American History I

Fall 2023

Tuesdays/Thursdays, 9:45-11:00 a.m., Woodburn Hall 101

Prof. Konstantin Dierks

Course Description Course Resources

Has it ever been possible in American history to imagine equality without at the same time excluding some people?  We will explore cultural tensions between equality and inequality, freedom and unfreedom, and prosperity and poverty in American history from the era of Columbusís exploration of the New World, up through the era of the American Civil War.  In examining such cultural tensions, we will look in particular at how notions of gender, race, and class have changed over time, first in a colonial context in the collision of European, Native American, and African cultures in the challenging environment of North America, and then in a post-revolutionary context when competing social groups struggled for advantage in the young American nation.  Throughout the course we will situate North America and then the United States not only in a multicultural but also in a global context.  Special attention will be paid to how the lives of ordinary people intersected with broader sweeps of history.  To test the continuing resonance of early American history in the modern world, we will scrutinize not only struggles for social dominance or self-determination by people in the past, but also struggles over the meaning of historical memory by people in the present.

At the end of the course I hope you will have a solid grounding in American history, and a keen appreciation of the complexity of the past as well as the contingencies of historical change.  I also hope you will have sharper analytical skills with which to assess evidence and formulate your own arguments, as well as sharper writing and verbal skills with which to organize and articulate your own ideas — beyond the confines of history, and useful in any field of endeavor.

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