In this course, students will engage with several key themes in the history of North America and the United States from pre-Columbian times (the era before 1492) through the end of the American Civil War. We will explore social, economic, religious, and political changes during the period in which North America became colonized by Europeans and, later, British America became the United States. This era in American history was characterized by a series of transformative crises: in England and Europe prompting the initial European settlement of the Americas, in the thirteen colonies along the Atlantic seaboard in the late eighteenth century, and over the extent and meaning of the new United States and its Constitution in subsequent decades. This long period was characterized by meetings of different peoples from around the Atlantic World, a series of innovations and contests over how to govern the broad territory of North America, and the emergence of a new culture that, while primarily reflecting the European influence on the continent, nevertheless was distinctively “American” in important ways.
A primary emphasis of this course will be learning and practicing how to identify, interpret, and create a historical argument. Most of the readings for this course, rather that offering a textbook-style narrative, will allow us to dig deeper into the key themes of the course rather than focusing on memorization of dates and IDs. (Standard exams based on this kind of memorization will only be a small portion of the final grade.) An essential goal of the course will be helping students to become better thinkers and writers through weekly class discussion and several writing assignments.