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History of the United States

Course Overview

Students begin their study in the late colonial period and finish at the end of the Cold War. Students learn various approaches to historical thinking in order to balance “big picture” ideas – economic, cultural and intellectual themes – with some of the finer details of daily social life. In content, the course emphasizes power relations, conflict, compromise and exchange in the transition from a European empire to the formation of 20th-century American institutions and identities. As a craft, it emphasizes conceptual approaches to historical methods, critical and comparative thinking, and analytical and synthetic writing.

General Unit Structure

The duration of units and topics will depend on the length of the time span covered, the sources consulted, and student interest. Each unit includes primary and secondary readings, weekly discussions, and writing exercises of various lengths accompanied by brief lectures and occasional tertiary sources (i.e. textbooks). Also, each unit typically has either an individual or group project which consists either of trial, debate, or presentation. Adjustments will be made as necessary to meet the interests of the students and to maintain reasonable expectations (workload, reading/writing sophistication, etc). The course meets in real-time, online through video conferencing software for three hours each week. Much of live class time will revolve around student-centered discussions of primary source materials while asynchronous work will involve secondary source readings, synthesizing the course materials, and projects. Since an important element of this course is to develop historiographical awareness, secondary sources will include scholarly work – essays, journal articles, and book chapters – written by professional historians and political scientists.

Course Content

Unit 1: Late Colonial Period

This unit is an exploration of England’s attempt to consolidate control of its American colonies. Special attention is paid to the establishment of economic and regional distinctions between North and South and the creation of the middle colonies as an economic and cultural hybrid of the North and South (using Benjamin Franklin as an example of the hybridization). The first half of the unit is dedicated to the material and economic life of different classes of colonists and the importation of the English class system to the colonies. The second half is dedicated to the institutionalization of race and slavery and their correlation with the first half material and economic material. Benjamin Franklin’s opinion on economic and slavery anchor these two together.

Unit 2: Political and Intellectual Revolution

This unit is an immediate juxtaposition of the previous unit’s evolutionary perspective. Students develop an understanding of the significance of time and place as variables in shaping culture, politics and social arrangements. After reviewing the more persistent class and economic issues of the mid-1700’s students explore the parliaments colonial policies in the wake of the French and Indian War. Also, the various colonial or colonist responses to those policies from 1763- 1776. Special attention is paid to the emergence of rights and contract-based government. During the unit, students discuss why different group/classes of colonists were pro or anti-independence throughout the revolutionary period.

Unit 3: U.S. Constitution and State Building

This unit is an exploration of the foundation of the U.S. Constitution as both a primary source and a blueprint for the government. Students identify and discuss the origins of political power. and the relationship of political practices and institutions to historical development. Students start an analysis of the Articles of Confederation. Next, students study the major federalists and anti-federalists debates that underscore the major political compromises achieved in the making of the U.S. Constitution. Students also examine the broader historiographical comparisons between the tenants of the American Revolution and the intentions of the U.S. Constitution.

Unit 4: The Early Republic and the Antebellum period

The Early Republic is an examination of applied constitutionalism from 1790-1820. Students analyze the major events and debates during the first five Presidential administrations and the formation of the first political parties. Students examine party platforms, voter demographics, and shifts in electioneering rituals. Students also examine the renewed constitutional disputes concerning Federalism and states’ rights in the 1820s and 1830s. Students focus on correlations between partisanship and brewing regional division, the market revolution in the North and the emerging labor disputes between owners and workers and between wage versus slave labor.