BA History and American Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
American History to 1877: Columbus to Civil War

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER10211
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course will examine a selection of key historical periods between 1607 and 1877. Introducing students to the significant events that went on to shape 20th Century America, it will engage with influential historical, political and social works to present a pattern of national development leading from the Puritans through the formation of the Republic and the divisions caused by the Civil War, to the turmultuous political struggles during Reconstruction. The course will address theories of democracy, of state power, and will critically investigate arguments concerning race, gender and identity as a whole.


  • To encourage students to understand, appreciate and critically engage with American history in the period from 1607 - 1877 by means of the examination of key periods focusing on specific as well as general historical texts;

  • Students will develop the primary reading, research and interdisciplinary skills needed for examining a selection of historical documents (eg. narrative chronology; critical analysis; biographical; public and constitutional);

  • To develop students' research skills and their ability to work independently (researching chosen topics for essay and examination assessment);

  • To promote skills of written and verbal expression, of critical and analytical thinking, and of deploying evidence that will form a coherent and lucid argument appropriate to Level 1.


Learning outcomes

At the end of the course unit the successful student will have demonstrated:

  • A knowledge of American social and political history from 1620-1900, together with a basic comprehension of the cultural and literary influences that have shaped key stages of American development during that period;

  • An awareness of the interdisciplinary approach to American Studies;

  • An ability to explore the dominant themes of identity, expansion and renewal within the American experience, and the confidence to understand, compare and contrast the contested terrain that these themes have and continue to operate in;

  • Skills in written expression and in critical and analytical thinking appropriate to Level One.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Essay 50%
Portfolio  50%

Recommended reading

The core text is A Concise American History by David Brown, Thomas Heinrich, Simon Middleton and Vivien Miller (Routledge, 2020). The first half of this recent US history textbook is relevant for this module and if you intend to read only one book in preparation for the course, I recommend this. Below are suggested readings on the various topics we will study over the autumn term.

England on the eve of expansion to the 'New World':
Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction, particularly the essay titled 'Worlds in Motion'.

Puritans and adventurers: the beginnings of Anglo-American settlement:
David Hall, 'Understanding the Puritans', and Sigmund Diamond, 'From Organization to Society: Virginia in the Seventeenth Century', in Stanley N. Katz, ed., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development; Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America

The rising generation: towards the Revolution:
Edmund Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89;
Jon Butler, Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776;
Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America

Winning the war, winning the peace: The Constitution and the birth of the American political nation: Stephen Botein, et al., eds., Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity, particularly John Murrin's essay, 'A Roof Without Walls';
Edward Countryman, What Did the Constitution Mean to Early Americans;
Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution

Native Americans and westward expansion:
John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie;
Gregory Evans Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: North American Indian Struggles for Unity, 1745-1815; Greg O'Brien, 'The Conqueror Meets the Unconquered: Negotiating Boundaries on the Post-Revolutionary Southern Frontier', Journal of Southern History 67 (February 2001): 502-524

The rise of 'Jacksonian democracy':
Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America;
Daniel Feller, The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815-1840;
Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846

Gender and class in industrializing America:
Mary P. Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865;
Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870;
Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850

The 'peculiar institution': American slavery:
Peter Kolchin, American Slavery;
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave;
David Brown and Clive Webb, Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights, chapter 5

The house dividing; sectional conflict:
Robert Cook, Civil War America: Making a Nation, 1848-1877;
Eric Fone

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Brown Unit coordinator

Return to course details