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History and Memory in America's Revolutions

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

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Course Description

The American Revolution is a creation story: we look to it to tell us who we are. But the American Revolution did not affect all Americans equally—it looked very different to a sailor than to a slave. What were Americans’ lived experiences during the late 18th century? What were the promises of the Revolution, and for whom were they realized? What lies beyond the hazy mythology, and can it clarify our present?

This course will show that in the years between 1763 and 1815, North America witnessed multiple American Revolutions: in political ideas, in social class, in race, in gender, and in economic life. Each class period will be spent exploring one of these aspects, using both primary and secondary sources to help us better understand both the lived realities of these American Revolutions, and their lasting consequences for the United States. We will learn about the Philadelphia dockworkers seeking respite from global economic depression in the 1760s; read the petitions of Massachusetts slaves who used their masters’ language about human equality to demand their freedom; hear the voices of women who believed that all people were created equal; and understand the political maneuverings of native people accustomed to playing European empires off one another. Ultimately, we will discuss the memory of the Revolution, and the consequences of its multiplicity for some of the most pressing political, economic, and social questions of today.

By focusing on a relatively brief period of time, this course will introduce students to a range of historical methodologies. We will use eighteenth century diaries, newspapers, petitions, pamphlets, letters, and cartoons to hear the voices and understand the perspectives of historical actors, and then we will contextualize them with sources written by historians. The class will therefore offer students both a deep dive into the content of the history of the American Revolution, as well as a broad methodological foundation for future study in history, literature, or any of the humanities and social sciences.

In addition to providing students with a thorough understanding of the American Revolution, this course will teach students how to approach primary historical documents. Understanding the context, author, purpose, and potential biases of a source is essential to analyzing any text, and will aid students in their high school classes, AP tests in history and government, and future college courses in humanities and social sciences. The course will also introduce students to strategies for reading academic journal articles, which are prevalent in college courses but relatively little used in high school classrooms.

This course assumes a basic knowledge of American history and government, but does not require a full high school course in either subject. It is aimed at students considering studying history as part of their college experience, whether as a major or simply as an additional interest, and want to know more about what the discipline is like outside of high school.

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