INSTRUCTIONS: Check here early each week in the semester for a new question
or questions. Answer them substantively under the appropriate "topic"
on the course discussion board
and read through the other students' answers. You may answer as a reply to the
original question or to another student's answer. While being sure to answer the
question yourself start a new
"thread" under that topic or post your answer as a reply to someone
else who wrote on the same specific subject. Then come to your section meeting
prepared to discuss the questions and answers verbally. Please note that some of
the questions ask you to use specific readings, either from the textbooks or
from documents that will be hyperlinked to the question.
Jan. 20, 2004
A. What is history (particularly American history), considered as an intellectual activity
and a field of academic study? Is it a subject worth studying in college?
Why or why not?
B. What are some ways of using
or depicting the past that are NOT history, meaning not truly historical
in the academic/intellectual sense? Find or recall a specific
example of a cultural production that uses the past (a book, magazine or
newspaper article, movie, TV show, painting, web site, museum exhibit,
monument, event, speech, high school history class, etc.) and explain
why it should or should not be considered history.
Jan. 27, 2004
Was President Abraham Lincoln justified in using force
to bring the seceded southern states back into the United States? Why or
why not? Please distinguish among the different types of justifications
(political, legal, moral, religious) and indicate which you regard as
most important or decisive. Keep in mind that slavery, racism, the idea
of secession, and the use of force to stop secession are all separate,
if related, issues. The South was completely wrong on the moral issues
of the time, but it's also possible that Lincoln had no legal right to
keep the South in a nation it wanted to leave. Please be specific
and use examples and quotations from the readings if possible.
Besides the textbooks and online reader, you
may find this
collection of "Secession Era Editorials" useful for
getting the contemporary view of these questions.
Feb. 3, 2004
What relationship does a society's "private" life have with its "public" life? In other words, do ideas about the proper structure and functioning of families and personal relationships have any influence on ideas about politics and government, and vice versa?
Though our national holiday celebrating the
colonization of North America looks back at the Pilgrims in
Massachusetts, some historians have argued that early Virginia better
predicted what British America (and the United States) would be like,
and what cultural values Americans would uphold, in the long run.
Evaluate this argument, taking account of evidence on both sides of the
question, and keeping in mind just what a horrific mess early Virginia
your reading, and the documents linked below for 4 Sept. 2001, for
more on this last point.)
March 2, 2004
Southerners before and after the Civil War often defended slavery (and later, segregation) as the basis of a "way of life"
that Southerners had led since the founding of the colonies. Is this true?
How, when, and why did slavery become the South's dominant labor system? One theory holds that
racism (European prejudice against darker-skinned peoples) was either the main
cause or an integral part of the origins of American slavery. Other historians have argued that the switch from white
indentured servants was primarily an economic move. Yet another theory,
perhaps the most widely held one among professional historians, holds
that the southern switch to slavery had political causes: white servants
were becoming harder to attract and control, while former servants were
beginning to form a rebellious element in southern society. (See the two
recommended articles in the online reader for more explanation of
these theories.) Which theory makes
the most sense to you, and what evidence would you cite to support it?
March 9, 2004
A couple of weeks ago, most of the class signed on to
the idea that colonial Virginia better predicted the character of the
future United States than New England. Revisit that question now by
throwing in the Middle Colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and New
Jersey. Were they culturally simply halfway in between New England and
the South, as well as geographically, or can the Middle Colonies be said
to have launched a third regional tradition of their own? If so, what
were some of its characteristics? Be sure to look at the online
reader documents before answering.
March 16, 2004
The assignment this week is beginning to
understand the liberal political philosophy of John Locke, the origin
point for much of what Americans call liberal and conservative
thinking today. Read the excerpts
from Locke’s “Second Treatise” in the online reader or in its
entirety in some other form, and answer one of the sets of questions
below. You may answer more than one for additional credit, provided the
answers are substantive.
What does Locke mean by the “state
of nature”? What is the purpose of this concept? Was it an
objective description of reality or something else? Is it a useful
concept for understanding how political regimes come to be and
operate? You may find it helpful to compare and contrast Locke’s
view of the “state of nature” with what Hobbes
argued in the earlier excerpts. CLICK
HERE TO REPLY TO #1.
One of the most tortured
historical debates of recent times centers around an argument, made by a
handful of determined historians and later picked up on by textbook
writers and documentary film-makers, that the American Indians
(specifically the Iroquois Confederacy) were an important influence on (or even
a major inspiration for) the political thought and constitutional
structure of the (white) American republic. The chief evidence for this
concerns some comments that Benjamin Franklin made at a time (just before
the French and Indian War) when he was promoting the idea of a defensive
union of the colonies that would still be part of the British empire. Read
Franklin's remarks (and his Albany
Plan of Union) and give your own view of the possibility that the Iroquois
provided the prototype for the United States. Even if you do not buy that
argument, can you see any ways that the Indians may have influenced
Euro-American political thought and government structure? Why would this
"Iroquois influence thesis" have taken hold so strongly in the
1960s and after? Other helpful
documents are available on the left. Click Ben Franklin's portrait to
March 30, 2004
Were the American colonists justified in exercising their rights of
revolution from 1765 to 1776? (They began by resisting and effectively
nullifying a particular law, the Stamp Act, and ended by dissolving
their ties to Great Britain altogether.) Answer by doing the
following: Read this report (by an American colonist) of Parliament's
debate on the Stamp Act. Based on the speeches and the general
issues, how would you (as a member of Parliament) have voted and why?
Was the Stamp Act as unjust as Americans, and the main speaker in the
selection, Col. Isaac Barre, claimed? Then read the Declaration
of Independence (also available in the back of American
Journey). How accurate and/or justified are the series of charges
the Jefferson makes against the British in the later sections of the
document? Do they really add up to the alleged conspiracy to establish
"an absolute tyranny over these states"?
Historians and journalists have
long dismissed the early U.S. government operating under The
Articles of Confederation as ridiculously weak, inept, and unworkable.
Putting yourself in the shoes (and mind) of a person who lived through the
1760s & 70s, would there be anything you could say in favor of the
Articles or the national government that operated under it? How would you have defended
the Confederation regime against critics (such as the
advocates of the present US
Constitution), who wanted some more powerful and centralized form
of national government? Some people at the time considered the Constitution a betrayal
of the principles of the Revolution. Why?
CONSTITUTION-RELATED BONUS QUESTION
During the 19th century, it became a question of great political and
constitutional significance just who or what declared independence and
enacted the Constitution.
The leading contenders were: the states or the people of the United States
as a whole? Southern radicals argued that the national government was the
product of a compact among the various states, while northerners tended to
argue the United States was a nation formed by, and representing, the
people. Whose argument was a more accurate account of the founding of the
United States and its Constitution? Select the best pieces of evidence on
both sides. Why would this question of "whodunnit" matter
so much to later generations of Americans?
April 20, 2004
Make sure you have read Chapter 8 of American
Journey and at least two of the sets of documents below before
answering the following question: Imagine that you are a voter or congressman during the 1790s. Whom would you have supported, Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, or Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans?
What particular position or idea would most influence your choice?
Click the portrait of your favorite at the left to post your answer.
[NOTE: You will need to read chapter 11 & possibly 12 of American
Journey to answer this question effectively.] Can political violence that includes civilian targets
(as good a definition of terrorism as any) ever be justified, in any situation? What about a situation,
like slavery, in which the perpetrators of tyranny are
not government officials, but a whole class of private
individuals? Read "David
Walker's Appeal", along with William
Lloyd Garrison's response to it. If you were an African American
(slave or free) in the 1820s, what strategy would you have favored in
dealing with slavery: violence as advocated by Walker and practiced by
Nat Turner; colonization to Africa; or peaceful "moral
suasion" and political agitation as advocated by William Lloyd
Garrison and black abolitionists less radical than David Walker, such as
Frederick Douglass? Which strategy was most effective in the long run?
May 6, 2004
This is intended as a warm-up for the big final exam question on the
coming of the Civil War, to help get you started thinking about the
underlying issues and organizing your information. We know that slavery
was the difference that the North and South eventually fought over, but
we should also consider their other differences, keeping in mind that
almost everything about the two sections connected back to slavery in
some way. Here's the question: Culturally and ideologically speaking,
how did the North and South become increasingly different from each
other after 1800, beyond the simple fact that slavery disappeared in one
section and grew in the other? Answer by giving specific examples.
Chapters 10-12 of the textbook will be especially helpful in providing
you with some examples.
The party system is one of the most unpopular institutions in the
U.S. today. Increasing numbers of voters claim to be independents,
"nonpartisan" is a positive label, Democrats and Republicans
often hide their party affiliations in campaign advertising, while
crackpot billionaires, pro wrestlers, and Ralph Nader win 100,000s of
votes by bashing the major parties. Yet when the party system was
invented in the 19th century, it was considered by many Americans to be
one of the great political innovations in the history of the world, and
was copied in 100s of countries. How do you think the major parties
performed, looking at their role in the mid-19th century? What positive
and negative contributions did the major national political parties
make, especially from the early 1800s to the 1840s?