If this course has an imbedded narrative of which I am conscious, it is about the age of Europe’s empires (c.1500-1865) and the rise of their global hegemony. It is about the causes, consequences, and spread of an international market economy as both the impulse (cause) of European political expansion and as the partner (sponsor) of imperialism. It is about the creation of the United States as a nation, with an emergent identity and global imperial ambitions. It is about how the world created the United States (c.12,000 BC-1865), how the U.S. affected the world, and how the push and pull of those two integrated processes account for the distribution of power, the prevalence and nature of war, and global identities and relationships in the twentieth century. It is about the birth and growth of the modern, and of a global empire that always contained the seeds of its overextension and demise.
Readings marked by an asterisk (*) are required for discussion in class the week they are listed. Together, all the readings on this syllabus constitute the list for the first half (America, 1500-1865) of the teaching-field qualifying exam in American history.
Students are required to write two review essays (covering all of the listed readings for one week, not just the required readings) one during the first half of the semester, which is due no later than 9:00 A.M. on the day of the class meeting in which the readings are discussed, and another during the second half of the semester, which is due on the same schedule. There will also be a final writing assignment, which is due on December 18 at 9:00 A.M.
I will assign no “incomplete” grades except in a case of extraordinary personal circumstances. Students will be graded on the quality of their written work and their active, knowledgeable participation in each week’s discussion. I expect you to read the assigned texts and take an active, knowledgeable part in every class discussion. I expect you to attend every class—no exceptions for travel; class is your highest priority.
Except for the two weeks’ readings addressed in your essays, you decide whether you want to read only the books and articles labeled with an asterisk.
The class is yours, not mine; talk to each other. No personal attacks; be kind, but feel free to disagree, preferably passionately. Take personal responsibility for leading, not dominating, discussion. Listen. Think. One of you every week will start the discussion, and it will not be someone I designate. Work together; work it out. Teach yourselves; that’s what a humanist education means—that you are capable of teaching yourself new subjects of great complexity (maybe not brain surgery). You do not really need me here at all; well, maybe a little.
P.S. I do not care whether you like the books; that is beside the point. You need to come to terms with them, while avoiding caricature and simple-minded reductionism. Try starting your analysis from a point of modesty; assume that the author is smarter than you are (not necessarily true) and knows vastly more about the subject than you do (highly likely). If the author makes an argument that seems to you wrong, try to imagine her/his rejoinder to your criticism. Then, and only then, engage in critical analysis. Assume also that you do not know how to write a book as ambitious as the ones assigned; if you ever do, we will all be very proud.
Week 1 (September 4): Introduction
*Oakes, James, et al. Of the People: A History of the United States, conc. ed., vol.
1. New York, 2011. Finish by the end of the semester.
*Harris, Sam. Free Will. NY, 2012. Finish by next week.
*Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Anthony Briggs, trans. NY, 2005. Epilogue ONLY, pages 1259-1358. Finish by class on Week Six.
Week 2 (September 11):
*Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York,
Meinig, D.W. The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, vol.
New Haven, 1986.
Richards, John F. The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World.
Stilgoe, John. Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845. New Haven, 1982.
Livestock in Early New England.” WMQ (1992): 183-209.
*Halttunen, Karen. “Grounded Histories: Land and Landscape in Early America.” WMQ 68
Week 5 (October 2):
Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas. NY, 2000.
*Harms, Robert. The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade. NY, 2002. Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA, 1999. Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. NY,
Rothman, Adam. Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South.
Cambridge, MA, 2005.
*Davis, David Brion. “Constructing Race: A Reflection.” WMQ 54 (1997): 7-18.
*Gosse, Van. “As a Nation, the English Are Our Friends’: The Emergence of African American
Politics in the British Atlantic World, 1772-1861.” AHR 113 (2008): 1003-30.
Week 6 (October 16):
*Colley, Linda. Captives. NY, 2002.
Elliott, J.H. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830.
New Haven, 2006.
Hyde, Anne F. Empires, Nations & Families: A history of the North American West, 1800-1860.
Marshall, P.J. The Making and Unmaking of Empires: Britain, India, and America c.1750-1783.
*Adelman, Jeremy and Stephen Aaron. “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States,
and the People in Between in North American History.” AHR 104 (1999): 814-41.
*Greenblatt, Stephen. “Learning to Curse.” In Greenblatt. Learning to Curse, 16-39. NY, 1990.
Week 7 (October 23):
Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. Cambridge, MA, 1990.
*Hall, David D. Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early
New England. Cambridge, MA, 1989.
Pestana, Carla Gardena. Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic
World. Philadelphia, 2009.
*Demos, John. “Shame and Guilt in Early New England.” In Stearns, Carol Z. and Petern N.
Stearns, eds. Emotion and Social Change: Toward a New Psychohistory. NY, 1988, 69-85.
*Foster, Stephen. “The Godly in Transit: English Popular Protestantism and the Creation of a
Puritan Establishment in America.” In Hall, ed. Seventeenth-Century New England, 185-238.
Week 9 (November 6):
Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson. Cambridge, 1974.
*Breen, Timothy. Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American
Independence. New York, 2004.
Countryman, Edward. The American Revolution, revised edition. NY, 1985; 2003.
Nash, Gary. The Urban Crucible: Social change, Political consciousness, and the Origins of the
American Revolution. Cambridge, 1979.
*“Forum: Economics and American Independence.” WMQ 68 (2011): 597-656.
*Lockridge, Kenneth. “Social Change and the Meaning of the American Revolution.” Journal of
Social History 6 (1973): 403-39.
Week 10 (November 13):
*Jasanoff, Maya. Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. New
Schiff, Stacy. A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. New York, 2005.
Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. Chapel Hill, 1969.
*Kramnick, Isaac. “The ‘Great National Discussion’: The Discourse of Politics in 1787,” WMQ 45
*Wood, Gordon S. “Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution.” WMQ 23 (1966):
Week 11 (November 20):
*Brown, Kathleen M. Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America. New Haven, 2009.
Chaplin, Joyce E. Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-
American Frontier, 1500-1676. Cambridge, MA, 2001.
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based On Her Diary, 1785-
1812. New York, 1990.
Godbeer, Richard. Sexual Revolution in Early America. Baltimore, 2002.
*Reis, Elizabeth. “The Devil, the Body, and the Feminine Soul in Puritan New England.” Journal
of American History 82 (1995): 15-36.
*“AHR Forum: The Senses in History.” AHR 116 (2011): 307-400.
Week 12 (November 27):
*Smith-Rosenberg, Caroll. This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity.
Chapel Hill, 2010.
Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism,
1776-1820. Chapel Hill, 1997.
Wiebe, Robert H. The Opening of American Society: From the Adoption of the
Constitution to the Eve of Disunion. New York, 1984.
Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. New York, 2005.
*Murrin, John M. “A Roof without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity.” In
Beeman, Richard, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II, Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity. Chapel Hill, 1987, 333-48.
*Higginbotham, Don. “War and State Formation in Revolutionary America.” In Gould, Eliga H.
and Peter S. Onuf, eds. Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World. Baltimore, 2005, 54-71.
Week 13 (December 4):
*Hamalainen, Pekka. The Comanche Empire. New Haven, 2008.
Bergmann, William H. The American National State and the Early West. Cambridge, 2012.
Silver, Peter. Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America. NY,
Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. NY, 1998.
Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. NY, 1994.
*Richter, Daniel K. “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience.” WMQ 40 (1983): 528-59.
*Martin, Calvin. “Epilogue: Time and the American Indian.” In Martin, ed. The American Indian
and the Problem of History. NY, 1987, 192-220.
Week 14 (December 11):
*Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York,
Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. New York,
Jones, Howard. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations.
Chapel Hill, 2010.
Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. New York, 1976.
Stout, Harry S. Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the American Civil War. New
*Writing assignment due: December 18
Draft a syllabus for a course entitled American Civilization, 1600-1865. The class has twenty-eight meetings. You must include a descriptive title for each lecture; assign seven books for the whole semester (selection not limited to books on this syllabus), and indicate when readings are to be completed. Include at least two writing assignments, which you describe in detail; and include the mid-term and final exams (the actual exam questions). Write out in full one of the lectures (2000-2500 words) and provide an annotated outline of another lecture.
Or: Write an essay of about 2500 words, which considers Oakes’s synthesis in relationship to Harris’s, Free Will and Tolstoy’s Epilogue to War and Peace. Neither Harris nor Tolstoy believes in free will. Oakes and the other historians we read this semester do. What are the implications of the anti-free will argument for the writing of history, for a textbook synthesis? What would a textbook written on Tolstoy’s and Harris’s principles look like? Can it be done?