American History I
Fall 2012
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:15 a.m. - 12:05 p.m.
Morrison Hall 007
Prof. Konstantin Dierks
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This course provides a topical introduction to American history from the era of Columbusís exploration of the New World, up through the era of the American Civil War.  As our guiding themes we will focus on cultural tensions between freedom and unfreedom, between equality and inequality, and between prosperity and poverty.  For instance, has it ever been possible in American history to imagine equality without at the same time excluding some people?  In examining such cultural tensions, we will look in particular at how notions of gender, race, and class have changed over time, first in a colonial context in the collision of European, Native American, and African cultures in the challenging environment of North America, and then in a postcolonial context when competing social groups struggled for advantage in the young American nation.  Throughout the course, we will situate North America and then the United States not only in a multicultural but also in a global context.  Special attention will be paid, as well, to how the lives of ordinary people intersected with broader sweeps of history.  To test the continuing resonance of early modern American history, we will scrutinize not only struggles for social dominance or self-determination by people in the past, but also struggles over the meaning of historical memory by people in the present.

At the end of the course, I hope you will have a solid grounding in American history, and a keen appreciation of the complexity of the past as well as the contingencies of historical change.  I also hope you will have sharper analytical skills with which to assess evidence and formulate your own arguments, as well as sharper writing and verbal skills with which to organize and articulate your own ideas -- beyond the confines of history, and useful in any field of endeavor.

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