HSTY 111 U.S. History to Reconstruction (Fall 2021)

Declaration of Independence, Dunlap broadsideThis course surveys American history from the pre-Columbian era to the end of Reconstruction. It will cover a broad range of topics in the political, social, and cultural development of the North American colonies and the United States, including: the exploration and settlement of North America by Europeans and their interactions with native peoples; the political development of the colonies and the early United States; the development of the American economy; and major social and cultural trends. In particular, the course will center on three key thematic questions:

  1. What does “freedom” mean in an American context? How does the concept change over time? To what groups and individuals was it available, and how have Americans used the term to define the boundaries of citizenship?
  2. How did American politics, culture, and society develop? How did they interact to shape one another?
  3. What did it mean to be an “American,” and how did definitions of the term change over time?

In the process of exploring these questions, the course will introduce students to the craft of the historian, the variety of skills that historians bring to bear on evidence, and the range of evidence available about early America. These skills include reading and analyzing texts, images, and materials from the past, evaluating quantitative data, and interpreting other historians’ arguments. Students will have ample opportunity to practice these skills through in-class discussions and analyses as well as several written assignments.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Summarize the major themes of the history of the United States from early contacts to the era of the Civil War.
  • Interpret historical sources as part of the context from which they come.
  • Relate historical sources and themes into an argument about the history of colonial North America and the United States.
  • Generate written and/or artistic products that synthesize historical sources, scholarly sources, and course themes.

General Education

The course fulfills the general education requirement for Domain III-A, Perspectives on the Past. It meets the following general education learning objectives:

  • Solve Problems Using Critical Thinking
  • Communicate Effectively in Writing
  • Demonstrate Civic Literacy

Required Text

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (New York: 37 Ink, 2018). ISBN: 978-1501126413

Possible Text

Joseph L. Locke and Ben Wright, eds., The American Yawp, Volume I (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019). ISBN: 978-1503606715

Course Schedule


General Policies

Contact Prof. Adelman

Catalog Information

A political, economic, social, and cultural survey of American history in a global context from the beginning of European and Indigenous contact to the Civil War era. Topics may include: the development of racial slavery; the movement of the colonies toward revolution and independence; the formation of the Constitution; the westward expansion of the nation and its impact on Indigenous Americans and on sectional identity; shifting conceptions of race and gender; and the conflict over the institution of slavery that culminated in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Note: This course fulfills the State law requiring study of the United States and Massachusetts constitutions.