United States History in the Department of History

The Department of History has the largest concentration of historians of the United States in the country, and, as a recent study of the field of American history in Australia recognized, is at "the forefront of US History in Australia" (Australasian Journal of American Studies (December 2004): 73). As such, it regularly hosts leading scholars from the United States.

One of the fruits of this concentration is the possibilities that it offers for collaborative research. Three members of staff are currently involved in a research project entitled 'Year of the Riot: Harlem, 1935'. From 2011 to 2015, the project will be supported by an ARC Discovery Grant, one of the largest ever awarded in the humanities.

The concentration of American historians also allows for an unmatched range of units of study to be taught, with a survey of recent American history offered at first year and a range of more specialized lecture and seminar courses offered at the senior level.


Specialist staff

  • Dr Frances Clarke
    Nineteenth century history; Gender relations; Cultural history; Civil War & Reconstruction
  • Dr Michael McDonnell
    Early and Revolutionary Virginia; American Revolution; Native Americans in North America; cultural intermediaries and brokers; popular politics in the early Atlantic; labour, race, class and class struggles in the early Atlantic
  • Associate Professor Stephen Robertson
    Twentieth century social and cultural history; history of sexuality; legal history; digital history
  • Professor Shane White
    African American History; history of New York City; cultural history

Staff with Research Interests related to United States history

Recent Publications

Cover of War Stories Frances Clarke, War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North (University of Chicago Press, 2011)

 Cover of Playing the Numbers  Shane White, Stephen Garton, Stephen Robertson and Graham White, Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars (Harvard University Press, 2010)
 Cover of The Politics of War  Michael McDonnell, The Politics of War: Race, Class and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia (Omohundro Institute for Early American Studies/University of North Carolina Press, 2007)
 Cover of The Sounds of Slavery  Shane White and Graham White, The Sounds of Slavery:  Discovering African American History Through Songs, Sermons, and Speech (Beacon Press, 2005)
 Cover of Crimes Against Children  Stephen Robertson, Crimes against Children: Sexual Violence and Legal Culture in New York City, 1880-1960  (University of North Carolina Press, 2005)


First Year Units of Study

  • HSTY1076 American History from Lincoln to Clinton

Senior Units of Study

  • HSTY2609 African American History and Culture
  • HSTY2634 Columbus to Lincoln: American History before 1865 (semester 1, 2011)
  • HSTY2656 A House Divided: The American Civil War
  • HSTY2666 American Revolutions
  • HSTY2670 New York, New York (semester 1, 2011)
  • HSTY2671 Law and Order in Modern America

Postgraduate Units of Study

  • HSTY6999 American Power, Past and Present

Recent Honours Theses

  • Rebecca Chan, No matter if you’re black or white: Toni Morrison’s rejection of “black” and black nationalist rhetoric in the 1970’s (2007)
  • Vania Chew, Patriotic Womanhood: rewriting the ideal elite woman in nineteenth-century America (2007)
  • Tristan Harley, Disguised as Jazz: The cosmic projections of Sun Ra (2007)
  • Kate McKee, Gossip, Rumours and Reputation: Southern Identity in the American Civil War (2007)
  • Ryan Middlemas, Fatal Attraction: Dark Tourism and Morbid Media in the American Civil War (2007)
  • Amy Satchell, Staging Gender: How theatre helped to define and defend men and women of Antebellum New York (2007)
  • M.A. Cameron, Neither French Nor Savage: A Sonic History of the Eastern Woodlands of North America (2006)
  • E. Cohen, Passing Torches and Lighting Fires: John F Kennedy and the Crisis of American Liberal Nationalism (2006)
  • O. Cooper, A Question of Principle?: John F Kennedy’s Relations with France and Britain Re-examined (2006)
  • Alice Lam, Suicide in America 1920-1940 (2006)
  • C . Mitchell, Bring It On Home To Me: Black Music, Black Identity and Jim Crow 1954-1968 (2006)
  • S.N. Ratu, Anti-Semitism and American Refugee Immigration Policy during the Holocaust: A reassessment (2006)
  • Lauren Smelcher, ‘It’s Nation Time’: A Study of Black Cultural Nationalism, 1960-1975 (2006)
  • A.J. Corrigall, After Andersonville: Civil War prisoners and the construction of American memory (2005)
  • K. Courtenay, The New Woman Comes Into Her Own: Women’s Suffrage Parading in New York City 1910-1917 (2005)
  • Altin Gavranovic, Masters of lost worlds: Southern slave-holders after the Civil War (2005)
  • Julia Kelly, The Role of Glam-Rock Music in the Construction of a Bisexual Identity in America 1970-2005 (2005)

Research Projects

Postgraduate Study

Recently Completed PhDs

  • Dean Bertram, Flying Saucer Culture: An Historical Survey of American UFO Belief (2006)
  • Clare Corbould, Making African Americans, 1919-1936 (2005)
  • Zoe Couacaud, How the alien invaded the American mind: a history of experts, entrepreneurs, story-tellers, and a love of the alien in modern American culture (2006)
  • Obelia Modjeska, Seeking Dad, Seeking Master: Patriarchal Crisis, Middle Class Masculinity and the Representation of the Father in American Cinema, 1970 to the Present (2005)
  • Alwyn Williams, The Color of Sound: Jazz and the American Intelligentsia, 1919-1939 (2004)
  • Nicholas Gebhardt, Against the Ruin of the World: Jazz, Ideology, and the Modern American State (1998)

Current PhDs

  • Michaela Cameron, "Soundscapes of Early America: Native American and European Conflicts over Sound"
  • Ivan Coates, "Code Red: Western Union Infiltrates Hollywood"
  • Conor Hannan, "‘‘Flower Children with Thorns’: Art, Activism, and the Avant-Garde in New York City, 1968-76"
  • Nicholas Irving, "Global Thought, Local Action: A Transnational Reassessment of the Australian Anti-War Movement, 1959-1972"
  • Anna Lebovic, "Consuming Discerningly, Differently and Democratically: Class and Consumer Culture in American Vogue, 1945-1980"
  • Alan Rome, "Insanity in Early America: Madness across Cultural Borders"
  • Michael Thompson, "The Origins and Practice of Christian Internationalism in the Early Twentieth Century"


Frances Clarke's 'Finding American History Sources in Australia'

The Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association

News and Events

Stephen Robertson, Shane White, Stephen Garton, & Graham White were awarded the American Historical Association's inaugural Roy Rosenzweig Fellowship for Innovation in Digital History, and the ABC-CLIO Online History Award of the American Library Association for Digital Harlem, their site on everyday life in the neighborhood in the 1920s.

Shane White, Stephen Garton, & Stephen Robertson were awarded a 2010 University of Sydney Bridging Support Grant for their project Year of the Riot: Harlem, 1935.

Shane White has been appointed the Challis Professor of History. The Challis Chair is one of nine created as a result of a bequest from John Henry Challis in 1880, and is held by the senior Professor in the History Department.

Frances Clarke was awarded a Research Grant for 2009 by the United States Studies Centre, for her project, "Dear Father Abraham: Defining the rights and obligations of citizenship in Civil War America".

Stephen Robertson was awarded a 2008 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award

Michael McDonnell won the General History Prize in the 2008 NSW Premier's History Awards, for his book, The Politics of War: Race, Class and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia, published in 2007 by the University of North Carolina Press.

Cassandra Pybus (with Prof RL Isaac; Prof I Berlin; Prof OV Burton; and Prof J Sidbury), was awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, commencing in 2009, for the project, "Interrogating the Book of Negroes: explorations of slavery and freedom in the Atlantic world in the era of the American Revolution"

Michael McDonnell was awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, commencing in 2009, for his project, "Charles Langlade, the Anishinaabeg, and the making and unmaking of the Atlantic World"

Jack Sexton, an Honours student in 2007 supervised by Michael McDonnell, published "Monticello: The invention of an American place," in the July 2008 issue of Common-Place.

Naomi Hart has been awarded the 2008 Norman Harper Prize for the best undergraduate essay in American Studies by the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association. Her essay, "'Exercising 'those faculties which they desire in their offspring': Enlisting parents in the crusade against vice," was published in the July 2008 issue of the Australasian Journal of American Studies. This is the fourth consecutive year that a University of Sydney student has won this prize.

Michael McDonnell and Shane White have been appointed to the Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lectureship Program. Chosen by the president of the organization, this appointment recognizes "outstanding speakers who have made major contributions to the study of American history." Lecturers give at least one lecture a year and agree to designate their fees as donations to the organization.

Michael Thompson, a PhD student supervised by Stephen Robertson and Clare Corbould, published "An Exception to Exceptionalism: A Reflection on Reinhold Niebuhr’s Vision of “Prophetic” Christianity and the Problem of Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy," in the September 2007 issue of American Quarterly.



ANZASA Biennial Conference 2008

The 2008 Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association Conference was held at the University of Sydney in July 2008.

For more details, see the ANZASA web site.

American History Reading Group

The American historians at the Department of History organise and host the Sydney American History Reading Group. This group meets on the last Thursday of each month from March to November, from 6:00 to 7:30 PM.

We discuss either a work in progress by a local or visiting American historian or a recently published work in American history. After the discussion we have dinner in Newtown.

Anyone interested in receiving e-mail notices of meetings, or who would like to present their work should contact Stephen Robertson at .