Winter 2016 Course Description
Course: HSTAA 301
Instructor: Professor Richard Johnson
Title of Course: Colonial North America
HSTAA 301 surveys the history of what became the United States from the time of first transatlantic contact to the ratification of the Federal Constitution of 1787. It gives particular attention to certain central themes--the clash of cultures, nations, and races that accompanied European colonization; the emergence of multiethnic societies in North America and their role in a vibrant Atlantic culture; the issues of state formation, white labor and black slavery, and the interplay of religion and politics; and the origins and nature of the revolution that replaced imperial authority with independence and republican government.
Besides gaining a fuller understanding of the significance of these themes for the unfolding of American history, students will also be encouraged by the format of the class to sharpen their skills of critical thinking and expression. Class discussions and written assignments center upon a package of readings assembled for the class, consisting of selected source materials plus some examples of modern scholarship. Each unit of the readings is designed to illuminate some particular episode or issue in early American history, and to enable students to assess the cultural values of the past and act as historians in constructing their own documented analyses through discussion and writing. This is therefore a history course in the double sense that students can expect to learn both about the nature of the past (in this case the most formative and exciting period of American history) and about how to develop the skills of thinking and research needed for effective study of that past, and its legacy for the present.
No prerequisites, except a lively curiosity about the origins of American society. During the duration of the courses, however, regular attendance--at the lectures and more especially at the discussion sections--is essential for success, along with a readiness to complete the assigned readings week by week, so as to contribute to class discussions and the timely completions of assignments. Preparation for exams will be facilitated by the distribution of revision sheets. The course is structured to give the greatest success to those students able to engage with its content and varied requirements on a regular rather than a spasmodic basis, and to demonstrate that engagement by evidence of cogent and informed expression rather than a capacity for the simple recall of facts.
Attendance at the two two-hour lectures a week, plus Friday quiz sections. The sections will center upon the discussion of weekly readings contained in a substantial Readings Package constructed for the class, readings (almost all in primary sources) that are in turn the basis of the three short, 3-4 page, analytical papers that each student is required to submit, with a choice of topics. In addition, they are required to complete one midterm and a final examination. Written work will be judged according to the strength, clarity, and concision of its arguments, its capacity to employ and analyze the appropriate course materials, and the relevance of its response to its chosen topic. This is a W-course, with a consequent emphasis upon writing assignments.
Grading percentages for various assignments:
Mathematically, the 3 papers counts for 45% of the grade, the midterm and final exam for 40% with the remaining 15% for overall class performance, particularly in the discussion sections. The course is not graded on a curve but the average grade for the course (total grades divided by the number of students) has been around 3.0-3.2 during the past several years.
Books required for the course:
Substantial Documents Package (ca. 450 pages) constructed for the course consisting of eleven units of articles and primary materials; a modern monograph on women’s lives in early America; some recommended but not required background texts placed on reserve reading