HIS 355N • Main Curr of American Culture to 1865
This interdisciplinary course examines a range of cultural and social transformations in what we now call the United States of America from the colonial period until the end of the Civil War. We will examine the British, (and to a lesser extent the Spanish and French) colonial legacies in the United States and social formations among the diverse groups of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans both within and on the borders of these colonies. We will watch these colonies declare independence, fighting and writing the United States into being. We will explore the attempts of both ordinary and extraordinary Americans as they continued to debate and articulate the meanings of and exceptions to the American creed. We will especially detail the development of slavery and the rise and character of antebellum reform movements, finally considering the Civil War, one of the bloodiest and most modern wars the world had ever witnessed.
In this course, we will consider the political dimensions of American national identity: What is the proper relationship among the nation, the states, and the individual? What is the relationship in America between republicanism and democracy? Between communalistic and individualistic interpretations of America's founding texts? Why did the nation fall apart in 1861? However, we will also look at other factors in the formation of American identity such as race, class, gender, religion, and landscape. We will study these developing identities through literature, political documents, painting, music, newspapers and other media.
2 in-class exams, 20% each; a short (3-5 page) paper, 20%; final exam, 30%; attendance and participation, 10%.
Readings may include the following: Mary Rowlandson, CAPTIVITY NARRATIVE Benjamin Franklin, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, LETTERS FROM AN AMERICAN FARMER Frederick Douglass, NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN And a course packet of shorter readings