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Sample Syllabus: History 614

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


History 614.01: Early American Reading Seminar


Course Description:               This is a broad graduate reading course that examines major works and trends in American History from the founding through the Civil War.

Course Structure:                  The course is structured as a seminar.  We will thus meet once a week for just over 3 hours and discuss the readings.  Students are required to come to every class prepared to discuss the week’s readings. 

Course Assignments: Evaluation of your achievements in this course will be based on the weekly synopses, class attendance and participation, an annotated bibliography, and a final paper.  The weekly synopses will be 40% of your overall grade; class attendance and participation will be 20%; the annotated bibliography is 10% of the grade; the final essay is worth 30% of the grade.

Weekly Synopses:     The weekly synopses must be critical summaries and discussions of the weekly readings.  The synopses must be from 2 (minimum) to 3 (maximum) pages long.  They are due the day of the readings.  Assignments not turned in that day will be graded late.  Only paper copies of the assignment will be accepted.  There are 10 weeks of readings in this course.  Thus each weekly synopsis is worth 4% of your final grade.

Participation and Attendance:           This is a graduate seminar course and it is absolutely dependent on student leadership and participation.  Students must come prepared to discuss the readings and must engage the material in class.

Annotated Bibliography:                   The annotated bibliography should list and briefly discuss the sources for your essay.  This should be no more than a paragraph (five or six sentences) per source

Essay:             The final essay is worth 30% of the final grade.  Students must write a historiographical review essay based on a topic discussed in the course or another topic within the context of the course, chosen after consulting with me.  So for example, you might explore the historiography on Andrew Jackson, the American Revolution, the Puritans, or any other subject from the first contact to Reconstruction.  The essays should be from 8 (min.) to 12 (max.) pages.  A historiographical review essay examines and compares a number of major works in a specific topic. 

Course Texts:

William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983).

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity, (New Haven, Ct: Yale University Pres, 1991).

Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998).

Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina From 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996).

T. H. Breen, Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Tobacco Planters on the Eve of the Revolution, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Brendan McConville, The King’s Three Faces, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

James McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Perry Miller, Errand Into the Wilderness, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Belknap Press, 1956)

Weekly Schedule:

Wednesday, August 25 Introduction
                                                Appleby, Levine (On Angel).

Wednesday, September 3         Puritans:           Miller, Errand into the Wilderness
                                                (Plus readings on Angel)

Wednesday, September 10       Witchcraft at Salem:      Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a
                                                 Woman           (Plus readings on Angel)

Wednesday, September 17       Indians and Newcomers           Cronon, Changes in the
                                                Land.               (Plus readings on Angel)

Wednesday, September 24       Colonial Slavery:           Wood, Black Majority
                                                (Plus readings on Angel)

Wednesday, October 1            The Chesapeake:          Breen, Tobacco Culture
                                                (Plus readings on Angel)

Wednesday, October 8            Paper Conferences
Wednesday, October 15          The Revolution: McConville, The King’s Three Faces
                                                (Plus readings on Angel)
                                                Annotated bibliography due.

Wednesday, October 22          Early Republic: Hatch, The Democratization of
                                                American Christianity             (Plus readings on Angel)

Wednesday, October 29          Various authors: Journal of the Early Republic
                                                (On Angel)

Wednesday, November 5         American Slavery
                                                (On Angel)

Wednesday, November 12       The Civil War and Reconstruction:
                                                McPherson, This Mighty Scourge

Wednesday, November 19       Paper Conferences

Wednesday, November 26       Thanksgiving

Wednesday, December 3         Final Class
                                                Research Discussion
                                                FINAL PAPERS DUE

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.  Assignments are due the day of the readings.  Assignments will not be accepted after the last class, December 3.  Paper copies of the assignments must be handed in.  E-mail attachments will not be accepted. 

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.  This class meets once a week so missing an entire week is a substantial portion of the course.  More than two unexplained absences (two weeks worth of classes) will result in the lowering of the final grade by 10% per each subsequent class missed.  Thus, for example, four unexplained absences (4 weeks worth of classes, one third of the course) 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 E.  Please note that missing a class does not exempt you from handing in the synopsis for that week.  Please e-mail and or come and see me if family and or health issues will prevent you attending class.   
            Students must make an effort to participate in class.  Non-participation will result in a significant reduction of their grade.
            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.
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. Please see the 2007 & 2008 Your Right To Know & Academic Policies Handbook for a full discussion of these policies.
            Standards regarding ethical behavior include rules on cheating and plagiarism.  The following definition of plagiarism is taken from James D. Lester, Writing Research Papers, 4th ed. (Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company), pp. 95-6.
“Fundamentally, plagiarism is the offering of words or ideas of another person as one’s own.  While the most blatant violation is the use of other students’ work, the most common is the unintentional misuse of your reference sources.  An obvious form of plagiarism is copying direct quotations from your source material without crediting the source.  A more subtle form, but equally improper, is the paraphrasing of material or use of an original idea that is not properly introduced and documented.  Your use of source materials requires you to conform to a few rules of conduct:
a)         Acknowledge borrowed materials within your text by introducing the quotation or paraphrase with the name of the authority from whom it was taken.  This practice serves to indicate where the borrowed material began.
b)         Enclose within quotation marks all borrowed materials.
c)         Make certain that paraphrased material is rewritten in your own style and language.  The simple rearrangement of sentence patterns is unacceptable.
d)         Provide specific documentation [footnotes] for each borrowed item.”

            Cheating and plagiarism will be punished with an immediate E on the assignment and possible further academic censure, including an E on the course.

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.



Tips for Writing Review Essays

To write a review essay you must engage and develop at length the author’s argument.  Your essay should answer a series of simple questions:

1)         What is/are the author’s main argument(s)?
2)         How does the author develop his or her argument?
3)         What is the logic of the author’s argument (i.e. how does
                        the argument work)?
4)         What kind of evidence does the author advance to make
his or her argument?
5)         Last and least … is the argument convincing?

            The structure of your essay should expose these questions.  For example, your opening paragraph should leave no doubts as to what your purpose is.  It should also implicitly outline the structure of the book and thus the structure of your discussion.  For example:

            “In Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, Sean Wilentz finds the roots of working class consciousness in the economic changes of the period and an ideology he identifies as ‘artisan republicanism.’  He develops this argument by looking at four main themes.  The first of these is the central role of the crafts.  According to Wilentz, they were the first to organize and the first to elaborate what he describes as plebeian radicalism. The second theme is the role of the emerging middle class and what Wilentz describes as the “dialectics of power and social change” as the city’s employers and small producers came into conflict with the workers. The third theme is metropolitan industrialization: the rise of first manufactories and the ‘putting out system,’ that through the division of labor led to the deskilling of the crafts or what Wilentz refers to as the ‘bastardization of the crafts.’  The fourth and most important theme is ideology. Ideology, according to Wilentz, was the most significant element in the development of class and class-consciousness during this period in American history. The prevalent working class ideology was artisan republicanism, a concept derived in large part from the Whig narrative of the American Revolution – what historians call republicanism. The basic ideas behind artisan republicanism were commonwealth or communality, virtue, independence, citizenship, and equality.”

            Thus having established what the book is about and what the major components of the author's argument are you can go on to develop the major themes in succession.  You should go from your opening paragraph to the body of your review essay with an easily recognizable transition sentence.  You should apply easily recognizable transition sentences at all transition points in your essay (i.e., from paragraph to paragraph).



1)         GRAMMAR COUNTS .  Please do a grammar check using MS Word.  Use the options in the tool-bar to ensure that your grammar check is on.  Grammar check will rid your discussion of foolish gaffes. 
2)         Please avoid the passive voice.  For example – “A fish was caught.” – is unacceptable.  “The fish was caught by the girl.” – is better but does not read as well as – “The girl caught the fish.”
3)         Avoid unnecessary modifications and or complicated verb tenses.  For example:  “The railroads began to develop a new track system.” – can very simply read – “The railroads developed a new track system.”  Most often it is very hard to distinguish between the beginning of a development and the actual development [For example, what is the difference between the beginning of the development of a new track system and the development of a new track system?].  Most often, this is a useless modification that suggests uncertainty and points to lack of structure.
4)         Please develop a solid, comprehensive structure of your discussion.  Outline your essay paragraph by paragraph. 
a)         You must introduce each idea at the beginning of the essay.  Do not introduce new ideas or themes halfway into an essay.
b)         Each paragraph must begin with a topic sentence; it must include a number of sentences describing the concept discussed; it must conclude and link to the next paragraph.
c)         Use section headings if necessary.  Do not, however, use the titles or section headings used in the book.
5)         Please be very careful not to use the author’s words – do not plagiarize.  Please visit the library’s website and read the material on plagiarism carefully.  They have full descriptions and examples of how to paraphrase.  It is not acceptable to simply change a few words or restructure a paragraph.  You must use your own words and paragraph structure.  Please do not use other people’s work to write your essay.  I will spot the similarities.  It is plagiarism and will be treated as such.  This is a simple assignment.  Write a cohesive and well-structured discussion and you will do well.
6)         Cite using FOOTNOTES.  Please use the format below:
            First time – long cite.
            Second time and subsequent citations.
Since every paragraph should develop a single idea (assuming that a theme is made of a number of ideas) you must have at least one citation per paragraph.  Please see the Department handout for a further discussion of citation styles.   You must include page numbers in your citations.  Papers without citations or with citations that do not correspond to the text in the book are unacceptable.  Your grade will be an immediate E .

7)         Please be sure to number your pages.
An A essay will have a clearly stated thesis (argument) and structure.  The various paragraphs will have strong introductory sentences; they will also have strong concluding and transition sentences.  The body of the text will reveal a thorough reading and understanding of the book under review.  The essay will be free of grammatical and spelling mistakes.  A B paper will reveal a thorough reading and understanding of the book.  It should contain few grammatical and spelling mistakes.  It should have a strong organizational structure.  A C paper will reveal a basic understanding of the book under review.  It should contain few grammatical and spelling mistakes.  Work that is marred by numerous grammatical and or spelling mistakes is unacceptable.  Similarly, a basic knowledge and understanding of the text chosen is necessary to pass this assignment; a thorough knowledge is necessary to get a superior grade. 
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.



1)         Try and first understand the logic or architecture of the book.  The books are divided into chapters.  Each chapter deals with a separate issue or related issues.  Read the title for each chapter – ask yourself – what does that mean exactly?  Take notes on a separate page.  Put the title of the chapter clearly at the head of the page and keep that in mind as you read.
2)         If there are any headings, use them as a road map.  Begin with the chapter title – take notes to the next heading; stop – ask yourself – what is this transition here?  Where is the author going next?  How does this speak to the argument?
3)         If necessary, read the first few pages and the last few pages of each chapter first.  That should give you an idea of where the text is going.  These books usually include a brief summary of ideas after an in-depth discussion.  This might be mid-chapter as part of a transition or at the end of the chapter.  These summaries will prove very helpful in understanding the overall message of the book.
4)         Draw up outlines of the book you have chosen.  Combine marginalia with notes and outlines to understand the text.

Please come and see me ASAP if you have problems with your essay.  I will not be able to help you if you come and see me a week or two before it is due.  You will need lots of time to complete this assignment successfully.  I am happy to help you by looking at outlines and or sample paragraphs. 


Joyce Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2000), p. 157.

Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution, p. 160.

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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).