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On the Wrong Side of History: Recalling America's Losers

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

History is told from the point of view of the winners, but the “losers” leave behind their marks. In this class, students will consider the views of those who lost and place them in context with the views of the winners. They will study the arguments of Tories and others who opposed the American Revolution; the dimensions and dynamics of the pro-slavery debate in the antebellum North and South; the alternatives proposed for funding early radio and TV; the American pacifist movement in World War II; and a smattering of failed social movements and other “outliers” along the roadside of U.S. history. Particularly illuminating in this present “partisan age,” these forgotten histories will illuminate the lively, and occasionally violent, contestations that have characterized U.S. political history.

This course is focused around two of the great problems in the writing of history: one, that reasonable and unreasonable people disagree, and those disagreements have had to be resolved, and two, that received history over-emphasizes the point of view of “winners” of past disagreements, reasonable or not. For example, in the American Revolution, the combination of the feeling of inevitability around American victory (particularly in American history classrooms), the near-total disappearance after the Revolution of domestic Tories, and the lack of inclusion of Tory writing in accounts of the debate, have rendered the anti-revolutionary American perspective obscure. Each class will proceed as a dialogue between warring political ideas. The instructor will provide the secondary source historical context for the “winning” side of the debate. Students will read primary source documents and view video that let them engage with the less-familiar “losing” side. By engaging in those debates, students will discover history as more than a march of inevitable progress and the work of historians as more than the straightforward presentation of historical facts.

A willingness to honestly engage difficult ideas in respectful collaboration with other students is required; a thorough prior knowledge of U.S. history is not.