A New Semester II

Last month I reflected on teaching my Introductory U.S. History to 1877 class. (The post even got noticed here.)

Continuing my thoughts on the new semester, I thought I would give the same treatment to my “American Revolution and Early Republic” class. I go into this class assuming students have had an introduction to this period. As a result, I can go into greater detail. We are also able to look at the historiography of the period and actively debate both what was going on and how things have been interpreted.

This semester, I’m using a wide range of books to address various aspects of the period.

I’ve adopted a new narrative text for the class–Patrick Griffin’s America’s Revolution. Griffin’s book came out recently, and I was eager to give it a try. At the end of the semester, I’ll try to give a full review of this book. So far, I’ve really appreciated several aspects of Griffin’s presentation: the book’s readability, its transatlantic and international focus, its interpretation of issues of sovereignty and power, and its deep engagement with up-to-date scholarship.

For military matters, the class is reading David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing. The book is long, but we’ve stretched out our treatment of it over two weeks. I think the text gives students some insights into military affairs and connections between military culture and broader cultures.

For religious matters, I’ve assigned Thomas Kidd’s God of Liberty. I appreciate that Kidd’s book looks at religious matters before, during, and after the Revolution. It thus helps me trace a narrative on the theme of religion across the chronology of the course. The book also reads smoothly, which is another benefit for undergraduates.

When we get to the Early Republic, we’ll use Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers as a springboard to get into the conflicts of the period. Ellis, too, reads well while making recognizable claims.

Throughout, we’re using a really interesting document collection, The American Republic, edited by Bruce Frohnen. The book is big (both physically and chronologically), but it contains many of the important documents from the period. I appreciate his selections.

I’ve also supplemented these readings with a variety of other digital and print selections, including Alfred Young’s depiction the shoemaker George Roberts Twelves Hewes, significant letters of the period, accounts from ordinary citizens, period literature and drama, additional sermons and orations, and interpretations from John Murrin, Jack Greene, and others.

It’s a full reading load, and I find myself constantly fighting the urge to assign more. It turns out there is a lot to learn about the period, and I want my students to get as much of it as possible.

So, for readers, what do you think? Any additional suggestions? What has worked well for you?

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