H105, American History I, Fall 2023

Writing assignment #3, 4 doubled-spaced pages, due at the beginning of class on Thursday, November 16

•  Primary source documents on the course syllabus from Weeks 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13.

•  Your lecture notes from Weeks 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13.

•  Copway, G[eorge].  The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Naton.  Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey and Co., 1851.

The first half of the 19th century (1789-1861) saw an American social order and political culture beset by biting contradictions:  “democracy” and “aristocracy,” inclusion and exclusion, success and failure, voting and violence, reform and backlash, anti-slavery and pro-slavery, “Indian removal” and indigenous resistance, et cetera.  Three generations of people in the United States lived through an era of broad uncertainties that affected their material and emotional lives:  population growth, economic development, and westward expansion, facilitated by a long interval of relative peace between the end of the War of 1812 (in 1815) and the beginning of the Mexican War (in 1846).  Except, of course, for the numerous enslaved Black people who were brutalized in service of the “Cotton Kingdom,” and the numerous Native American nations who were increasingly displaced from their homelands, through fraudulent treaty and military violence.  Even as the United States gained in tested durability as a country in the world, many people continued to feel its acute fragility as a social and political experiment which seemed, at home, to contain ever more instability and conflict rather than stability and harmony.

In response to so much chronic cultural unsettlement and turbulence, various writers offered their diagnosis of the problems besetting the United States, and also their prognosis of solutions to those problems.  Your task is to analyze those problems and solutions, comparing the George Copway text to at least four other writers of your choice.  So, the central question for you to explain is:  To what degree did various writers in the United States agree on the scale of the problems as well as the solutions facing the United States in the early 19th century (1820s-1850s)?  Answering this question will comprise the main thesis of your paper.

We have examined notions of scale from many angles the last few weeks.  How many people were imagined to be in the equation of problem and solution, diagnosis and prognosis?  A few?  Some?  Many? ? Who was blamed for problems?  Who was credited with solutions?  Who was harmed by problems?  Who would benefit from solutions?  Often enough the writers’ notions of scale were mismatched; unsurprisingly the notions of scale did not make complete sense, which is worth analyzing carefully.

As usual, you cannot sensibly respond to this question with a monolithic argument focused only on either all or none — you must weigh the evidence for the more agreement versus the less agreement.  As usual, too, you must account for social diversity (variation among people:  white, Black, Indigenous America, male, female, middle class, working class, et cetera).  You must also consider the factor of power — i.e., who already possessed versus who sought the power to turn their diagnoses and prognoses from idea into practice.  And keep in mind that each writer was responding to a particular historical dilemma, and trying to create their own authority for an audience.  They had an identity, but they did not automatically represent any entire group.  They made one argument, in a contested field of arguments.

It should be obvious that, as always, there is no single right or wrong answer to this question.  Rather, you will be evaluated on your ability to develop a forceful yet nuanced argument in response to the question, to select main themes to organize your analysis, and to provide specific evidence from the primary source documents and your lectures notes to substantiate your argument and analysis throughout the paper.

Be sure to endnote/footnote the precise source of any quotations, derivative ideas, or uncommon facts.  You should quote from primary documents produced by people in the past (such as George Copway) — this is the most persuasive evidence for any historical interpretation.  If you glean ideas from a secondary source (such as your lecture notes), use your own words and simply cite in a footnote or endnote where you found inspiration for a specific idea.

See the top of the course syllabus for a link to H105 paper writing guideliness.  There is also writing exercise #3 and three model papers under Files in Canvas.

Sample endnotes:
1. Abraham Lincoln (1838).
2. George Copway (1851).
3. Lecture notes, October 26, 2023.