The purpose of this course is to provide students with a thorough introduction to what is best described as the foundations of American History. “Establishing America” covers the two centuries of English/British colonization ventures in North America and the ensuing, crucial four decades from the Declaration of Independence in 1775 through the aftermath of the War of 1812. No later period of United States History compares with these two and a half centuries in contributions to the fundamental shape and character of American society.
Too often American History courses merely gesture toward a slender list of perspectives on the extremely varied, North American colonial experiences before focusing heavily on the “origins” of the American nation in the Revolution and through the adoption and early implementation of the U. S. Constitution. What this approach fails to properly acknowledge is that most members of the founding generation grew up in, and were deeply influenced by the colonial/provincial societies their parents and grandparents had consciously built and that the Revolutionaries inherited. Pre-Revolution experiences and the structures of the various provincial British-American societies mattered in all that ensued.
The list of stones that this course will overturn is both long and prescient: immigration, both voluntary and forced; the commerce of the Atlantic, both in goods and people; traditional English rights and their metamorphosis in American hands; British and American constitutionalism; experiments with sovereignty, federalism, and the language of rights; the meanings and institutionalization of religious liberty and freedom of speech; claiming, expropriating, and establishing title to land; slavery and various other forms of unfree labor; native American/Euro-American contact, trade, conflict and demographics; various theatres and experiences of violence and warfare; ethnic and racial distinctions; institutional, cultural, and economic Anglicization and Americanization; patriarchy and equality; imperialism, provincialism, nationalism and exceptionalism; monarchy and subjecthood; republicanism and citizenship. These themes will inform weekly lectures, readings and discussion as an invitation to students to develop and appreciate perspectives that will enrich their capacity for present-day civic mindedness and engagement.
This course may be used to fulfill three hours of the U.S. history component of the university core curriculum and addresses the following four core objectives established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: communication skills, critical thinking skills, personal responsibility, and social responsibility
Eric G. Nellis, An Empire of Regions: A Brief History of Colonial British America, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.
Eric G, Nellis, The Long Road to Change: America’s Revolution, 1750-1820, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.
Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, revised edition, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992
Jack P. Greene, The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution, Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2010
David Waldstreicher, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification, New York: Hill and Wang, 2009.
Book of Primary Sources.
All students will attend weekly lectures and discussions. Students are expected to read the weekly assignments in advance of classes for that week. Class attendance is expected. Students are responsible for lecture material along with that contained in the assigned readings and for any changes to the syllabus that are announced in class. Although there is some overlap between texts and lectures, lectures do not simply repeat material in the readings. I do not provide copies of lectures and attendees are prohibited from recording lectures and discussions. A schedule of the required readings is attached.
Written Work: Students will hand in one short essay at the commencement of Week 11. This will be a 5-page paper comparing the arguments in Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, revised edition, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992 and Jack P. Greene, The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution, Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2010. We will discuss how to structure such written comparisons in class. Late papers will be penalized by one full grade per day.
Test and Examination: There will be a test made up of multiple choice questions, short answer questions and one longer essay question in the second class period of Week 7. There will be a final examination in this course during the end of term examination period.
Comparative essay on Bailyn and Greene– 30%
End-of-Term Examination – 50%
Final marks will include a plus and minus range.