Intepreting the Politics of the Early United States

History 103D.002

Fall 2007
Instructor (text): 
107 Mulford
Day & Time: 
Wed 12-2

How should we interpret the political life of the early United States? What did it mean? Was the United States a free country and, if so, in what senses? Did it have democratic government, and how should we define ";democratic";? These questions have always lay at the heart of the most thoroughly studied era of U.S. political history, the period from the Revolution to the Civil War. This seminar will do several things. It will acquaint students with some of the big political issues and events of this period -- from the Constitution to the Jacksonian party system, from Antifederalists to abolitionists, and so on -- but we will focus on how historians have interpreted these things. We will think about how history books are written (research methods, uses of evidence, modes of argument, forms of presentation), about how these things have changed over the 20th century, about what the major classes of sources actually are (mainly the ones available here at Berkeley) , and about how we might want to use them.

Active participation in discussions will be required (really required, i.e., as a significant part of final grades). There will be two brief essay assignments over the course of the semester and a final paper that combines work in primary and secondary sources.