US History Survey Class: Coventry University 2011-2012

5 07 2011

In the next academic year, I will be teaching a class that surveys American history from 1776 to the present. The course code here at Coventry University is ISS 270.

While the module will be organised along broadly chronological lines, emphasis will be placed on addressing those general themes that have been important in the shaping of modern North America. The major themes of this module are: political change and institutions; key leaders; war and diplomacy; economic and social development. The primary focus of the module is the history of the United States. However, consideration will also be given to the histories of the other nations of North America: Canada, Québec, and Mexico.

The overarching theme or narrative of this module is the rise of the United States from a small confederation of agrarian republics into a coherent nation-state capable of projecting military, economic, and cultural power into all corners of the globe. All of the lectures and most of the seminar readings will be connected to this theme in some way or the other.

Intended Module Learning Outcomes

The intended learning outcomes are that on completion of this module the student should be able to:

1. Identify the events and ideas which have shaped the political, economic, and cultural history of the United States.

2. Explain the processes by which the United States went from a small agrarian republic to a global superpower.

3. Assess the nature of the political system and the ideas and issues which dominated American politics between 1776 and 2000.

4. Understand the relations between the United States and its two neighbouring countries, Canada and Mexico.

5. Understand the complex and multicultural nature of the American population.

Module Organisation and List of Lectures and Seminars

Your responsibilities each week will include completing the following readings before the seminar.  The seminars last just fifty minutes, but you can expect to spend up to 4 hours each week preparing for them. In a typical week, you will read the assigned pages in the textbook by David Reynolds and a primary source and you will listen to a podcast.

Please note that the page numbers refer to the paperback version of the textbook by Reynolds.

The podcasts have been taken from and

In addition, you are expected to follow and read the Disunion Blog on the New York Times website. Ten minutes of each seminar will be set aside to discussing the posts of the previous seven days on Disunion.

Autumn Term

Week Subject Readings For Seminar
1 Intro to Module
 Please read course guide before seminar.
2 Colonisation of North America
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 3-55
Jill Lepore “King Philip’s War”
3 The American Revolution
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 56-92
Declaration of Independence,

Richard Ketchum “Divided Loyalties: The American Revolution in New York”

4 The Federalist Era
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 93-120
The Bill of Rights,
 Washington`s Farewell Address:
5 Jefferson’s America
Hardt, Michael. 2007. “Jefferson and Democracy”. American Quarterly. 59, no. 1: 41-78.
Jefferson`s First Inaugural Address: Jefferson, Then and Now and
6 The War of 1812
Warren H. Goodman, “The Origins of the War of 1812: A Survey of Changing Interpretations” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol. 28, No. 2 (Sep., 1941), pp. 171-186
Edward Ayers “Slavery and the Early American Economy”
7 Andrew Jackson and the Second Two Party System
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 121-154
Podcast: Black & White: The Idea of Racial Purity
8 Mexico and Canada
Nelles, H V. 1997. “American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword”. The American Historical Review. 102, no. 3: 749.
Podcast: Borderlands and Bordered Lands
9 The 1840s
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 155-182
Serving Time: A History of Punishment
10 The 1850s and Road to Disunion
Theodore Power, The Slave Power
“The Slave Power“ pp. 248-287 and “Boston Kidnapping” 316-385,
The Dred Scott Decision:
11 The Civil War
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 185-217
First Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln:

Adam I.P. Smith “Politics in the Civil War North”

12 Reconstruction
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 218-242
 Eric Foner “The Significance of Reconstruction”

Winter Term

Week Subject Readings For Seminar
1 The Gilded Age
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 243-271
 Beyond Numbers: A History of the U.S. Census
2 Indian Wars and the West
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 286-292
 Boyd, James P. Recent Indian Wars, Under the Lead of Sitting Bull, and Other Chiefs With a Full Account of the Messiah Craze, and Ghost Dances. [Philadelphia]: Publishers union, 1892 pp. 1-13, 129-152
3 Populism and Progressivism
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 272-301
Bryan`s Cross of Gold Speech, Patricia Limerick “The American West: A Work in Progress”
4 Woodrow Wilson’s America
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 302-334
Gary Gerstle “The Progressive Era ”
5 The 1920s
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 335-343
Podcast: Love Me Did: A History of Courtship
6 The Depression and the New Deal
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 343-351
 Podcast: Looking for Work: A History of Unemployment
Herbert Hoover`s Inaugural Address:
7 The Second World War
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 351-372
 FDR`s Third and Fourth Inaugural Addresses: and
 David M. Kennedy “The Great Depression and WWII”
8 The 1950s
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 375-407
Podcast (The Invention of) Traditional Family Values John Lewis Gaddis “The Origins of the Cold War”
9 The 1960s
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty,pages 408-462
 I have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr; August 28, 1963
Jack Rakove “The Supreme Court and the Politics of Race”
10 The Age of Nixon
Reynolds, Empire of Liberty, pages 463-507
War Powers Resolution, 1973
John Prados “The Origins of the Vietnam War”
11 The Age of Reagan
Reynold, Empire of Liberty, pages 508-585
Paying Up: A History of Taxation
12 Towards Continental Union ?
Francis Bedros, “Harmonization of Environmental Standards and Convergence of Environmental Policy in Canada: the NAFTA Context”

Key Textbook

Reynolds, D. America, Empire of Liberty: a New History. London, Penguin, 2010.ISBN: 9780141033679 0141033673. All students are encouraged to purchase this book. When ordering please verify the ISBN number to ensure that you are getting the paperback version of this book.  


 Research Essay.  2,000-words. Deadline: Deadline February 2012. Your essay will be based on sources in the university library. A list of available topics is listed below. Your bibliography should include least ten items, of which at least five must be primary sources and three must be scholarly (i.e., peer-reviewed) secondary sources. An online database of appropriate primary sources for each topic is identified below. The point of this exercise is to make students familiar with the use of primary sources. Working with primary sources is an essential part of being a historian. Primary sources provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching. In general, these are documents that were created by the witnesses or first recorders of these events at about the time they occurred, and include diaries, letters, reports, photographs, creative works, financial records, memos, and newspaper articles (to name just a few types). As technology advanced, new types of primary source began to be created (e.g., recordings of radio programmes from the 1930s).
Essay Question Essential Primary Source
How were Anglo-American relations covered in The United States Democratic Review between 1837 and 1859? What sorts of biases were evident in this publication’s reporting on Britain and its leaders?
What does the correspondence exchanged between President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev say about the Cold War in the 1960s?
What do declassified CIA documents say about American attitudes to the European Union and Europeans?
 How did the North American Review cover the issue of southern Reconstruction between 1865 and 1877?
How did Harper’s New Monthly Magazine depict Mormons between 1851 and 1891? What do the articles about the Mormons say about this community`s relationship with the national government?
What do the papers of Robert Lansing say about the decision of the United States to enter the First World War in 1917?
How did DeBow’s Review cover the Mexican-American War? Did the Southern States have a distinct perspective on this conflict?
 What do the speeches in Congress made during the debate about California statehood say about how Americans conceived of their nation?
Analyse the “fireside chats” of President Franklin Roosevelt. What do they say about his Presidency?



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