US Before 1877

Course Description

This course is a survey of some of the main themes and events of American history occurring before 1877. We will cover many topics, focusing particularly on the themes of race, expansion, and war. We will explore the changes in society, conflicts, and implications of historical events from the first Europeans setting foot on land in the Western Hemisphere through Reconstruction after the Civil War. We will seek to understand individual events and people during their time by contextualizing, comparing, and contrasting them. We will engage history through several different mediums including primary sources created by people in the past, secondary sources written by today’s leading scholars, and even popular culture. Though we will cover as much information as we can, no class can be entirely inclusive, so we will also work on developing skills related to the craft of history, many of which will serve you well in any career path, particularly organizing and judging competing viewpoints as well as using information to make a persuasive argument.

Required Texts

Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave
[There will also be an extra credit assignment based on Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History]

Amistad (1997)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Glory (1989)

A textbook and other short readings will supplement these main texts.

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