United States History to 1877 Dr. Charlene Mires

HIS 1000-02 / 1000-03 cmires@email.vill.edu

Villanova University Fall 1997 Office: SAC 223, MW 2-3:30 pm


How has the movement of people to and within North America affected individuals, societies, and the environment?


How have Americans attempted to reconcile these goals?


What does it mean to be an American? How were American ideals and institutions shaped -- for better or worse -- in the years before 1877?

Welcome to United States History to 1877. As we survey this period in United States history, we will pay particular attention to the questions above and how the answers to these questions have changed over time. Along the way, we will undoubtedly pose additional questions.

In this class, we will do some of the things you probably already associate with the study of history -- we will read a textbook and try to gain an understanding of key events and trends in American history. However, we will do many things that may be new to you. We will explore history as a process of interpretation -- that is, not only as a series of names and dates, but also as a process of figuring out what those names and dates mean. As often as possible, we will use our class time as a history "lab" -- a time for dissecting documents, examining artifacts, and discussing important ideas.

We live in a time when a vast array of information is available. Increasingly, that information comes not in neat packages, like textbooks, but is amassed in archives and databases. One goal of this course is to give you insight into how historians search out and interpret historical data. This is intended to help you navigate your own future in the information age.

This is what you can expect to get out of this class:

A level of historical literacy that will allow you to make informed choices as a member of today's society.

Increased skills in posing questions, seeking answers, and interpreting and communicating your findings.

A chance to relate this course to your own family history, interests, or career plans.

Materials to buy:

Faragher, John Mack et. al., Out of Many, Volume 1 (second edition)

Gorn, Roberts et.al., Constructing the American Past, Volume 1 (second edition)

Course requirements

Three exams (50% of grade; average of first two exams, 25%; final exam, 25%)

Informal writing assignments (10% of grade). For details, see page 3.

Two short papers, 3-5 pages each (40% of grade). For details, see page 3.


Grades will strictly adhere to Villanova University's grading criteria. As a reminder, an "A" is defined as:

"the highest academic grade possible; an honor grade which is not automatically given to a student who ranks highest in the course, but is reserved for accomplishment that is truly distinctive and demonstrably outstanding. It represents a superior mastery of course material and is a grade that demands a very high degree of understanding as well as originality or creativity as appropriate to the nature of the course. The grade indicates that the student works independently with unusual effectiveness and often takes the initiative in seeking new knowledge outside the formal confines of the course."

For other grade criteria, consult the University Catalog, pp. 34-35.

Attendance To be successful in this course, you must attend regularly. We will often spend our class time discussing documents, an experience that cannot be duplicated by getting someone's notes. If you miss class, you will forfeit credit for any informal writing assignments that are completed in class that day (see p. 3). 

Also note: For freshmen, attendance is required.

Preparation Thorough preparation is expected. Unless otherwise noted, reading assignments must be completed by Monday of the week they are assigned. If you come to class obviously unprepared, you will be invited to spend the class time elsewhere catching up. Quizzes may be added if lack of preparation is widespread.
Deadlines LATE PAPERS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. This applies to informal reading assignments as well as papers. Exceptions will be made only in cases of unanticipated, unavoidable, documented emergency.
Where to turn things in Bring your work to class. DO NOT slide papers under office doors or leave them in the History Department. If you must miss class on a day when an assignment is due, you may fax it to: (215) 925-6919. The fax must be received the same day as the class meeting.
How to contact the professor Office hours: St. Augustine Center, Mondays and Wednesdays, 

2-3:30 p.m., and other times by appointment. Please don't hesitate to ask. 

Best method otherwise: E-mail to cmires@email.vill.edu. 

Office phone / voice mail: 519-6935.



Throughout the semester, you will be asked to do a series of short, informal writing assignments. These assignments are intended to develop skills that will help you succeed on the exams for this course. Some of the assignments are noted on the syllabus. Others may be added, and we will probably do some additional informal writing in class as we analyze historical documents. (NOTE: In order to do the in-class assignments, which will not be announced in advance, you must be in class. You cannot make up these assignments later.)

These assignments may be hand-written if your writing is legible. Otherwise, please type.

The individual assignments will not receive letter grades; at the end of the semester, an overall grade will be assigned based on your diligence and thoughtfulness in completing these assignments. The informal writing assignments are required. If you skip more than two of them, your grade for this part of the course will drop precipitously. And, since these assignments are designed to prepare you for exams, skipping them is also likely to affect your exam grades.


The papers in this class are intended to encourage you to pursue your own interests and to introduce you to ways that you may explore history beyond the classroom.

For one 3-5 page paper, you will review a book of your choice. The book must meet the following criteria: It must be non-fiction; deal with some aspect of the United States before 1877; have footnotes or endnotes; and be at least 150 pages long. You cannot use a book that you have read before or a book that you are reading for another class. Please do not choose autobiographies or published diaries for this assignment.

The other 3-5 page paper will be based on a visit to a museum or historic site or participation in a historical tour. A list of possibilities will be provided.

Detailed instructions for these assignments will be provided in a separate handout. One paper is due Oct. 24 and the other is due Nov. 25. You may choose which paper to do first.


The course is divided into three units, with an exam for each. Each exam will have two parts:

Short-answer questions that assess your historical literacy. The class will participate in deciding which historical "facts" are the most important to know and, therefore, should be included in this part of the exam.

Essay(s) that assess your historical interpretation skills. For example, the essay for the first unit will ask you to analyze a historical document, using the skills we have worked on in class. You will be given at least part of the question(s) in advance of each exam, and you will be allowed to prepare and use a limited amount of notes (such as an outline).

On the final exam, the essay portion will be cumulative, but the short-answer section will cover Unit 3 only.


Abbreviations: Text=Out of Many textbook

Docs=Constructing the American Past documents book

Informal=Informal writing assignment

Study guide: The publisher of our textbook, Out of Many, is constructing an on-line study guide. Some or all of it should be ready this semester, if you want to use it. The World Wide Web address is: http://www.prenhall.com/faragher.
Week Assignments (complete by Monday unless otherwise noted) Paper deadlines / Other things to remember
UNIT 1 -- The Colonial Era 

Skill emphasis: Posing historical questions; analyzing historical documents.

Aug. 25 Text: Ch. 1, "A Continent of Villages" (by Friday)
Sept. 1 Text: Ch. 2, "When Worlds Collide" 

Docs: Ch. 1, "Contact and Conquest" 

Informal, due Monday: For Document 1 only, answer the following questions: 

Who is the author, and what do you know about him? 

When was the document written, and what do you know about this time period? 

Who was the intended audience for the document, and what was the author's purpose in addressing this audience? 

How might the audience and purpose have influenced what the author wrote? 

What larger issue(s) about society during this period does this document help us understand? (What's the "big picture"?) 

What are the strengths of this document as a historical source? 

What are the limitations of this document as a historical source?

Sept. 8 Text: Ch. 3, "Planting Colonies in North America" 

Docs: Ch. 2 and 3, "Dying and Surviving in Virginia" and "The Puritan Experience in New England" 

Informal, due Monday: Choose one document from this week's reading and answer the questions listed above.

By Friday, Sept. 12: Decide what you will do for each of your papers and which you will do first.
Sept. 15 Text: Ch. 4 and 5, "Slavery and Empire" and "The Cultures of Colonial North America" 

Docs: Ch. 4, " 'What, Then, Is the American, This New Man?' "

Sept. 22 No new reading. 

Informal, due Monday (you must bring this assignment to class to participate in planning the Unit 1 exam): 

What do you think are the two or three most significant topics we have discussed during this unit? 

For each of your topics, write a short-answer question. (If you wish, you may select from the review questions in the book.) 

Complete the following sentence: "I would feel foolish in later life if I did not know ____."

Monday, Sept. 22: 

Plan Unit 1 exam in class. Get advance material for essay portion of exam. 

Friday, Sept. 29: 

Unit 1 exam.

UNIT 2: Creating a New Nation 

Skills emphasis: Understanding and constructing historical arguments.

Sept. 29: Text: Ch. 6, "From Empire to Independence" 

Docs, Ch. 5, "What Kind of Revolution?"

Oct. 6 Reading for this week: An article from a historical journal, to be distributed in class. 

Informal, due Monday: Using the journal article, answer the following questions: 

What is the author's main point (or argument)? Note: This is not the same thing as what the article is "about." 

Why does the author believe this argument is true? (What are the "supporting reasons" for the argument?) 

What evidence does the author give to prove each of the "supporting reasons" that you identified in the previous questions? 

What kinds of sources did the author consult, and where did he or she find them?

Oct. 13 No class - Semester break
Oct. 20 Text: Ch. 7 and 8: "The Creation of the United States" and "The United States of North America." Also: The Constitution, text pp. A3-10. Friday, Oct. 24: 


Oct. 27 No new reading. 

Informal, due Monday: Answer the exam prep questions stated under the week of Sept. 22.

Monday, Oct. 27: 

Plan Unit 2 exam in class. Get advance material for essay portion of exam. 

Friday, Oct. 31: 

Unit 2 exam.

UNIT 3: The New Nation in Transition and Crisis

Nov. 3 Text: Ch. 9 and 10: "The Agrarian Republic" and "The Growth of Democracy" 

(We will use parts of Docs Ch. 6, "Counting America," in class. You do not have to read this chapter in advance.)

Nov. 10 Text: Ch. 11 and 12, "The South and Slavery" and "Industry and the North" 

Docs: Ch. 8, "Living and Dying in Bondage" 

Informal, due Monday: To practice your argumentation skills, answer Critical Thinking question #3 at the end of Docs, Ch. 8 (p. 192).

Nov. 17 Text: Ch. 13 and 14, "Coming to Terms with the New Age" and "The Territorial Expansion of the United States" 

Docs: Ch. 7 and 10: "Shouting for Glory" and "Women in Antebellum America"

Nov. 25 Text: Ch. 15: "The Coming Crisis" 

Docs: Ch. 11: "A House Divided"

Monday, Nov. 25 


No class Nov. 27 and 29 - Thanksgiving.

Dec. 1 Text: Ch. 16: "The Civil War" 

Docs: Ch. 12: "A War Within a War"

Dec. 8 Text: Ch. 17: "Reconstruction" 

Docs: Ch. 13: "Reconstruction and the Rise of the Ku Klux Klan" 

Informal, due Friday: Answer the exam prep questions listed under the week of Sept. 22.

Friday, Dec. 12: 

Plan Unit 3 exam in class. Get advance material for essay portion of final exam.