I am teaching a course entitled “The Long American Revolution” in the spring 2011 semester that uses the Revolutionary War and the Civil War as bookends. Yes, not the most radical reworking of history, but we don’t have enough faculty in my program to offer separate courses on the Revolution and the Civil War. However, I also think the course has an integrity of its own and can raise some questions and themes that courses with a more limited scope could not necessarily explore.
The Long American Revolution
I draw on the usual suspects for my baseline view of the period: James McPherson, Sean Wilentz, Eric Foner, Ira Berlin, and Mark Noll. I’d like to do two things with this course: first, provide a decent historical arc to the period that completed a radical expansion of political liberties and a profound restructuring of the economy and second, to investigate the myths about this period that continue to echo loudly in the present day, from the role religion played in the founding and in the Civil War to ideas about what constituted a public, a citizen, and a nation.
I have ordered six relatively short (under 250 pages) monographs that cover, basically, changes in religion, slavery, the Revolution, Lincoln, and the economy during the period.
To have some kind of continuity, I am treating the course as intellectual history, so we will look at the keywords (to borrow from Daniel Rodgers still useful book, Contested Truths) that fostered political and cultural debates. For example, we’ll look at the term liberty as a way to track change over time.
So, in the midst your turkey stupor, if you have a chance, I would like to hear suggestions for keywords, texts, and (especially) primary documents that you believe would push this course in interesting and unorthodox directions. I think I have the fundamentals covered, but would like to hear what imaginative avenues others might suggest to explore.