Semester syllabus

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Instructor: Assistant Professor Joy M. Giguere

Office: GIST 219

Office Phone: (717) 771-8449


Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 2-4PM

Class Time & Location: Section 001: MW 10:40-11:55AM, 208 Main; Section 002: MW, 3-4:15PM, 112 Pullo

COURSE DESCRIPTION & OBJECTIVES: This course covers major themes in early American history including the societies and cultures of pre-Colonial and Colonial era North America, the American Revolutionary War, the society, culture and politics of the Early Republic, the political crises of the 1850s, and the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. By the end of the semester, in addition to having a firm grasp of the contents of these themes, students will also be expected to be able to critically read, analyze and write about primary and secondary documents and what they tell us about the past; be able to weigh different kinds of information and make coherent arguments regarding major historical themes; as well as be able to critically analyze an historical monograph on a particular theme.

REQUIRED COURSE READINGS: The following books will be required for the completion of reading and writing assignments. They may be purchased at the campus bookstore.
Henretta, James, America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877, 6th Edition (Macmillan); ISBN-13: 978-1-457-64865-6
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman and Jon Gjerde, Major Problems in American History, Volume I: To 1877, 3rd Edition (Houghton-Mifflin); ISBN-13: 978-0-495-91513-3
Cohen, Patricia, The Murder of Helen Jewett (Random House); ISBN-13: 978-0-679-74075-9
While I mainly consider the Henretta to serve as a supplement to lectures, I encourage students to review the material in each week’s assigned chapter(s) to provide background and context for the weekly document readings in Major Problems.
These books will also be available on reserve at the Penn State York Library the semester, so if you choose not to purchase the books, you can still keep up on assignments. As these books are available at the library, there is NO excuse for not completing reading/writing assignments!
ASSIGNMENTS & GRADING: The semester grade will be based upon performance in the following categories: class participation, short (1-2 page) weekly papers, a 3-5 page paper on Patricia Cohen’s The Murder of Helen Jewett, and 3 semester exams. Your final grade will be determined according to the percentages in the following categories, NOT out of a running total of points.
Class Participation (10% of semester grade): It is of the utmost importance that students attend every class meeting. However, class participation goes beyond simple attendance. This portion of the grade is based upon the student’s level of engagement in the class, including asking questions, discussing readings and sharing ideas.
Weekly Document Analysis Papers (25% of semester grade): Throughout the semester, students will complete readings in Hoffman and Gjerde’s Major Problems in American History. For each chapter, students will read a variety of primary documents and secondary scholarly essays. Please refer to the instructions at the end of the Syllabus for this assignment.
Historical Monograph Paper (20% of semester grade): Please refer to the assignment guidelines at the end of the Syllabus.
Exams (15% x 3 = 45% of semester grade): There will be three examinations throughout the course, each of which will include a take-home essay portion and an in-class portion.

On any given writing-based assignment, content (that is, what you know) will be graded most heavily. However, poor writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation), will negatively affect your grade. Late assignments will be accepted within one week of the assignment’s due date, with 20 points taken off if handed in within a week. If an assignment is more than one week late, it will NOT be accepted for credit.

If you must miss a class, you may e-mail me your weekly paper so that it is counted as on-time; however, you must hand a hardcopy in to me at the next class meeting for the assignment to receive full credit.
All late or extra credit work must be handed in to me, in hardcopy, NO LATER than the last week of lectures BEFORE finals week.
All grading will be done according to a 100-point scale. Numeric Grade Breakdown:

93-100 A

90-92 A-

87-89 B+

84-86 B

80-83 B-

77-79 C+

70-76 C

60-69 D

0-59 F

Students will have the option to write extra credit primary document papers. For any given week in which more than one chapter of Major Problems is assigned, students may write an additional primary document paper to count as extra credit. Extra credit will be applied at the end of the semester in the case of a borderline grade – in other words, if a student’s final grade comes within 1 point of the next higher grade, the extra credit will be applied to “bump” the final grade up (For example, if the final grade is a 79 and the student has done extra credit papers, they will receive a B- for the semester instead of a C+).


If you know you will have to miss a test, you must make arrangements with the instructor before the test date in order to take the test at an alternate time. In an emergency situation (i.e. flat tire, emergency room visit) you must contact the instructor via means outlined in the syllabus to make arrangements to make up the test. Arrangements to make up a test must be made with the instructor within one week of the original date of the test.

Being late or not attending class will negatively affect your grade. You are responsible for all missed material due to any absences, and there is no make-up for absence from class.

Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20).

Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction.

Cell phones MUST be turned off or put on vibrate mode. Text messaging is NOT allowed during class – it is rude. You must gain permission from the instructor if you wish to use your laptop or tablet to take notes during the class.


It is Penn State York's policy to not discriminate against qualified students with documented disabilities. If you have a disability-related need for accommodations in this course, please contact your instructor during the first week of class. You may also wish to contact Dr. Dzubak in the Nittany Success Center (771- 4013 and ) for assistance with testing accommodations that extend beyond the scope of the instructor.


In the event of a campus closure, course requirements, classes, deadlines and grading schemes are subject to changes that may include alternative delivery methods, alternative methods of interaction with the instructor, class materials, and/or classmates, a revised attendance policy, and a revised semester calendar and/or grading scheme. Information about course changes will be communicated through [ANGEL, e-mail, etc….]

For notification about campus closures, please refer to Penn State York’s website at , call the weather hotline at 717 771-4079, or sign up for live text messages at PSUAlert ( ). This is a service designed to alert the Penn State community via text messages to cell phones when situations arise on campus that affect the ability of the campus - students, faculty and staff - to function normally.

Monday (8/24) – Introductions & Syllabus Overview
Wednesday (8/26) – What is History?
Reading for Wednesday: Diane F. Britton, “Public History and Public Memory,” The Public Historian 19:3 (Summer 1997), 11-23.
Assignment for Wednesday: Public History Discussion – Please bring 3 questions/comments on the article for discussion. Please have them typed or written so that you may hand them in.

Monday (8/31) – Pre-Colonial Native North America
Wednesday (9/2) Ancient Mesoamerica
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapter 1

Monday (9/7) – NO CLASS (Labor Day)
Wednesday (9/9) – Transnational Exploration & Contact
Readings for Class: Major Problems, Chapter 1, pp.1-32
Assignment for Wednesday: Primary Document Paper on Chapter 1 of Major Problems
Monday (9/14) – Household Order in Colonial North America
Wednesday (9/16) – Regions in Colonial North America
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapters 2-3; Major Problems, Chapter 2, pp.34-68
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 2 of Major Problems


Monday (9/21) – Religious Life & Superstition in North America

Wednesday (9/23) – A New World for All
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapter 4; Major Problems, Chapter 3, pp.69-100
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 3 of Major Problems

Monday (9/28) – War & The British Atlantic Empire
Wednesday (9/30) – EXAM #1

Monday (10/5) – HBO Series John Adams, Episode 1 (in-class viewing)
Wednesday (10/7) – Resistance & Rebellion in the Colonies
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapter 5; Major Problems, Chapter 4, pp.102-133
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 4 of Major Problems

Monday (10/12) – War & Social Change
Wednesday (10/14) – The Federal Constitution & Postwar Violence
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapters 6 & 7; Major Problems, Chapter 5, pp.134-162
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 5 of Major Problems

Monday (10/19) – The Creation of a New Republic: Politics, Social Change, & The War of 1812
Wednesday (10/21) – Industrialization: The Origins of Modern America
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapters 8-9; Major Problems, Chapters 6 & 8, pp. 164-195 & 231-262
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 6 OR 8 of Major Problems


Monday (10/26) – Sexuality & Popular Culture in the Early National Period

Wednesday (10/28) – The Second Great Awakening & Moral Reform
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapters 10-11; Major Problems, Chapters 7, 9 & 10, pp. 196-230, 263-294 & 295-325
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 7, 9 OR 10 of Major Problems

Monday (11/2) – Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion
Wednesday (11/4) – Early National Slave Culture
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapter 12; Major Problems, Chapters 11-12, pp. 326-382
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 11 OR 12 of Major Problems


Monday (11/9) – EXAM #2

Wednesday (11/11) – Lincoln & The National Crisis

Monday (11/16) – The White South, Secession, & The Apotheosis of the Master Class
Wednesday (11/18) – The Second American Revolution
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapters 13-14; Major Problems, Chapters 13-14, pp.383-444
Assignment for Wednesday: PDP on Chapter 13 OR 14 of Major Problems
Monday (11/30) – Civil War Nursing & Surgery
Wednesday (12/3) – Civil War Memory & Commemoration
Assignment for Wednesday: MONOGRAPH PAPERS DUE!!!

Monday (12/7) – The Agony of Reconstruction
Wednesday (12/9) – The Agony of Reconstruction, part II
Readings for Class: America: A Concise History, Chapter 15; Major Problems, Chapter 15, pp.445-480
Assignment for Wednesday: OPTIONAL PDP on Chapter 15 of Major Problems
Any extra credit PDPs for the semester MUST be handed in by this Friday’s class!

FINAL EXAM WEEK (12/14-12/18)

Guidelines for Weekly Primary Document Papers (PDPs)

  1. Every paper must be:

    1. Typed

    2. Double-spaced

    3. 1-inch margins

    4. Times or Times New Roman font size 12

  2. To be included in the top right or left-hand corner of the first page (single-spaced):

    1. Name

    2. Date

    3. Course Number

  3. Every paper must include a title (be creative!)

  4. Paper length: 1-2 pages

  5. Required content:

    1. Introductory paragraph

      1. Provide a brief explanation of the time period the documents are from and which documents your paper will analyze

    2. 1 paragraph analysis of each document (Choose two or three for analysis)

      1. Briefly explain what the document is about, who wrote it and when

      2. Question to think about: what does this document reflect about the time period when it was written? What is the attitude/perspective/ worldview of the document’s author?

    3. If you’re writing about one of the essays at the end of the chapter:

      1. What is the author’s main point/argument? What evidence does s/he use as support?

      2. Do the primary documents in the chapter support or refute what the author says? (Provide examples)

    4. Conclusion paragraph

      1. Do the documents you have analyzed come from similar or differing perspectives? What do they tell us about the time period/place/people/ events?

The primary point of this exercise is for you to go beyond basic summary of the documents. I want you to be able to examine what these documents tell us about the past – how and why did things happen the way they did? How did people feel about the events that were occurring during their lives?

The Murder of Helen Jewett Paper Assignment
For this assignment, you will write a 3-5 page essay in which you examine the following themes/questions:

  1. What is the book about? (This should be a brief summary of no more than a page of the general topics and themes discussed by the author)

  2. What is Cohen’s principal argument?

  3. How does Cohen’s analysis of the death of Helen Jewett and the rise of the sensationalist press expand our understanding of urban New York in the 1830s? About our understanding of the attitudes toward people according to gender and class?

  4. What kinds of sources does Cohen use for her information?

  5. In what ways is the study of prostitution a useful means to understand the broader social dynamics of the 19th century? What is the utility of looking at popular culture from the time period? Explain.

In the course of writing this essay, you will be required to include at least THREE direct quotes from the text in order to support your analysis.
Formatting Rules:

  1. Double-spaced, one-inch margins, Times/Times New Roman font, Size 12

  2. Direct quotes need to include quotation marks and a footnote indicating the source information (If you are only using information from your monograph, then author and page number will suffice).

  3. At all times, avoid the use of the First Person – “I”, “me”, “my” (such as “I think” or “my opinion” is such and such).

  4. Make sure to organize your paper as you would one of your weekly document essays – begin with an introductory paragraph in which you outline the topic and provide a thesis statement (in other words, what is going to be the argument of this paper?) Follow with well-organized paragraphs and be sure to end with a concluding paragraph in which you wrap everything together.

  5. Avoid “casual language” whenever possible, as well as clichés – if you read it out loud and it sounds “talkie” then it probably should not be in there.

  6. Since you are writing about events that occurred in the past, make sure you stick with the PAST TENSE.

  7. While you are using the information provided by the author and will (hopefully) point to their use of primary and secondary sources, this is NOT a book report – I should not see “I think so-and-so did a great job…” kind of statements.

  8. Be sure to distinguish between there/their/they’re, woman/women, its/it’s, where/were.

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