American Social History

Honors Seminar

History 135
Swarthmore College
Prof. Bruce Dorsey
Spring1999

This seminar will explore major themes and topics in the social history of America from the colonial era to the mid-20th century. We will begin by defining the parameters of what constitutes social history, and examine the important interpretive frameworks that have guided recent scholarship in the field. This seminar cannot hope to cover everything in American social history, but will instead return again and again to certain significant themes that continually intersect when analyzing the everyday lives of Americans -- land, labor, community, religion, popular culture, and especially race, class, and gender.

The seminar will proceed chronologically, but we need to be attuned to the perception that older, traditional (political) ways of dividing up periods of American history may not be applicable nor useful for the histories of women, Native Americans, African Americans, immigrant minorities, sexual minorities, nor many other Americans.

 

REQUIRED READINGS:

 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS:

It goes without saying that every student in the seminar will attend and participate actively in the seminar (Oh, sorry, but I just said that.)

Reading Assignments:

Students are expected to purchase and read the required readings for each, complete the minimum reading assignment, and in most cases read all (or nearly all) of the additional reading. Students will also be expected to become acquainted with the material for the each week's topics for seminar papers. If we are not prepared to discuss these topics, then additional written assignments will have to be added to the seminar requirements.

Written Assignments:

You will write three papers for this seminar. Papers should be about 4-5 (single spaced) pages (1,200-2,000 words) in length. The quality of your work, not the size of your paper, is our primary concern. A list of topics and readings is included within each week of the syllabus.

Seminar papers should be able to critically analyze the arguments of historians, and concisely and convincingly present your own assessment of an important theme or topic in American social history. A good seminar paper will bring the other members of the seminar immediately into the heart of your argument, without excessive narrative or description. It will also present the most convincing evidence you can find to substantiate your interpretation. (I will gladly supply examples of strong seminar papers.) Seminar papers should include a bibliography of sources used.

Seminar papers are due by 9am on the Sunday before the seminar meets. A copy of the paper must be posted on the Classes Folder for History 135, and a paper version placed under the door of the instructor's office. Every member of the seminar will be responsible for reading each other's papers carefully prior to the seminar and offering comments on the papers as a part of the seminar session.

Discussion Leadership:

One student each week will be responsible for being the seminar discussion leader. The discussion leader will be responsible for having read book reviews of the major readings for each seminar paper, and for preparing discussion questions that both facilitate discussion for the seminar and also ask the authors of papers to relate their conclusions to the general readings that week. A good discussion leader will try to keep the discussion focused on a particular historical problem, and will be often asked to summarize the seminar discussion at the end of the class.

Examination:

All students will take a final examination. Senior honors students will also have an oral examination with the outside examiner during honors weekend, May 21-23.

BACKGROUND READINGS:

If you need to acquire a solid background on either the major events and social movements in American history or the developments in social relationships during different eras, then consult the following:

American Social History Project, Who Built America, 2 volumes.

Everyday Life in America Series:

David Freeman Hawke, Everyday Life in Early America.
Stephanie Grauman Wolf, As Various as Their Land: The Everyday Lives of 18th-Century Americans.
Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life.
Daniel E. Sutherland, The Expansion of Everyday Life, 1860-1876.
Thomas J. Schlereth, Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915.
Harvey Green, The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945.

Other good surveys include:

Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free.
Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age.
Nell Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919.
William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II.

 

SEMINAR SCHEDULE:

WEEK 1: INTRODUCTION -- WHAT IS SOCIAL HISTORY & WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

WEEK 2: CONTACT AND CONFLICT BETWEEN CULTURES IN EARLY AMERICA

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Land, Property, and the Environment:

Gender:

Labor, Servitude and Slavery:

 

WEEK 3: REVOLUTION AND TRANSITION TO CAPITALISM

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

The American Revolution: A Social Revolution?:

Agrarian Capitalism:

Revolution and Race:

Construction of Victorian Gender System:

 

WEEK 4: INDUSTRIALIZATION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF WORK

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Gender and Industrial Transformation:

Working Class Identity:

Industrialization: Transforming Work and Society:

Urbanization, Mobs, and Race Violence:

 

WEEK 5: SLAVERY AND THE LIFE EXPERIENCES OF SLAVES

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Slave Religion and African American Culture:

Slave Family and Gender Construction:

Slave Resistance and Rebellion:

 

WEEK 6: WHITE SOUTHERN SOCIETY, SLAVEHOLDING, AND WHITE RACISM

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Economics of Slavery:

The Slaveholding Class/ Master-Slave Relations:

White-Class Relations in the Slave South:

White Racism in America:

 

WEEK 7: RELIGION, MORAL REFORM, AND CLASS FORMATION

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Revivalist Religion -- Evangelicals, Etc.

Moral Reformers:

Dealing with "Deviants" -- Insanity, Crime, Prostitution:

Creation of the Middle Class:

 

WEEK 8: EMANCIPATION AND POST-CIVIL WAR SOCIETY -- NORTH AND SOUTH

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

The Civil War:

Reconstruction:

Race and the "New South":

The Economics of Farm Life (The Social History of Populism):

 

WEEK 9: URBANIZATION AND THE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Ethnicity and Acculturation:

Anti-Immigrant (Nativist) Movements:

Social Mobility and Migration:

Urban and Ethnic Families:

Poverty, Welfare, and the State:

Racial Conflict Since the Turn-of-the-Century:

 

WEEK 10: THE WEST AND THE BORDERLANDS

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

The West and the Environment:

The Economics of Farm Life (The Social History of Populism):

Gender and Sexuality in the West:

Native Americans:

Ethnicity, Immigration, Race and Racism in the West:

 

WEEK 11: SEXUALITY, GENDER, AND FAMILY

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Reproductive Control:

Same Sex Intimacy and Sexuality:

Illicit Sexuality and Sex Reformers:

Race and Sex:

Marriage and Divorce:

Women & Public Space:

Turn-of-the-Century "Crisis" in Masculinity:

 

WEEK 12: BIG BUSINESS & LABOR -- A CONSUMER SOCIETY & MASS CULTURE

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Worker Control - Workers' Lives:

Women and Labor:

Labor Radicalism:

Unions:

Consumer Society -- Work and Gender.

Popular Culture and Entertainment (1890-1940):

Sports:

Social History of Habits, Vices and Social Behavior:

 

WEEK 13: WORLD WAR, COLD WAR, AND SUBURBANIZATION AT MID-CENTURY

Minimum Reading:

Additional Reading:

 

Topics:

Race Conflict During the War (inc. Japanese Internment):

Gender and Family at Mid-Twentieth Century America:

Suburbanization:

Social History of the Civil Rights Movement:

Popular Culture and Entertainment (1940-Present):