United States History Survey:
An Introduction
The historical experience is . . .  one of going back into the past and returning to the present with a wider and more intense consciousness of the restrictions of our former outlook.  We return with a broader awareness of the alternatives open to us and armed with a sharper perceptiveness with which to make our choices.  In this manner it is possible to loosen the clutch of the dead hand of the past and transform it into a living tool for the present and future.
       -William Appelman Williams

History is not merely a list of dates and events from the past, but a “living tool” for understanding the present. This course is designed for you to develop a comprehensive understanding of United States history from the initial contact between Europeans and Native Americans until roughly 1940.  Our study will familiarize students with the important political, social, economic, and cultural developments that have brought us to the present moment.

We will examine the experiences of a broad range of individuals, classes and social groups, as expressed in a host of primary sources – presidential addresses, Supreme Court decisions, political cartoons, sermons, paintings, etc.  By analyzing the works of important historians, we will consider a variety of historical perspectives and, hopefully, produce interpretations of our own.

Our goal is to develop the skills necessary to be historians.  Our use of primary sources and articles will help you to understand how historians go about constructing and defending their analyses.  You will need to develop your own interpretations of history and to express and support them in discussion and in writing.

A Thematic Approach
Certain themes will recur throughout our study.  We will see that the government’s role in regulating the economy sparked debates between both Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton during the 1790s and between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  We will see that the tension between government power and individual rights was a factor that helped to provoke the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  We will see how the popular conception of the United States as a model society arose in Puritan sermons of the 1630s and in imperialist propaganda of the 1890s.

Some of the themes we will trace include:
Liberty and Power-   the relationship of the individual to the state, the role of government
City on the Hill-  the American sense of mission and a “manifest destiny”
The Frontier-  the role of expansion across the continent in shaping US history
Inclusion/Exclusion- the tensions and opportunities produced by diversity

By examining such themes, we will become aware of the fact that history is not just a series of unrelated events but a rich interplay of ideas.  These themes will offer us a framework as we trace the nation’s development and recognize how certain forces have helped to shape events both within and across eras.

The nightly reading assignment will usually include a selection from Divine, Breen, Frederickson and Williams, America Past and Present (4th edition), the textbook that will guide our investigation.  We will supplement this text with numerous primary and secondary sources to be distributed at the beginning of each unit.  You are expected to come to class having completed both the textbook and supplementary readings and having taken some time to consider their importance to our study.   Most nights you will be assigned questions on the reading to help shape the thinking you do in preparation for class.  All of these reading questions will require your careful consideration; some you will have to answer in writing. All written work should be edited and proofread.

Nightly reading assignments will generally require 40-50 minutes of concentrated effort.  Often the readings will be difficult, and they will always demand your undivided attention.  We encourage you to take notes on the readings since you are responsible for all assigned material regardless of whether we discuss it in class.

Class discussion is an important part of our investigation. Thoughtful participation is essential to the course’s success, and I will take it into account when determining semester grades.  Listening carefully and responding thoughtfully to others is equally important; we have much to learn from each other.

Class discussion must always remain an open forum.  You should feel comfortable asking questions and sharing your views with your classmates.

You should view class discussion as a collective endeavor. Our goal is to help each other develop a clearer and more complete understanding of history.  We may not always agree, but we must keep our conversation focused on historical ideas and not allow our intellectual disagreements to become personal ones.

Simulations and Debates
We will study certain periods and events by role-playing and debating issues from the position of historical actors. These activities are designed to provide fresh perspectives on historical issues by entering the worldviews of the people making history and by encouraging students to learn from each other.  These activities will be evaluated and contribute to the students semester grade. (Debate Tutorial)

Quizzes, Tests and Exams
Any assigned reading may result in an unannounced quiz.

Unit tests will occur periodically throughout the year. We will talk more about the format of these exercises as the first one approaches (Document Based Question Tutorial) There will be an exam at the conclusion of each semester.

The ability to formulate your own ideas and to express them clearly and coherently in writing is an essential skill. This course will place special emphasis on the development of writing skills through assignments both in-class and at-home. The goal is for you to develop, in a step-by-step fashion, the ability to articulate your own views of history and to support your views in a way that is convincing to readers. (Essay Writing Tutorial) (Mr. Meyers’ Essay Topics and Due Dates)

It is imperative that you maintain an organized notebook throughout the course of the semester.  We emphasize the importance of organization because you will need to study for both unit tests and final exams.

Lateness and Absences
You are expected to be in class, ready to work when class begins.  Go to the bathroom before class; getting up in the middle of class is distracting.  Frequent lateness will be reported to the dean.  If you miss a quiz because you are late to class you will receive a zero.

You are responsible for making up all work that you miss. If you miss a class you should see a classmate to find out what you missed and to copy any important notes.  I am always happy to meet with you outside of class to discuss the work you miss, but only if you have discussed the information with a classmate first.

Extensions and late work
You are allowed a maximum of one extension during the course of the year, the length of which I will determine on a case by case basis.  You must request it at least 24 hours in advance and you must have just cause.  Under no circumstances will a student be granted more than one extension per year.

Late work will be downgraded one notch (i.e. A- to B+) for each day it is late.  Weekends will count as two days.  Once a piece of work is more than one week late, the grade is up to me.

Your grade for each semester will be determined roughly as follows:
     Class Participation, behavior, and other intangibles – 15-20%
     Tests and papers- 40-50%
     Quizzes and homework – 15-20%
     Exam – 15-20%

Where to find us
The Faculty Workspace (Room 135) is located in the office above the Student-Faculty Center.

Ms. Gisolfi:  e-mail mgisolfi@hotmail.com
  Phone 718-329-7300  ex.3330

Mr. Meyers e-mail aam14@columbia.edu
  Phone 718-329-7300 ex.3333

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