History 110 – North American History to 1877
This is a survey of North American history to 1877. It will focus primarily on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to examine the forces that led to the creation of the “United States.” In many ways the first century of that country’s history will serve as our epilogue.
For much of its history, North America was a world much different than the rest of the planet. It was home to millions of different people and a host of distinct cultures. We will spend considerable time examining a few of those cultures pre-contact to give us a greater sense of the enormity of the chaos and catastrophe that befell those people and those cultures when their world met the ambitious, technologically-superior, resource-hungry nations of Europe. Spain, France, and England were the most important of those actors in North America. The story of the seventeenth century is the tale of contact, cooperation, and conflict within and between these three imperial systems and Native peoples who reconfigured their own societies in response to the havoc wrought by disease and inclusion in global market economies. The eighteenth century, which will occupy another large part of this course, will continue to examine the consequences of European imperialism on North America and its people, but will also go into greater detail on the clash of these empires as they contested for power on a continental, hemispheric, and global stage and how they in turn gave rise to new forms of empire among native people, particularly the Comanche. Lastly, we will study the formation and development of the various settlements of Europeans in North America into political and cultural creations operating in systems far from power and tasked with forging societies the brought America and Europe together within a workable (profitable) structure. Lastly we will consider how a few of these state actors, recognizing their shared interests, ambitions, and ethos joined together to found a new nation that within a century was the dominant empire in the hemisphere and a century later the dominant empire in the world.
Most of the students in this class will have had a course on early American history while in primary school. Therefore, our focus will not be on coverage, but interpretation. We want to be able to frame both singular events and large-scale change. It is an introduction to the ways that historians consider the long past of a large place. Our text, one of the best American history survey books of the last few decades, has a strong thesis which we will consider in detail. Moreover, it incorporates most of the very best of current scholarship across fields and eras. To further hone our critical thinking and analytic skills, many of our written assignments and most our discussions will be drawn from our second text, a collection of primary sources that accompanies the Foner book. We will also read long excerpts from three major narrative histories pertinent to our larger interpretative project. Lastly, there will be an introduction to one of the most important types of historical scholarship, the journal article. This is the primary form of creating new scholarship in most fields. Learning to read and analyze these dense, hyper-focused, important, well-structured, resource-rich, well-argued journal articles is a must-learn skill in college. Therefore, our additional reading will be four recently-published, award-winning journal articles in North American history.