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Dr. Lee M. A. Simpson

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History 162: Social History

Syllabus:: Objectives:: Assignments:: Grading ::
Text and Materials


Goals and Objectives::

Catalog Description:  A survey of topics in American social history from the colonial period to the middle of the Twentieth Century.  Subjects may include reform movements, immigration, racial problems, religion, medicine, and the role of women.  Note:  Fulfills state graduation requirement for U.S. History.  3 units.

Course Purpose:   American social history is intimately intertwined with notions of democracy and citizenship.  Thus, the materials in this course are designed to raise and explore some of the ideas, values, and competing interests that characterize the American democratic experiment and have influenced social relations in this country.  Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the course seeks to examine the extent to which, the American Revolution, based as it was on inherently mutable values and ideas, is unfinished.  Succeeding generations reinterpret, and seek to extend (or in some cases, diminish) the application and practice of the rights asserted in the original Declaration.  We will inquire into the economic, social, intellectual, and cultural forces leading to the invention of an American identity based on the concept of democratic citizenship.  We will examine how American society has struggled to express and to preserve a complex cultural fabric through political theory, legal deliberations, and government regulation, as well as through literature, music, art, public oratory, and private reflections.  Throughout we will be guided by Alexis de Tocqueville's observation that democracy is an irresistible force of history that shapes and is shaped by the unique circumstances of American life.  The course ends with a question rather than an answer:  what is the nature of the American identity today?

Learning Objectives: Upon successful completion of History 162 students will be able to:

  • Describe the major cultural, economic, social, and political events that shaped the invention of an American identity.
  • Recognize the differing ramifications of historical events for people of varying ethnic, socio-economic, cultural and gender backgrounds.
  • Analyze, interpret, and evaluate primary and secondary historical sources.
  • Identify, explain, and discuss multiple causes and effects in U.S. history.
  • Recognize the impact of global events on the social history of the United States, and of U.S. ideas on other nations.


Just as citizenship in a democracy has numerous rewards, so too, will your active participation in this course.  Likewise, in a democracy, citizenship requires diligence and hard work.  Same here.  But, that work will be done in conjunction with your fellow and sister citizens, and, as in a democracy, you will have some say in the development of the course. 

Your grade will be based on a series of short writing assignments analyzing course readings (60%), class participation (10%), and a final examination (30%). 

You will have reading to do for each class period and the detailed class schedule makes those assignments very clear.  There are four texts for this class; all are available at the campus bookstore.  Please bring the appropriate book or books to class.  We will refer to them directly as part of our class exercises.Students will be assigned to groups in which they will meet throughout the semester to discuss the readings.  Groups may be reassigned to limit the potential of tyrants coming to power, but reassignment will require a majority vote by the class.  These group discussions will be monitored by the professor and will produce one thoughtful and thought-provoking issue per group per day.  A spokesperson from each group will share this issue with the class as a whole and this will form the basis of our class journey through the material.  Class discussion is worth 10% of the final class grade.

To measure students' performance in the class and mastery of material and ideas, several writing assignments are required.  Students must prepare a  series of short essays (1-2 pages) on the readings.  Essays may focus on any issue raised in the readings and may be placed in the context of current events; however, they must be critical and analytical in nature.  They should come from the main body of the reading, not from the editorial introductions (in italics in your reader).  A good essay tries to help us understand the overarching question for this course – what is democratic citizenship?  Essays are due at the end of class on the day they are due.  They must be typed, double spaced, and in a 12 point font on a sheet of 8 1/2"x11" white paper.  Be sure to include your name and date to receive appropriate credit.  Essays make up 60% of your final grade.  No late assignments will be accepted without a documented excuse.

The final will be a cumulative and comprehensive exam based on the questions we prepare as a class.  It will also include a long essay answering the question “What is democratic citizenship?” I expect you to use your lifetime of knowledge but temper your answer with the critical analysis of the material discussed over the course of the semester.  The final is worth 30% of your final grade.  Again, no make-ups without documentation.


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Your grade will be based on class participation (10%), two critical essays (60%), and a final examination (30%). 


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Text and Material ::

  • Henry Louis Gates.  The Classic Slave Narratives.  New York:  Mentor Books, 1987.
  • Lee Simpson and Betsy Glade.  Democratic Citizenship:  Documents in the History of Democracy and Citizenship in America.  New York:  Forbes, 1999.
  • Eric Foner.  The Story of American Freedom.  New York:  Norton, 1998.

Downloadable Readings ::

Bill of Rights (pdf file)

Declaration of Independence (pdf file)

Eugene McCarthy (pdf file)

Hobbes (pdf file)

Locke (pdf file)


Last Updated November 8, 2002 top of page