The Course

History 110 – North American History to 1877

Jeff Roche

TT 2:30-4

Kauke 244

This is a survey of North American history to 1877. Primarily focused on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is not a history of the United States as much as it is a search for the forces that would lead to the creation of the United States. It is the history of a broader age where capitalism, imperialism, slavery, and colonialism flourished – especially in the New World unleashing catastrophic change on its peoples and lands.

For much of its history, North America stood apart from the rest of the world. Home to millions of people and hosts of distinct cultures. We will spend considerable time examining a few of those peoples pre-contact to give us a greater sense of the enormity of the chaos and catastrophe that befell them when into their world strode the ambitious, technologically-superior, resource-hungry nations of Europe. Spain, France, and England were the most important of those actors in North America. Our story continues as we consider the ongoing tales of contact, cooperation, and conflict within and between imperial systems and Native peoples who reconfigured their own societies in response to the havoc wrought by disease and inclusion in global markets. The eighteenth century, witnessed the emergence of distinct American cultures within each of the imperial systems, none more brutal or horrifying than the slave system of the American South. When a collection of these unique regional societies determined to declare themselves an independent nation, the United States was born. The differences between these colonial allies were, as we know, too great for the new nation to overcome and three generations after its birth, the nation split and went to war with itself.

Most of the students in this class will have covered this period in American history at some point in their educational career. Maybe a few times. This is not a course that emphasizes coverage. There’s no slog through time. We are interested in figuring out how to frame singular events or movements or ideas within larger pictures of change or continuity, all the while trying to recognize our own present in our history. Toward this end we are going to read different sorts of texts that provide models for this kind of understanding: Jill Lepore’s brilliant one-volume history of the nation, long sections of three excellent narrative histories, and a collection of award-winning journal articles. In each case, you will have specific reading assignments designed to introduce you to the kind of analytic approaches that allow you get the most pertinent information from each type of writing.