History 410: Introduction

United States, Colonial Era to 1860, Fall 2023

Course Introduction

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3

For specifics on class participation, grading, etc., see course requirements--it's required reading.


Readings (*Please purchase in the bookstore. Do not come to class with electronic versions of the books)

These books will be available the bookstore.  

Writing assignments:

1. Two in-class essay exams. 

2. One take-home, typed essay

3. A library research project.

The final grade will be based on the above and class participation

To prepare for class. 

Welcome to the world of historical scholarship.  This school year, you will be entering into a never-ending conversation about the history of the United States.  Consider the following statement by the Philosopher Kenneth Burke:  

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Burke came up with this metaphor to illustrate the way that knowledge advances in the academic disciplines.  This term you will become part of the ongoing conversation about this country, around numerous questions that will never be definitively answered.  How and why was the nation founded?  What is its fundamental character?  To what extent is it an exceptional nation? What does the existence of slavery and racism say about this nation? What does it mean to be an American?  How did we come to adopt a democratic system at a time when most nations were ruled by kings?  What brought Europeans to the Americas--and the original 13 British colonies in particular--in the first place?  All this year we will be exploring these questions and more specific ones like how did the Constitution of 1787 get ratified, and was it actually better than the previous system of government, and what caused the Civil War? 

Get ready to "put in your oar."

The Syllabus.  Though historians try to be objective purveyors of true facts, every historical account is ultimately a fiction, because historians choose facts selectively, inevitably leaving out more than they include, and then arrange them so that they form a coherent and compelling narrative.  That's why every history of the United States that you read will be very different from every other.  I've curated the readings for this course, and in so doing have tried to put together a course that offers a coherent narrative that will be compelling and make sense, and leave you with useful information about the nature of this country, the human experience, progress, democracy, and other things.   Sadly, it is a short term, and I have had to exclude many things I would like to have included.  When I first started teaching at Exeter, the course began in 1760 and American history ended in 1997, so we were able to include a lot more. The subtractions have been painful, but I've carried on nonetheless.  My fondest hope is that you will develop a love of history and read more on your own down the road. 

Students are responsible for being familiar with the requirements for this course, which incorporate History Department guidelines on re-writes, late papers, academic honesty, and plagiarism. This includes procedures for requesting extensions, late penalties, and rewrites.  These are spelled out in great detail on the Course Requirements page.

I've divided the syllabus into three pages after this introduction.  The first of those is here.  The navigation bar (on top and bottom of every page) gets you to all the pages of the syllabus:

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3