Power is variously defined as a position of ascendancy; the ability to compel obedience; control; domination; the capacity of acting or producing an effect; a delegated right or privilege; a mental or physical ability or capacity; influence; prestige; etc.
The historical dynamics of power may be analyzed within fields of politics, culture, ideas, social relations, and economic systems. Power is exercised and felt through interactive processes that may involve states and citizens, families and dependents, corporations and employees, or communities and community members exercising autonomy or conformity in relation to normative expectations of behavior and belief.
Power may be studied as the assertion of political claims or rights able to be negotiated, defended, or usurped. Social power may involve contests over social status, gender relations and hierarchies, and the mobilization of communities in great movements of reform and revolution.
The nature of power is subtle and complex, shifting in contexts varied by race, gender, class, and education. As contemporary societies have been reshaped by industrial processes and the institutions and ideologies of the modern nation-state, various forms of power have developed to discipline citizens, entrench bureaucracies, highlight or marginalize religion, and shape the mental landscapes and aspirations of individuals, ethnic communities, and nations.
The historiography of power includes studies exploring these and other possible perspectives on the concept. Our readings serve as points of departure for advanced History seminar participants developing skills in critical and conceptual thinking, research methods, quantitative reasoning, hypothesis formulation, and senior thesis prospectus drafting.