HIS260: 19th Century U.S., 1815-1914
Spring, 2007 (MWF 10:30-11:20)
Professor John F. McClymer (Fuller 112, ext. 7278)
Description: In 1815 the United States stretched from the Atlantic to the Alleghanies. Pittsburgh was a frontier outpost. By 1914 it was a great industrial center of a nation that spanned a continent. Nineteenth-century Americans lived through thoroughly unprecedented times. Age-old certainties shattered. Age-old restrictions collapsed. Virtually anything seemed possible. Americans rushed to seize the opportunities they saw before them. The pace of change and the differential patterns it took North and South literally tore the country apart. Even so, the United States occupied much of the continent, including large portions seized from Mexico; it developed the largest and most prosperous economy in the world; it attracted immigrants from much of the world in ever-increasing numbers; and it conquered an overseas empire. We will look at these transformations and at the efforts of Americans to make sense of them. In particular we will follow several major issues over the course of the entire century: race, woman's rights, temperance, and nativism.
Format: The course will function as a workshop. Students will investigate key events and developments and will make regular reports in writing and orally. The professor will provide background information, guides to sources, suggestions, and critiques. Students will choose which sources and aspects of key topics they wish to explore.
Requirements: Students will write regular reports, most of them brief. They will also report orally. In addition, students will undertake a major final project on a topic of their own choosing. There will be no examinations or quizzes. If you have some special need that requires some adjustment in course requirements or scheduling, please make an appointment to see me so that we can work out details.
Course Policies: College rules about attendance, cheating (including plagiarism), late work, and illness all apply in this course.
- Because of our system of student reports, you must inform the instructor in advance if you have to miss class when you are scheduled to give a report. Ordinary civility mandates that you inform the instructor whenever you are going to miss class. If you miss class for reasons of health or family issues, please notify Dr. Eloise Knowlton at the Office of Academic Affairs (x7487). Her office will notify your instructors of the number of classes you will miss and of the reason.
- Late work is not accepted unless you have obtained permission from the instructor. Having other work due at the same time is NOT a good enough reason. Health problems, if serious, are.
- Cheating will result in a grade of F. There will be no exceptions.
- Plagiarism, the use of another's work without attribution, is a form of cheating.
Materials: All will be on line.
Student Projects: What do I do in this course?
The materials available for study are vast to the point of being overwhelming. The usual response to this is for the instructor to choose as many or as few as he or she thinks will fit into the syllabus. The great model of this is the textbook. There are exactly thirty-one chapters of twenty-five to thirty pages each. Textbook authors can put whatever they choose into any of the chapters but none can exceed thirty pages. They can cover whatever topics they want but they cannot exceed thirty-one chapters. This creates a pedagogy of scarcity. There is no room for more than one poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. There may not be room for any! Maybe we can squeeze in one or two brief excerpts from slave narratives or maybe a speech by Chief Seattle but no more. Moreover, there is only time to look at events and developments from one perspective. Textbook authors, and instructors generally, choose what they hope is the single best way of explaining something and then move on. They know, of course, that there is no single best way. They know too that different people learn in different ways. They know, therefore, the approach they select will not work for everyone. But there is only so much space and time. There is not enough of either for comparing in detail how basic themes play out over the course of a century.
Scarcity and excellence are intrinsically incompatible. Nor is there any reason why students should have no say in choosing the materials they will study. Historians pick the topics they wish to investigate. They pick the approaches they wish to follow. They decide which sources to consult. The way to learn to ride a bike is to ride one. The way to learn to be an historian is to do history.
We will therefore ignore conventional practice. I will choose broad themes and topics. More accurately, there is a standard set of topics and themes that American historians largely agree anyone working in this time period needs to know about. Students will then plunge in, choose aspects of these themes and topics, look at sets of relevant materials, and share their findings. This means that with some exceptions we will not all be reading the same materials. It means that we will be responsible for letting others know what we have found. It means the instructor will do less talking in class and more coaching of individual students and groups of students. It means that one of his chief functions will be asking students to compare and contrast their findings.
Final Projects: The proof of the pudding . . . .
Students will submit a project of their own design in lieu of a final examination. Several weeks beforehand they will submit a proposal and then meet with the instructor to discuss possible approaches and resources.