Colonial Societies and Culture

We'll take two broad approaches to Jill Lepore, In the Name of War. First, we'll look at her methodology. Consider the amount of "speculation" in the text. What are the virtues (and shortcomings) of relying so heavily on "perhaps" and "maybe" in presenting an argument? Under methodology, we'll also take her subtitle seriously. How is it possible to focus on such a small group of people and talk about the "origins of American identity"?

Next we'll examine Lepore's more substantive contribution. What new does she tell us about the English settlers and natives? Is her argument well supported?

We'll also contrast the approaches taken by Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom and Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches. Is the more recent work the better one?  Is Morgan's book seriously weakened because it fails to explore gender issues with the same thoroughness as Brown's work? Or does Brown give us an incomplete picture?  We'll look more broadly at how we can best conceptualize the changes in colonial Virginia society.


American Revolution

We'll begin by examining the Declaration of Independence. Along with the Constitution, it is one of the two founding documents of the United States. We'll explore why the prefatory comments have been so important, and we'll look at the list of grievances to see just what the Americans were complaining about.

Next we'll study Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Our discussion will begin with an examination of "republican" or "Commonwealth" ideology.  Then we'll focus on just exact what Bailyn argues caused the Revolution.

Countryman's book makes possible an exploration of two broad questions.  First, why did the American Revolution occur?  We'll examine the various reasons the work sets forth to explain the rebellion. Since Countryman gives more than one reason, we will also delve into how historians deal with multiple "factors" or causes.

We'll examine a second, broad question: What do the American Revolution and Democracy have to do with each other?

Finally, when reading the excerpt from A Mighty Empire, think about how the book's contentions reflect on the arguments put forth by Bailyn and Countryman.

As with every week, familiarize yourself with an overview of events during this period -- and when you read, look for the work's thesis statement.



We'll begin by looking at Federalist Paper #10. This document, written by James Madison, is probably the most famous of the 85 essays in this collection. What does it tell us about the Constitution and about Madison's view of the American people?

The three books assigned for this week all fit together and create a valuable dialogue.

We'll look at Gordon Wood's work. After establishing his thesis, we will examine the changing conception of politics during this era. The seminar will also explore the role played by materialic and idealistic causes in Wood's explanation.

Forrest McDonald also weighs in on the Constitution, and seeks to refute the work of Charles Beard. Be sure you understand Beard's position, and McDonald's counter-argument. We'll look closely at McDonald's numerical evidence.  Does it fully support his contentions?

Finally, we'll examine Cornell's discussion of the Anti-Federalists. How does the composition of the groups that Cornell describes relate to the interpretative frameworks presented by Wood, McDonald, and Beard? According to Cornell, what were the chief criticisms leveled by the opponents of the Constitution?


Jefferson and Jackson

This week we examine Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson -- two central figures in the evolution of American politics and society. Historians, and Americans in general, have held strong views -- positive and negative -- toward these two men. We'll assess how fair those judgements are.

Paul Finkelman argues the case against Jefferson -- particularly with regard to Jefferson's views of slavery. Is Finkelman's assessment a balanced one?

When it comes to Jackson and "Jacksonian Democracy," Daniel Walker Howe and Sean Wilentz present very different points of view. As you'll see, Howe is critical, while Wilentz tends to defend Old Hickory. Since these are both dense, fact filled accounts they cover much of the same terrain. How do these two researchers arrive at such different evaluations? Is one account more persuasive?



This week we'll begin with the excerpt from The Confessions of Nat Turner. [This material will be distributed. It is not from Styron's novel.] What do these pages say about Turner's motivation? What do they suggest about the mindset of the slaves who took part (or did not take part) in the rebellion?

The balance of the class will look at the readings by Genovese and Johnson. Here are some questions to guide your reading:

What are the arguments of these two works? As always, we'll examine how well each author supports his argument.

A concept the two books share in common is "paternalism." What does this term mean, and do the two authors use it in the same way?  Do they present complementary -- or contradictory -- pictures of the behavior of slaves and slaveowners?

Finally, Johnson's book (like Lepore's work) is in some ways a "post-modern" treatise. It has a different feel to it than Genovese's study. What is Johnson's approach, and how persuasive are the techniques he uses?

Also this week we will have the President's quiz: know the US presidents from Washington to Lincoln and the date they were elected. Next week is the map quiz.


Civil War

Once again we tackle a large topic -- the Civil War -- in a single week.  We'll start off with the President's quiz -- and then see what the Emancipation Proclamation is all about. What are the politics behind this document? What is its tone?

Each of the three writers we're reading offers an explanation for why the North and South came to blows. You may have more difficulty sorting out Eric Foner's argument. He tells us a good deal about Republican views, but also sets forth a subtle interplay of ideology and interest. Do your best to determine the essence of his argument. Is he an idealist or materialist?

For Genovese we'll look both at his depiction of the Southern economy and his suggestions on the origins of the war. We will relate his work to our readings (Johnson and Genovese) from last week. Were the planters like nineteenth-century feudal lords?

We will also examine Clash of Extremes. What is the argument of this book? How does this work use "economics" to explain the war. You may be interested in the commentary -- favorable and unfavorable -- on the book at www.clashofextremes.com.


Reconstruction and New South

This week begins with an examination of the Fourteenth Amendment. Look at its various clauses -- they all have considerable importance. But perhaps the best way of looking at this Amendment is as a plan for Reconstruction. What does it say about the Republican outlook in 1866?

Next we'll look at several books and essays, and in each case ask how convincing the arguments are.

We'll examine Foner on Reconstruction. How do the two Foner books we've read support each other?

Next look at the (very polite) exchange between Rabinowitz and Woodward over Jim Crow and the two Reconstructions. Are there any significant differences that separate these two authors? Who makes the better case?

Less gentle is the debate between Jonathan Weiner and his critics. Are Weiner's arguments about coercive labor practices convincing? We'll consider the chapters in Wright's book on their own, but also see how they reflect on Weiner's contentions.