What it means to be an american

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History 3934-01 (Honors) Professor Teichgraeber

Fall 2010 303 Hebert Hall




Course Description
"What does it mean to be an American?" This course explores a substantial part of the long and interesting history of answers Americans have given to this question.
Consider the motto on the Great Seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum ("From many, one"). It invites at least two different accounts of what might be called our founding national ideal. At first glance, the motto seems to suggest that the different elements that formed America should be left behind for the sake of oneness. America is a "melting pot," it seems. But if you look closely at the Great Seal -- where the "American" eagle clutches a sheaf of arrows -- no "melting" is taking place, but rather a fastening, a holding together. Not a "melting pot," then, but instead a grouping built out of diverse materials.
So a longer, but more precise, way of putting this course's organizing question is this: Does America have a national identity uniquely its own, or is it best seen as a container of diverse identities defined by separate ethnic and racial communities? And if our national identity is a container, how does the containment work?
In looking for answers to these questions, the course focuses on several classic (and relatively brief) texts. It ranges chronologically from the Declaration of Independence to the onset of World War I.
Goals of this Tutorial Course
In addition to immersing you in a long-standing discussion about “what it means to be an American,” this tutorial course has two other main goals. The first is to improve your speaking skills; the other is teach you about making and critiquing an argument.
(If all goes well, you also will have the perhaps unique experience of a course in which the professor tends to stay quietly in the background. In a tutorial course, students do not have the option of not talking. They have to be creative and often rely on their own resources.)
History 393 is limited to twelve students who will be divided into four sections of three students, who will meet separately with me in my office once a week for 60-75 minutes.

All twelve students complete an initial brief writing assignment (750 words), which we will discuss in Week 2. Then, beginning in Week 3 for, and in alternate weeks during the rest of the semester, in each of the four sections, one of the three students in each section will write a 4-5 page essay (1100-1300 words) on the reading assigned for that week. Sometimes I will specify an organizing question for the papers; sometimes I will leave it to the students to fashion a question. The essay should take no longer than 15 minutes to read aloud, and should be intelligible on first hearing.

The other two students will receive the paper at least 24 hours before the tutorial meeting, and then individually prepare a 1-2-page critique of the paper, which they too will present in class.
In the weeks that follow, the two students preparing critiques will alternate as essay-presenters. Then the cycle will repeat itself four times. Over the course of the fourteen week term, then, this means each student – in addition to a first (and short) general writing assignment -- will author 4 papers, and 8 critiques.
After the first two section meetings, subsequent section meetings will begin with the paper’s author reading the paper aloud. Then the two other students read their critiques, and a general discussion ensues.
Needless to say, attendance at every tutorial meeting is mandatory; each unexcused absence will cost you a third of a letter on your final grade.
Readings: Students are required to purchase three books from the Tulane Book Store:

The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence; Leaves of Grass (1855 ed.); and The Souls of Black Folk. Use the following websites to download and print out the other assigned readings:

Week 2: FIRST PAPER DUE; Michael Walzer, "What It Means to Be An American," Social Research, 57, (1990), 591-614 (download from e-journals at Howard Tilton Library)
Part One: America at its Founding
Week 3: Thomas Jefferson, "The Declaration of Independence" (1776)
Week 4: Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights:
Week 5: James Madison, The Federalist, "Numbers 10, 37, 39, 51" (1787-1788):
Part Two: Democratic Individualism and Democratic Culture
Week 6: Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" (1837) and "Self-Reliance" (1841)

Week 7: Walt Whitman, Whitman’s Introduction & "Song of Myself "(1855)

Part Three: American Slavery and the Struggle for Union
Week 8: Henry David Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government" (1849)
Week 9: Frederick Douglass, "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" (1852)

Week 10: Abraham Lincoln, "First Inaugural Address" (1861)
"Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg" (1863)

"Second Inaugural Address" (1865)

Part Four: Race, Ethnicity, and Democratic Culture:
Weeks 11 & 12: W.E.B. DuBois, Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Week 13: Horace Kallen, “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot” (1916)
Week 14: Randolph Bourne, "Trans-National America" (1916)

History 3934-01

Fall 2010

First (and only General) Paper Assignment ( August 31/Sept. 1)

American political leaders often try to define and inspire allegiance to the national political community by telling stories about the character and history of that community. In his 2001 Inaugural Address, for example, President George W. Bush said:

"America has never been united by blood or soil. We are bound by ideals

that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach

us what it means to be citizens."
Fair enough, and perhaps a familiar story. Some observers say, however, that these days

ordinary Americans grow up in a society that surrounds them with one or more versions of "the American story," and that these stories may not be the same for all Americans.

Your first written assignment is to send me and the other students in your section an email essay -- no more than 750 words -- that answers the following questions:
"What version (or versions) of the American story have you grown up with?" "What are its (their) core affiliations and allegiances?"

Before you get started, please read carefully Michael Walzer's essay on "What It Means to Be an American." I don't expect you to accept his argument. But I do want you to begin your remarks by telling me what he thinks “it means to be an American.” I also want you to conclude by explaining how your answer resembles, or differs from, his.

In next week's discussion section, we'll continue the discussion you begin with your emails. All emails are due Monday, August 30, Noon .

History 3934 01

Fall 2010

Paper Assignments Weeks 3-5
Part One: American at Its Founding
The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Federalist Papers are at the very top of the list of canonical writings in American intellectual and political history. They are texts all Americans are taught to revere, because they remain the primary sources of our national political identity.
The Declaration of Independence stands as the first authoritative statement of what Americans ought to be, an inscription of the ideals that bind us together as a people. The Constitution provides the design of the machinery of American government: a powerful, continental republic, but also one constrained by an internal system of checks and balances. And finally, The Federalist Papers, many believe, contain the finest explanation of the principles of American government, as well as the intentions of those who designed it.

Week 3 Paper assignment (Sept. 7/8)
Whatever its immediate purpose, the Declaration of Independence quickly became something more than statement of the values that expressed why the American colonies chose to separate from Great Britain. For more than two centuries now, this document has provided a moral standard by which the day-to-day policies and practices of the nation are judged. Little surprise, then, that the Declaration of Independence has been at the center of some of the most divisive controversies in American history. But what exactly is being “declared” in the Declaration of Independence? What views of politics and human nature underpin that the Declaration? Do you accept or reject those views, and why?
Feel free to make use of Jake Rakove’s introductory essay and commentary on the Declaration in your paper. The main focus of your paper, however, should be the text of the Declaration of Independence itself
Week 4 Paper Assignment (Sept. 14/15)
Some of the most powerful rhetoric in American political history has focused on the Constitution

In the mid-1970s, for example, it surfaced repeatedly in the House of Representative’s deliberations over the potential impeachment of then President Richard Nixon. Just before she cast her vote to impeach, Barbara Jordan (then a House Representative from Houston) said: “My faith in the Constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion of the Constitution.”

Roughly a dozen years later a major exhibition was organized in Philadelphia, appropriately enough, to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution. That exhibition, placed in the Second Bank of the United States, was titled “Miracle at Philadelphia.” (‘Miracle’ of course can have a secular meaning, but both the dictionary and our ordinary language usually underline its sacred connotations.) At the Philadelphia exhibit, viewers were confronted with two endless scrolls, each asking the same questions:
Will you sign the Constitution? If you had been in Independence Hall during the Summer of 1787 would you have endorsed the Constitution?
Give me your answer in 4-5 pages, and be sure to specify exactly which parts of the Constitution you most want to endorse … or not. Once again feel free to make use of Rakove’s introductory essay and commentary. But the text of the Constitution should be your main focus here.
Week 5 Paper Assignment (Sept. 21/22)
At the heart of the debate over ratification of the U.S. Constitution was this question: Did the proposed Constitution in effect recreate a dangerous (and potentially tyrannical) centralized political system similar to the one that the American revolutionaries had only recently escaped?
In the eyes of some critics, Article VI – the so-called “supremacy clause” – made the cherished idea of federalism a farce. The nation’s laws, the Anti-Federalists said, inevitably would penetrate into the states and override state laws and state court decisions. Others worried about the new government’s power to tax and make treaties. Worst of all, there was no Bill of Rights to protect people against the power of the new government.
These were concerns that the authors of The Federalist Papers took seriously. The gist of their response was that, in creating a new and strong central government, the proposed Constitution did not betray the cause of the American Revolution. In fact, it proposed two great innovations that, the Federalists argued, promised to safeguard all Americans against tyranny:
(1) an expanded republic, and
(2) a separation of powers among the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.
Using the assigned readings from The Federalist Papers, the first three-four pages of your essay should provide a careful account of the details and purpose of these two innovations. In your final page, address this question: do the readings make a convincing case that the innovations will work as advertised?
Department of History/ Tulane University
Undergraduate Learning Goals, Learning Outcomes, and Mission Statement
Mission Statement
The history department’s mission for our majors is to ground students in the foundations of the human experience. We explore cause-and-effect relationships in human affairs, and encourage them to understand the power and complexity of the past in shaping the contemporary human condition. We strive to convey to all our students an understanding of historical actors, events, belief systems, material realities and cultural values that have shaped the world in which they live. History courses at both the introductory and advanced levels emphasize focus and in depth historical knowledge and skills that are essential for personal and professional growth and success—including critical analysis and reasoning, and written and oral communication. In so doing, our mission helps fulfill Tulane University’s mission to enrich the capacity of its students to think, to learn, and to act and lead with integrity and wisdom.
Undergraduate Learning Goals and Outcomes

100 level classes

Students will become historically literate by demonstrating in written work, oral presentation, and/or classroom discussions the following:

  1. Knowledge of historical facts, themes and ideas over a broad period of time.

  2. An ability to evaluate historical evidence.

  3. An understanding of the concept of context and a comprehension of change over time.

  4. Recognition that there are different perspectives on the past, whether those be historical, interpretive, or methodological in nature.

  5. Writing skills that are coherent and reflective, as well as analytical and grammatically correct.

300 level classes

Students will become more historically literate by demonstrating in written

work, oral presentation, and/or classroom discussions the following:

  1. More in depth knowledge of historical facts, themes and ideas over a broad period of time.

  2. An ability to evaluate more complex historical evidence.

  3. A deeper, more sophisticated understanding of the concept of context and a comprehension of change over time.

  4. Recognition that there are different perspectives on the past, whether those be historical, interpretive, or methodological in nature.

  5. Writing skills that are coherent and reflective, analytical and
    grammatically correct.

Honors/400/600 level classes

Students will develop specialized historical and theoretical knowledge and the means to produce historical analyses based on a wide array of source materials, demonstrating in written work, oral presentation, and/or classroom discussions the following:

  1. Focused and in-depth knowledge of historical fact, themes and ideas.

  2. Development of a disputable and defensible thesis.

  3. Systematic use and critical evaluation of primary sources.

  4. A deeper, more sophisticated understand and use of historical context and comprehension of change over time.

  5. Sophisticated engagement with different perspectives on the past, whether those be historical, interpretive, or methodological in nature.

  6. An ability to organize and present research findings in a coherent, clear, and concise manner.

  7. Writing skills that are coherent and reflective, analytical and
    grammatically correct.

  8. An ability to properly and consistently use academic citations.

Note: Outcome 3 is only required for 600-level Capstone courses.

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