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U.S. History to 1865

By Marcus Rediker at the University of Pittsburgh

U.S. History I is a survey of the major developments in the history of the United States from the colonial era, beginning in roughly 1600, through the outbreak of the Civil War in 1865. The course will focus on the interactions and conflicts among and between classes, races, genders, and cultures. Social history will be emphasized, but cultural, economic, political, and intellectual trends will also receive attention. Topics for discussion will range from witches to pirates, from riots to revolutions, from life in a Native American village to life on a plantation in both the great manor and slave quarters.

This course also seeks to teach and encourage students to think critically and creatively about the past, present, and future. We will explore early American history through novels, films, and scholarly works. We will examine different interpretations of the past, 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.

The weekly format of the course is two lectures by the professor and one discussion section led by the teaching assistant. Discussions, to be held on Thursdays and Fridays, will focus on a particular theme or topic from the lectures and assigned readings. Class participation is crucial to the success of the course, so it is important that you attend both lectures and discussions regularly and that speak your mind. (I know a lot of professors say this; let me assure you that I mean it.) Grades will be given on participation, a mid-term examination, a short paper (details later), and a two-hour final exam, each making up one-fourth of the grade for the course as a whole.


  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave.
  • Christopher Clark and Nancy Hewitt, Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, vol. I (new edition).
  • Frederick Douglass, The Heroic Slave (1853).
  • Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776).
  • Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (2004).