The History of the Adoption of the Constitution seminar covers the history of the adoption of the United States Constitution, roughly from 1781 (the end of the Revolutionary War and the failure of the first impost proposal) until 1791 (the success of the new tax program and the start of the Hamilton-Jefferson schism).
The Constitution, like all historical documents, was a weapon intended to accomplish a set of programs. Without understanding the battle in which the Constitution was the weapon, it is impossible to understand the document. Interpretation of the true meaning of the Constitution for any issue was quickly a controversial subject and remains controversial today. As the Supreme Court has shifted to relying on "orginalism" to settle current legal disputes, the historical understanding of the Constitution is becoming more important.
Serious students of history need to get into archives quickly because historical judgment needs to be based on the surviving material, much as science is based on the lab results. Secondary sources are a necessary guide, but when histories rely only on secondary sources, the story becomes like gossip, warped more at each retelling.
Professor Calvin Johnson is Andrews & Kurth Centennial Professor at the University of Texas School of Law. My full cv and list of publications can be found at http://www.utexas.ed u/law/faculty/cvs/chj7107_cv.pdf
Large sections of Calvin Johnson, Righteous Anger at the Wicked States: The Meaning of the Founders' Constitution (Cambridge 2005) and Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (Vintage 1997) are assigned and they are recommended in full. Among the other readings are James Madison, Letters to Jefferson, March 19, 1787, Oct. 24, 1787, Vices of the Political System, Letters to Washington, April 16, 1787, Federalist 10 and 54; Herbert Storing, What the Anti-Feds Were For (excerpts). Course requirements.
Seventy-five percent (75%) of the grade is 30-page paper testing a testable thesis, based on original-document archives, largely digital archives. The paper should also show mastery of the relevant secondary material. A graded draft will be due three days before it is presented to the class and the final paper reworking in reaction to critiques will be due at end of semester.
Twenty-five percent (25%) will be based on preparation for class and on five preparatory exercises:
(1) Identification of five possible theories for which historical research might provide refutation. (One will probably be the one you write on)
(2) Finding 35 letters or documents relevant to a thesis and putting them into outline order (which can also on your paper's thesis)
(3) Notes on reading 50 pages of chronological archive (also related to your paper).
(4) Critique of one class's set of reading material (3 pages)
(5) Reading and critique of one other student thesis and comments in class when that draft is presented. (5) Reading and critique of one other student thesis and comments in class when that draft is presented.