We examine varied types of historical evidence, ranging from cultural productions (art and music) to material artifacts (textiles and ceramics) to written texts (patents and pamphlets). Several of us work on food, beverages, and psychoactive substances in national, imperial, and global contexts. Others focus on the history of retailing, advertising, and networks of innovation. We are also interested in how people use consumer practices and commercial activities to reject, rework and build hierarchies of race, gender, and class and systems of state, colonial and corporate power.

Our cluster combines an emphasis on material conditions with an abiding attention to the production of categories and experiences. We understand social, economic, political, and cultural life as overlapping and mutually constitutive frameworks as opposed to discrete and distinct realms. Both methodologically and theoretically, our research cluster crosses temporal and geographic boundaries so as to reveal historical differences, commonalities, and specificities.

Some of our activities include:

  • Quarterly paper workshops in which faculty and graduate students present articles, chapters, and other works-in-progress.
  • An annual graduate student retreat, sometimes held in conjunction with the Gender and Sexualities cluster retreat, where students can workshop papers and dissertation chapters and interact with faculty and peers not on their doctoral committees.
  • Foster interdisciplinary work across campus.

News and Events

Cluster Member News: 

Events, Prizes and Fellowships:

People in the Cluster

Useful Links

Empires, Borderlands, and their Legacies

An interdisciplinary research cluster under the auspices of the history department

Recognizing that borderlands occur within and between empires or states, in liminal environments and within and between ideologies, schools or doctrines, we seek to

  • Analyze problems and opportunities arising for and among people inhabiting and traversing borderlands along with the multiple identities or ambiguities they perform.
  • Study why and how, confronted with these borderland experiences, groups sometimes polarize discourse and behavior by claiming that primordial sentiments constitute nations, peoples or groups of true believers.
  • Seek to understand, especially for these borderlands regions, what can give social sanction to violence at the level of family, community or nation.
  • Explore methodologies and theoretical perspectives that may enhance our understanding of these issues, in particular those that underscore the constructed character of categories and seek to elucidate the borderlands between seemingly boundaried entities or groups.
  • Expand public understanding and discussion of these concerns.
  • Bring these concerns and the methodologies for studying them into an increasingly diverse classroom

Activities and goals

  • Year-long invited lecture series/colloquium, involving invited guests and local scholars; can be taken for graduate credit; counts as one grad seminar for faculty organizer
  • Departmental Ph.D. Field in Borderlands Studies. One requirement is the colloquium seminar
  • Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Emphasis in Borderlands Studies
  • Partnership with the IHC Identity RFG
  • Partnership with the IHC ancient borderlands RFG
  • Partnership with other department clusters as appropriate
  • Planned participation in the UC HBCU initiative and other projects aimed at enhancing campus diversity
  • Webpage with links to these groups, together with the University of Nebraska monograph series, UC journal of late ancient worlds
  • Reach toward potential affiliates in ecology, marine, and environmental science
  • Sponsor conferences and workshops



  • Badamo
  • Kaplan
  • Smith
    and others…

Gender and Sexualities

An interdisciplinary research cluster under the auspices of the history department

About the Cluster

The study of gender, bodies and sexualities is central to a full appreciation of the past, whether one is studying political culture, work and leisure, religious ideologies, scientific practices, state formation, or war.  Our department has long been a recognized leader of gender history in a variety of temporal and geographic fields: medieval and modern Europe, colonial America and modern US, Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia.  Many of us work on topics that transcend national boundaries by integrating gender into studies of imperialism, decolonization, borderlands, and international trade.  Our research methods are as diverse as the topics we study.  We approach gender and sexuality as historians of the emotions and the senses, as historians of political economy and business, as historians of material culture, consumption, and food practices, as historians of cities and the built environment, and as historians of childhood and the family.  We study the history of work in its widest sense, including slavery, industrial, agricultural work, and household and intimate labors.

Some of our activities include:

  • We host a Gender and Sexualities History Brown Bag series in which faculty, graduate students and guests workshop articles and chapters, and discuss current issues in feminist pedagogy and politics.
  • We sponsor guest speakers
  • We host conferences and symposia
  • We partner with the Department of Feminist Studies and other affiliated scholars
  • We host an annual graduate student retreat where students can discuss their work with faculty and peers not on their doctoral committees

Goals and Future Directions

  • Reconsider the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in light of the changing nature of the field
  • Develop new areas of departmental expertise
  • Develop greater public engagement through social media and through hosting an annual public event

People in the Cluster

Faculty and Lecturers:


Affiliated Faculty:

Current Graduate Students:


  • Justin Bengry (Honorary Research Fellow, Birkbeck College, University of London, Founder and Managing Editor of Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality)
  • Megan Bowman (Lecturer, Georgia State University)
  • Joshua Birk (Assistant Professor, Smith College)
  • Sarah Case (Managing Editor, The Public Historian, Lecturer University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Sandra T. Dawson (Lecturer, Northern Illinois University)
  • April Haynes (Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin)
  • Carolyn Herbst Lewis (Assistant Professor, Grinnell College)
  • Betsy Homsher (Vice President, Student Affairs, Kettering University)
  • Nancy McLaughlin (Associate Professor, UC Irvine)
  • Elizabeth Pryor (Assistant Professor, Smith College)
  • Nancy Stockdale (Associate Professor, University of North Texas)
  • Danielle Swiontek (Department Chair, Santa Barbara City College)
  • Bianca Murillo (Assistant Professor, Willamette University)
  • Laura Nenzi (Associate Professor, University of Tenn. at Knoxville)
  • Nicole Pacino  (Assistant Professor, University of Alabama, Huntsville)
  • Anne Rapp (Associate Professor, Lewis University, Chicago)
  • Katrin Sjursen (Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville)
  • Tanya Stabler (Assistant Professor, Loyola University, Chicago)
  • Matthew Sutton (Professor, Washington State University)
  • Sarah Watkins (Visiting Assistant Professor, Colby College)
  • Corinne Wieben (Assistant Professor, University of Northern Colorado)
  • Angela Woollacott (Manning Clark Professor of History, Australian National University)
  • Leandra Zarnow (Assistant Professor, University of Houston)

News & Events

Research Cluster News



Religion, Cultures, and Society

About the Cluster

We include intellectual, cultural and social historians who share interests in religion as it intersects with cultural and social history and, in particular, as a force in historical processes of stability, change, conflict and exchange.  We are also engaged as public intellectuals with a variety of current debates concerning religion and society – from the place of religiosity in indigenous land claims and use to the dynamic relations between religion and scientific inquiry and practice.   With research and teaching interests that encompass a broad range of regions and historical periods, we aim to develop a conversation that will invite comparative insights and questions about religion as a category of historical inquiry, as a force in social and political life, and about religiosity/spirituality in the context of identity formation and expression.  Some of the cross-cutting issues that characterize members’ research are:

  • Religion and violence – how/why religion precipitates violence in specific historical contexts and the consequences of those processes
  • Contacts between different religiously identified communities, the ways that those differences are translated and/or transposed, and the historical effects of such interchanges
  • Religiosity and religious affiliation as dimensions of identity that intersect with other forms of identification (gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality among others); ritual practice and the making of subjectivity and community.
  • Liminal experiences and contexts – involving improvisation, mixing, reinvention – that religiosity and/or spirituality may engender at different historical moments
  • The epistemological and evidentiary challenges posed by efforts to study the lived experiences of religiosity/spirituality in different historical contexts; the related instability of “religion” as a category of historical inquiry.
  • The ruptures and continuities between ways of being/knowing associated with religion/spirituality and those associated with science.
  • Religiosity and ritual as factors in the production, valuation and transformation of space, urban and rural.

People in the Cluster


Departmental Affiliates: 

  • Janet Afary (Religious Studies & Feminist Studies)
  • Cathy Albanese (Professor Emerita, Religious Studies)
  • Joseph Blankholm (Religious Studies)
  • Rudy Busto (Religious Studies)
  • Stuart Smith (Anthropology)
  • Ann Taves (Religious Studies)
  • Christine Thomas (Religious Studies)
  • David Walker (Religious Studies)

Pre-Modern Cultures and Communities

Our department is remarkable for its strengths in the history of the Mediterranean and North Africa, West Asia (also known as the Near East), East Asia, Western Europe, and North America before AD 1700 / 1700 CE. The eleven faculty in this cluster often serve on PhD committees together.

This cluster brings together a diverse set of colleagues who share an interest in historical processes that have shaped the human experience in manifold times and place: imperialism and colonialism, the development of community identities and institutions, religious conflict and concord, law and society, urban life, and warfare and military culture.

While historians of more recent periods typically rely on managed collections of archival documents as the mainstays of their evidence, members of this cluster employ a wide range of methodologies in addition to archival research to explore historical questions. These methods include literary and philological analysis, archaeology and visual studies, epigraphy, paleography, and manuscript studies,

psychotherapy and the study of emotions. Many cluster members hold affiliated appointments in other UCSB departments, including Classics, Religious Studies, French and Italian, etc.

This cluster is also distinguished by the use of multiple languages. In their research, members of this cluster read texts written in languages as varied as Egyptian hieroglyphics, Aramaic, Classical and Modern Chinese, Greek, and Latin, Catalan, Medieval and Modern French, German, Italian, Latin, and Classical and Modern Arabic, Persian, Spanish, Ottoman and Modern Turkish, and Japanese.

Faculty Members