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Sample Syllabus: History 418/518

Jose R. Torre
Office:  Albert Brown Bldg. #143
Office Hours:  MWF 1:15 to 3:00 and by appt.
Phone: 5698


History 418/518: History of the Early Republic

Course Description:    The Early Republic was a time of tremendous change.  Early Republic Americans created and legitimized new political structures and national narratives.  They undertook a massive reconceptualization of the economy that included new ideas about money, banking and land.  They buttressed this emerging market system with contract, tort, and other adjudication that fundamentally shaped legal and constitutional thinking into the present.  Furthermore, fundamental changes in culture and personality both shaped and were shaped by political, economic, and legal change.  The Great Awakening and the perceived new relationship with the Christian deity are an important part of this story.  Also important, were the changes in domestic relationships, and self – often expressed dramatically in the material culture and lived experience of Americans.  The Early Republic was also clearly an important period for African American slaves who saw their bondage reaffirmed with the rise of King Cotton.  As well, Native Americans, first in the wake of the War of 1812, and subsequently in the mad rush west, made their last stand against white encroachment and were permanently removed from their ancestral homelands during this period. 
            Using both a thematic and chronological approach, this course looks at a number of important themes in the political, economic and cultural history of the Early Republic.  Though the approach will be thematic, the emphasis throughout the course will be on the interrelationship of many of these narratives.

Course Structure:      Class time will be broken up into informal lectures providing the historical and historiographical context, discussions of the weekly readings, and student-led discussions of the documents.


Sean Wilentz ed., Major Problems in the Early
Republic, 1747-1848: Documents and Essays, (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1992).

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840, (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
Alan Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors, (Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His
Slaves and the Creation of America, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).
Nancy Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: Woman’s Sphere in New England, 1780-1835, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).
Douglas R. Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 & 1802, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).


Assignments:               Mid-term Exam                               20%    
                                    Final Exam                                          20%
                                    Student-led Discussion                   20%
                                    Attendance, Participation and               
                                    Synopses                                            20%
                                    Final Paper                                         20%

Exams:                                    The mid-term and final exams will be in-class blue-book style exams made up of essay questions and identifications.  They will include material from the readings, lectures and discussions.  The exams will be discussed in some detail in review sessions prior to the exam date. 

Student-led Discussions:        Over the length of the course students will lead discussions of the historical documents in Sean Wilentz ed., Major Problems in the Early Republic, 1747-1848.  Your questions must emphasize analysis – not memorization.  You must develop questions that seek to explore the relationship of the primary documents to the secondary readings as well as place those documents in the larger narrative we will be developing over the length of the course.  You must hand in a substantive list of questions (at least ten questions) and discussion notes as part of this assignment (please type all assignments [please make sure your assignment is correctly dated, with your name, chapter, section and all that at the top of the sheet of paper]).  You must create the questions in advance and hand them out to your fellow students a week before the discussion is to take place. If you are at all confused about your responsibilities for this part of the course, please come and see me well ahead of your scheduled date to discuss possible approaches.

Attendance, Participation and Synopses:     This is a small seminar-style course and is absolutely dependent on the amount of effort we put into the class discussions.  By way of measuring your preparation you will hand in five questions/synopses of the readings/documents over the semester – in addition to the material you turn in for your own presentation.  The questions/synopses will be a less substantive version of the material you are handing in on the day you present the documents.  They should simply be a structured presentation of your own notes on the readings.  These less formal synopses can be structured into three sections: first, what is the historical issue or event under discussion?  Second, what are the documents and how do they speak to the event and or issue under discussion?  Finally, create a series of questions and talking points on the documents.  These will graded satisfactory or unsatisfactory and will be used to evaluate the level of thought and effort that you are putting into the weekly readings.

Final Essay:    The final assignment is a long review essay that explores a theme taken up in the course.   Those students registered in History 418 must use at least two books.  Students in History 518 must use at least three books.  As outlined below, at least one of the books must be chosen from the required readings used in the course.  History 418 students will write an essay from 7 to 10 pages long.  History 518 students must produce an essay from 12 to 15 pages long. 
            The essays should be historical in nature, though in a number of cases some historiographical reflection on the various approaches of historians or on historical and social trends will be inevitable.  Thus, for example, if you are interested in the relationship of the so-called founding fathers to their slaves and slavery overall, you can begin with Henry Wiencek’s An Imperfect God and use texts by Fawn Brodie, Annette Gordon Reed, or the selection of essays edited by Jan Lewis and Peter Onuf, to construct a narrative discussion of this very controversial subject.  This option leads you into particularly contested terrain and some amount of reflection on the controversy and the politics of historiography are necessary in order to write an essay befitting the gravity of the subject.  Other options, however, are more historical in nature.  If, for example, you are interested in the power struggle surrounding the distribution of land in early America, then you should begin with Alan Taylor’s book and adding McConville, Humphrey and or Huston’s texts should allow you to craft an analysis of the role that land played in the lives of early Americans without dwelling overtly on the politics of the historical profession.  You are welcome to craft your own research topic but I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the possible essay topics and bibliographies below.  There are, of course, many more possible book choices for all of these topics.  These are suggestions.  Please come and see me if you plan to add to the selections.  As well, if you do plan on writing outside of these choices please come and see me to discuss your topic and bibliography. 
            These must be formal, fully cited discussions.  Please see the History Department Writing Style Sheet for more information.  An A essay will have a clearly stated thesis (argument) and structure.  It will be well written with few grammatical and or spelling mistakes.  The various paragraphs will have strong introductory sentences; they will also have strong concluding and transition sentences.  The reader should in essence be able to read the opening and closing sentence of each paragraph and understand the central argument of your essay.  Finally, an A paper will clearly and succinctly discuss and develop the author’s central points.  I strongly suggest that you draw up outlines of your essay detailing what each and every paragraph contributes to the paper.  This, in my experience, will make your work a lot easier.


Possible Essay Topics and Bibliographic Suggestions:

1)         The Founding Fathers and Slavery

Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His
Slaves and the Creation of America, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).
Fawn McKay Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition, 1998).
Annette Gordon Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings: An American Controversy, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997).
Jan Lewis and Peter Onuf, Eds. Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999).

2)         Women in the Early Republic

Nancy Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: Woman’s Sphere in New England, 1780-1835, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).
Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).
Mary Beth Norton, Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press; New Ed edition, 1996).
3)         Slavery and the New Nation

Douglas R. Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 & 1802, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993). 
Sylvia R. Frey. Water From the Rock, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
Woody Holton, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia ((Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1999).
David M. Robertson, Denmark Vesey: The Buried Story of America’s Largest Slave Rebellion and the Man Who Led It, (New York: Vintage Books, 2000, 1999).
Douglas R. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey, (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

4)         Land and Power on the American Frontier

Alan Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors ,
Brendan McConville, These Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace: The Struggle for Property and Power in Early New Jersey, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press; 1st Pbk edition, 2003).
Thomas J. Humphrey, Land and Liberty: Hudson Valley Riots in the Age of Revolution (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2004).
Reeve Huston, Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

5)         Lived Experience

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840, (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). 
Catherine Hutchins, Everyday Life in the Early Republic, (Winterthur, Del.: H.F. du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1994).
Articles from the Winterthur Portfolio
Bernard Herman, Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780-1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).


Class Schedule

Monday, August 27                  INTRODUCTION
Wednesday, August 29 Wilentz, Chapter 1

Monday, September 3 NO CLASS – Labor Day
Wednesday, September 5         Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life

Section I:                                The Political and Social Culture of Nation Building
Monday, September 10            Wilentz, Chapter 2 (Student Document Presentation)
Wednesday, September 12       Wilentz, Chapter 3 (Student Document Presentation)
Monday, September 17            Wiencek, An Imperfect God

Section II:                               Jeffersonian Platitudes
Wednesday, September 19       Reality and Rhetoric in Jeffersonian America
Monday, September 24            Wilentz, Chapter 4 (Student Document Presentation)

Section III:                             Subalterns in the Early Republic
Wednesday, September 26       Slavery – Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion
Monday, October 1                  Wilentz, Chapter 5 (Student Document Presentation)

Wednesday, October 3            Exam Review
Monday, October 8                  Mid-Term Exam

Section IV:                             War and Identity
Wednesday, October 10          The War of 1812
                                                Wilentz, Chapter 6       

Monday, October 15                NO CLASS – MID-SEMESTER BREAK

Section V:                               The Market Revolution
Wednesday, October 17          Industry, Commerce, Banking and the Law
Monday, October 22                Wilentz, Chapter Seven (Student Document Presentation)

Section VI:                             Antebellum Slavery
Wednesday, October 24          Slavery and the Cotton Economy; Selections from
                                                Orlando Patterson and Herbert Gutman (to be distributed)
Monday, October 29                Wilentz, Chapter Eight (Student Document Presentation)

Section VII:                            Westward Expansion
Wednesday, October 31          Land and Power
                                                Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors
Monday, November 5              Wilentz, Chapter 9 (Student Document Presentation)

Section VIII:                          Early Republic Political Culture
Wednesday, November 7         Jacksonian America
Monday, November 12            Wilentz, Chapters 10 and 11 (Student Document Presentation)

Section IX:                             Feminization of American Culture
Wednesday, November 14       Sentiment; Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood

Monday, November 19            PAPER CONFERENCES
Wednesday, November 21       NO CLASS – THANKSGIVING

Monday, November 26            Wilentz, Chapter 12 (Student Document Presentation)

Section X:                               Slavery and Abolition
Wednesday, November 28       Wilentz, Chapter 13 (Student Document Presentation)

Section XI                               Empire
Monday, December 3               Wilentz, Chapter 14

Wednesday, December 5 – Exam Review
Monday, December 10 to Friday, December 14 – EXAMS

Class Policies:

1)         Late Written Assignments:                  Late assignments will be penalized half a grade per diem (including weekends).  Thus an A becomes an A-; a B+ becomes a B, and so on.  Synopses for class discussions are due on the day of the discussion.  The essays are due December 3.  Assignments will not be accepted after the last class, December 5. 

2)         Attendance and Participation:            Regular attendance is expected as part of students’ commitment to their own education and the maintenance of high educational standards. Excellent attendance will positively affect a student’s course grade.  More than two unexplained absences will result in the lowering of the final grade by 5% per class missed.  Thus, for example, six unexplained absences will result in the loss of the entire 20% allotted to attendance and participation.  Continued unexplained absences will result in a severe loss of grade beyond the 20% allotted to attendance and participation up to and including an F. 
            Students must participate in class discussions.  Non-participation will result in a significant reduction of their grade.

3)         Ethical Behavior:                    Students are expected to maintain high ethical standards of behavior in all respects. This includes both interpersonal behavior with other students as well as academic honesty and integrity.
            Cheating and plagiarism will be punished with an immediate E on the assignment and possible further academic censure, including an E on the course. 
            Students are expected to maintain proper academic decorum in the classroom.  Please turn off all cell phone ringers in the classroom.  Do not text-message or in any other way use or play with your phone in class.  Please do not talk or on any other way disturb the class.  If you have a point or a question with regard to the material please raise your hand.  Persistent classroom disturbances will result in significant loss of grade. Please see the 2007 & 2008 Your Right To Know & Academic Policies Handbook for a full discussion of these policies.

4)         University Statement on Students With Disabilities:    Students with documented disabilities may be entitled to specific accommodations.  SUNY Brockport’s Office for Students with Disabilities makes this determination.  Please contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at 395-5409 or to inquire about obtaining an official letter to the course instructor detailing approved accommodations.  The student is responsible for providing the course instructor with an official letter.  Faculty work as a team with the Office of Students with Disabilities to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

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Last Updated 7/21/10


Our sincere congratulations to Matty Lynn Kuhar who won the 2016 School of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Undergraduate Award!

Dr. Alison Parker has been invited to be this year's Harriet Jacobs Lecturer at Purdue University. Her talk is entitled Mary Church Terrell, Black Women, and the Rise of the Democratic Party. 

Dr. Nishiyama has been invited to give a talk (title "Kamikaze Technology and Culture for War: Japan and the USA, 1941-2001") at the RIT.

Dr. Alison Parker facilitated significant donation of historical papers to Oberlin College and participates in its celebratory symposium on the life of racial justice advocate Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954).

Congratulations to Dr. Jose R. Torre on winning the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching!


History Forum will host Region 11&12 Meeting of the Association of Public Historians of New York State, on 4/30 (Saturday, from 9am to about 4pm) at McCue Auditorium (LAB104).

History Department Graduation Ceremony will be held in New York Room, Cooper Hall, at 10:30 am, May 14 (Saturday).