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HIST 1015 American History to 1865

Instructor Contact:

Douglas Sheflin


Instructor Bio:

I graduated with my PhD in American history from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  My research focuses on the American West and American environmental history, but I use this course to offer a compelling narrative about some of the lesser known aspects of American history more generally.  I am certain that many of you are familiar with some of the more noteworthy people, places, and events in the nation’s past, but I hope that this course can offer new perspectives about the past and how the past informs the present.

About the Course:

This course will address the social, political, cultural, and economic changes in North America from before 1492 through the Civil War. The course will consider prominent people, issues, events, and debates that led to the nation’s founding as well as its near fracture. While attention will be paid to well-known individuals and events, we will also look to more obscure forces which have influenced American history. Such an extensive scope will provide a more complete sense of the pre-colonial and colonial periods, the building of the nation, trials during the early 1800s, and ultimately the rift that led to the Civil War. The readings, writings, and discussions are meant to sharpen your ability to: think, read, and write critically; analyze and evaluate data to form opinions; engage in discussion and debate; and understand modern America.

We will focus on several Key Themes, including:

  • The idea of “America”—what it means, the nature of citizenship, and who belongs—was constantly debated
  • The nation’s founding altered the history of the world in profound ways
  • War changes things in dramatic and often unforeseen ways
  • The dual issues of land and labor help explain early American history

This course will closely resemble the on-campus course but it will capitalize on the ways that online courses can facilitate students’ participation and discussion. While the course will incorporate lectures, PowerPoints, and videos that cover important people, issues, and events, much of our focus will be on the primary documents. Those documents provide a unique view into the time period and offer perspective on some of the most influential debates in American history, so reading them critically will allow us to better understand the nation’s history. The documents will also foster our frequent discussions about course content. We will consistently engage in threaded discussions, in part so that I can be certain that you are reading and understanding the material and in part because such discussions give the entire class an opportunity to raise questions, offer comments, and enter debates about the past. These discussions afford students a chance to demonstrate what they have learned and how they have assessed the material while they also promote interaction with other students as well as the instructor. They can build a sense of community and enrich our enjoyment of the course. They are also an important part of your final grade so please approach them as a vital part of this class.

Course Objectives:

  • Recognize that the study of history is more than memorizing names and dates
  • Identify the importance of context and contingency to understanding history
  • Employ critical thinking and critical reading in approaching course content
  • Relate people and events to the “Key Themes” and understand that relationship
  • Assess contemporary issues and debates by appreciating their historical roots

Required Texts:

These books are available through the CU Book Store and also through alternative websites and vendors. Feel free to purchase them however you chose but be sure to have the correct edition and version. Also, copies of the textbook and reader will be on reserve at Norlin Library, though you should not always plan on those copies being available if you wait until the last minute to do the assigned reading.

  • James L. Roark, et al., The American Promise: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877 (Boston, MA: Bedford St. Martin’s Press, 2014)
  • Michael P. Johnson, ed., Reading the American Past, Fifth Edition, Volume I: To 1877 (Boston, MA: Bedford St. Martin’s Press, 2012)
  • Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave (New York, NY: Penguin, 2012)

Grade Breakdown:

  • Three Exams: 45% (15% each)
  • Three Papers: 10% (2.5% each)
  • Seven Discussions: 10%
  • Solomon Northup Paper: 20%
  • Final Exam: 15%


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