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Colonial America

By Marcus Rediker at the University of Pittsburgh

History 1610 will be an exploration of the emergence of America from the interactions and conflicts among Native American, African, and European cultures. The course will focus on major social, economic, political, and intellectual developments from roughly 1600 to 1760. Using primary historical documents (including a famous play by Shakespeare) as well as the accounts of modern historians, we will discuss a range of topics such as the bloody, dramatic encounter between the peoples of America and Europe, the enduring paradox of slavery and freedom in early Virginia and other colonies, witchcraft, and the life of the common sailor, who plied the waters of the globe in tall ships, battled his own commanders aboard ship (and often turned to piracy), and ran wild and rebellious in the streets of the port cities when on leave.

In addition to surveying some of the basic themes of early American history, this course seeks to teach and encourage students to think critically and creatively about the past, present, and future. We will explore different historical interpretations, analyzing the disputes among historians and judging the merits of various arguments. Students will be encouraged to develop their own perspectives on the American experience both past and present.

The format of the course includes an occasional lecture, but will consist primarily of readings and discussion in a colloquial approach. Class participation is crucial to the success of the course, so it is important that you attend regularly and speak out. Grades will be based on participation, mid-term exam, a 10-page paper (details later), and a two-hour final examination.


  • Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England.
  • Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia.
  • Gary B. Nash, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (4th edition).
  • Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750.
  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest.