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 UNI -- Spring 2014
Graduate Seminar in U.S. Historiography
HIST 6289 T. 4-6:50 pm, Seerley 317

Barbara Cutter

History Office: Seerley 336

Office Hours: Tues 2:50-3:50; Thurs.10:00-11:00 and 1:50-2:50; and by appt.
email: Barbara.Cutter@uni.edu
website: https://www.uni.edu/cutter

Course Description:

This course is a graduate-level seminar in US historiography.  Historiography has two meanings.  The first, more general meaning, is the history of history.  The second meaning, and the one we will use for this class, is the recent scholarship that constitutes the current and best understanding of a historical topic or a larger context.  In this class, then, we will not simply study American history; we will primarily focus on what some recent historians have argued about various issues and events in American history.  We will explore the ways in which historians write history and will evaluate their historical interpretations.  Historians have debated the meanings of virtually every issue and event in American history.  During the semester we will look at a number of key historical debates in American history, asking, for example, what role have Indian peoples played in the formation of American identities?  How did American slavery and racism originate?  How radical was the American revolution?  What was the relationship between the formation of the middle class and new gender roles?  What role did abolitionism and abolitionists play in American society and the Civil War?  What were the roots and meanings of American imperialism?  How have American identities been reshaped in the 20th century with the rise of consumer culture?  What is the context and meanings of the rise of the new right in the late 20th century?

To understand how historians work, and to evaluate their work, we need to be careful to avoid a few common misconceptions about history.  First, history is not a set of “objective” facts.  The primary sources that historians study do not “speak for themselves;” they do not have a single, obvious meaning.  Historians’ job is to choose the documents they feel are relevant to their subject matter, interpret these documents, and make arguments which they feel best makes sense of their evidence.  Hence historians engage in original work, not by finding a new document or set of documents, but by looking at available documents in a new light, by entering into a conversation with previous historians [by reading historiography]. Not all historians are interested in doing original work, yet to do original work, historians try to add to the historiography: for example, they ask, how can I interpret the primary sources in a way that adds a new dimension to, or even challenges, the scholarly conversation on the importance of abolitionism in antebellum America?

Second, to say that a historian is “biased” is a meaningless criticism.  History cannot be anything but biased, for it always involves choices: what is and what is not “history’? What facts are and what facts are not relevant?  What people, or groups of people, were and were not part of an event, or historical topic?  In this class, we will move beyond the concept of bias, to explore what specific biases various scholars hold, what assumptions they make about history and the world in general and how this shapes their work.  Which “facts”, events and people, get included in specific histories, and which are left out?  All history, then, is biased, and hence, political, whether or not it claims to have a political agenda.  For example, the assumption that nineteenth century Americans believed that white middle-class women’s place was “in the home,” and that white working class and African-American women were seen as less moral and virtuous than middle-class white women because of their labor outside the home, obscures our ability to see the immense body of evidence that suggests that middle-class white women did participate in politics and the paid labor force in antebellum America; that working class women and African-American women often asserted that they too were virtuous women, and used this argument to justify their own participation in politics.  In other words, if historians already know that women were trapped in their homes, they will not look for them in other places.  Or if they already know abolitionists were an “unpopular minority,” or that all enslaved people were illiterate, or that Reconstruction was “a failure,” they will overlook all evidence that suggests otherwise.

The goal of this class will be to examine several major historiographical debates and evaluate the arguments of various authors, paying close attention to the ways in which historical interpretations are always biased, always political, and trying to understand our own biases, and assumptions about history, in order that we can exercise some control over the ways our values shape our interpretations of history. 

Note: Historians often talk about using primary and secondary sources in their research.  The primary sources are their evidence and the bulk of their secondary sources are the current historiography in their field of study.  However, historians use some secondary sources that are not part of the historiography of their specific topic.  These secondary sources are often referred to as “theory” and address the analytical context of the project.  They are secondary sources written by historians or scholars in other disciplines that suggest ways historians may frame questions and interpret primary sources.  In other words, historians use theory as part of their methods.  For this reason theory is more generally studied in historical methods classes.  However, due to the fact that both historiography and theory are secondary sources, and sometimes the line between the two is not clear (some highly theoretical articles are about a specific historical topic) we will spend some time on it in this class.

Course Requirements:

Attendance and Participation: This class is a seminar.  This means that each student in the course will be responsible for setting the tone of the class, establishing its schedule, and generating its subjects for discussion.  In other words, your presence is crucial to the success of this course.  Accordingly, regular, active attendance is mandatory and will be factored into your grade.  If you miss a class, you will still be responsible for that day’s reading and discussion, even if the absence is “excused.”  If you disappear for an extended length of time (two or more classes in a row), you should consider yourself out of the class, and should not expect to be allowed back in.

Graded Work: Each student must complete the following sequence of assignments.

The Following Books are required and are available at University Book and Supply

Jill Lepore, In the Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (NY: Random House 1998).
T.H. Breen and Stephen Innes, Myne Owne Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore (NY: Oxford, 1982).
Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (NY, Knopf, 1992).
Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (Oxford, 2000).
Landon Storrs, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012)
Jill Lepore, The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)

Tentative Schedule of Meetings, Readings and Topics (15 weeks w/o break)

Week 1: January 14 - Introductions

Week 2: January  21 – Colonization and American Identity

Reading: Jill Lepore, In the Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, parts 1 and II; Perry Miller, “Errand into the Wilderness” in William & Mary Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 1953).

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

 

Week 3: January 28 – New Approaches to History: Animals as Subjects

Reading:  Jill Lepore, In the Name of War, parts III and IV, and Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (New York: Oxford, 2004) Prologue, Chapters 1 and 5.

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________ 

Week 4: February 4 - Theory: The Other Secondary Source
Reading:  John W. Blassingame, "Using the Testimony of Ex-Slaves: Approaches and Problems," Journal of Southern History 41 (1975): Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience, Critical Inquiry 17, 4 (Summer 1991): 773-797; and, Ian Tyrell, “Beyond the View from Euro-America”, in Thomas Bender, ed., Rethinking American History in a Global Age (University of California Press, 2002).

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

 

Week 5: February 11 - The Origins of Slavery and Racial Identity in Colonial America

Reading: Breen and Innes, Myne Owne Ground; Alden Vaughan, “The Origins Debate: Slavery and Racism in 17th century Virginia,” in Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (1995), 136-174.

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

Week 6: February 18 -   The Radicalism of the American Revolution
Reading: Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, parts 1 and 2 only; and, “Forum: How Revolutionary was the Revolution?” William and Mary Quarterly, Vol 51, no. 4, October 1994: 679-716.  Articles by Appleby, Smith, Zuckerman and Wood.

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________
                       

Week 7: February 25 - Abolition and Anti-Slavery in American Culture

Reading: Brian Roberts, “Slavery would have died of that Music” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 2006 114, (2): 301-368; Julie Roy Jeffrey, Great Silent Army of Abolition (1998), Introduction and Chapter 3, pp. 1-13, 96-133; and Ronald Walters, “The Boundaries of Abolitionism” in Perry, ed., Antislavery Reconsidered (1979), 3-23.

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

Week 8: March 4 – History, Memory and the Meanings of Slavery and the Civil War

Reading: Eric Foner, “Slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction” in The New American History, 85-96. [read Foner first, but only read Civil War part of essay]; Jim Cullen, “The Past Keeps Changing” in The Civil War in Popular Culture (1995), Chapter 1; David Blight “Quarrel Forgotten or a Revolution Remembered? Reunion and Race in the Memory of the Civil War, 1873-1913,” in David Blight and Brooks Simpson, eds., Union and Emancipation, 151-179; James Oliver Horton, “Slavery in American History: An Uncomfortable National Dialogue,” in James and Lois Horton, eds, Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (New York: New Press, 2006): 35-55. [CD]

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

Week 9: March 11 - American Imperialism, Race, and Gender

Reading: Frederick Jackson Turner, “Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893); Richard Slotkin, “Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West’ and the Mythologization of the American Empire;” and Amy Kaplan, “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill;” all in Kaplan and Pease, eds., Cultures of United States Imperialism, 164-181, 219-236 and  474-498 and 581-616.

History/historiography time line due (through week 8 reading).

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________
           

Week 10: March 18 - Spring Break -- no class

Week 11: March 25 – Conservation and Progressivism in the late 19th-early 20th century

Reading: Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness; and Paul Sutter, “A Retreat from Profit: Colonization, the Appalachian Trail and the Social Roots of Benton MacKaye’s Wilderness Advocacy, Environmental History 1999 4(4): 553-577.

Topic for historiographical essay due

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

 

Week 12: April 1 -  The New Deal Order

Reading: Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Post War America, Chapter 1; Landon Storrs, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left, Chapter 1.
Short paper organizing historiography due

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

Week 13: April 8 – The Red Scare
Reading: Landon Storrs, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left, Introduction (1-15) and pp. 51-265.

            Presenters:     _____________________________
                                    _____________________________

 Week 14:  April 15  - The Rise of the Suburbs
Reading: Matthew Lassiter and Kevin Kruse, "Bulldozer Revolution: Suburbs and Southern History since World War II," Journal of Southern History, Aug 2009, 75 no. 3, 691-706; Thomas Sugrue and Andrew Goodman, "Plainfield Burning: Black Rebellion in the Suburban North," Journal of Urban History, May 2007, 33 no. 4, 568-601; and Robyn Muncy, Cooperative Motherhood and Democratic Civic Culture in Postwar Suburbia, 1940-1965, Journal of Social History, Winter 2004, 38, no. 2, 285-310. 

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

Week 15 – April 22 - Academic History and the American Public
Reading:  Jill Lepore, The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)

Presenters:     _____________________________
                        _____________________________

Week 16: April 29 – Last Class – Presentations on historiographical essay topics

Tuesday May 6 –– Historiographical Essays due at 4:00 in my office, 336 Seerley.