UNIT 1. The New Land
1. America’s First Immigrants, Evan Hadingham, Smithsonian, November 2004
The conventional wisdom used to be that American Indians migrated to the New World via a now-submerged land bridge from Siberia. This view has been challenged by archaeologists who have found the remains of settlements dating at least 1,000 years before this supposed migration took place. What remains controversial is where these early peoples actually came from.
2. 1491, Charles C. Mann, The Atlantic Monthly, November 2002
“Before it became the New World,” Charles Mann writes, “the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought.” He surveys new research that indicates Indians lived in this hemisphere much longer than previously assumed, and that they had a larger impact on the environment.
3. How Cruel Were the Spaniards? Iris H. W. Engstrand, OAH Magazine of History, Summer 2000
The Spanish word “conquistador” means “conqueror.” Those Spaniards who destroyed the Aztec and Inca empires certainly deserve the name. Unfortunately, Engstrand argues, the word has unfairly been applied to those who came later as missionaries, farmers, and ranchers. These Spaniards were no more or less cruel than their French or English counterparts.
4. America, the Atlantic, and Global Consumer Demand, 1500–1800, Carole Shammas, OAH Magazine of History, January 2005
Over the past decade scholars have gone beyond analyzing the activities of the great mercantile empires to focus on production and consumption in what they call the “Atlantic World Community” (the Americas, Europe, and Africa).” The author also analyzes the demographic and environmental changes that took place during the period.
5. The Birth of America, Lewis Lord, U.S. News & World Report, January 29–February 5, 2007
“Struggling from One Peril to the next,” Lord writes, “the Jamestown settlers planted the seeds of the nation’s spirit.” He recounts their struggles with the climate, Indians, disease, and with one another. He also sets the record straight on the legendary Pocahontas.
6. The Root of the Problem, Orlando Patterson, Time, May 7, 2007
Less than a dozen years after the founding of Jamestown, about 20 black slaves were sold to the colonists. For a time they worked under roughly the same conditions as did white indentured servants. After 1660, however, it became cheaper to buy slaves rather than indentured servants and Virginia was on its way to becoming a slave society. Paterson points out the contradiction of having “a democracy that was committed to slavery.”
7. Blessed and Bedeviled, Helen Mondloch, The World & I, May 2002
In 2001 the governor of Massachusetts signed a bill exonerating the last five individuals convicted in the Salem Witch trials of 1692. The author of this essay examines the attitudes and beliefs that led to the persecution of at least 150 people.
8. American Indians, Witchcraft, and Witch-hunting, Matthew Dennis, OAH Magazine of History, July 2003
The belief in witchcraft among white colonists in New England during the 17th Century has been the subject of countless books and articles. Dennis shows that Native Americans shared many of the same beliefs. These similarities, however, helped drive the two peoples apart rather than unite them.
9. Slavery in the North, Shane White, OAH Magazine of History, April 2003
Much has been written about slavery in the colonial South, but far less about slavery in the North. Author Shane White points out that two of the greatest instances of slave resistance in North America occurred not in the South but in New York City in 1712 and 1741.
10. Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide?, Guenter Lewy, Commentary, September 2004
Everyone agrees that European exploration and the conquest had devastating consequences on the Indian population in the western hemisphere. Some have claimed that this process amounted to genocide, not much different from what the Nazis did to European Jews. Lewy argues that the largest cause of Indian mortality was the “spread of highly contagious diseases to which they had no immunity.” Given the state of medical knowledge at the time, the Europeans were unaware that they carried diseases with them.UNIT 2. Revolutionary America
11. Dirty Little Secret, Simon Schama, Smithsonian, May 2006
Many slaves and former slaves fought on the colonists’ side during the American Revolution. Some, however, saw the British more as liberators than as oppressors. Schama views the revolution through the eyes of slaves and tells why numbers of them fought for the crown.
12. Midnight Riders, Charles J. Caes, American History, December 2004
Paul Revere, and to a lesser extent, William Dawes, became famous because of their heroic efforts to warn the colonials that the Redcoats were coming. But it was a virtually unknown third rider, Samual Prescott, who actually completed the mission to rouse the Sons of Liberty and to warn the Americans at Concord.
13. God and the Founders, Jon Meacham, Newsweek, April 10, 2006
When members of the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in September 1774, a dispute arose over whether the session should be opened with a prayer. Meacham shows how the issue was resolved in a way that acknowledged religion without permitting it to be divisive.
14. The Rocky Road to Revolution, John Ferling, Smithsonian, July 2004
“While most members of Congress sought a negotiated settlement with England,” Ferling writes, “independence advocates bided their time.” He analyzes the hopes and fears of both sides, and the manner in which the struggle was decided.
15. A Day to Remember: July 4, 1776, Charles Phillips, American History, August 2006
The Second Continental Congress actually declared American independence on July 2, 1776. Two days later it approved the Declaration of Independence, which was a kind of early-day “press release.” Author Charles Phillips analyzes how Thomas Jefferson’s draft statement emerged in its final form.
16. Washington Takes Charge, Joseph J. Ellis, Smithsonian, January 2005
George Washington’s first command during the Revolutionary War was to preside over the siege of Boston during the summer of 1775. His hopes of delivering a decisive blow to the British there were dashed, but he achieved his goal six years later at the battle of Yorktown. Ellis provides a balanced account of this legendary figure’s strengths and weaknesses.
17. Winter of Discontent, Norman Gelb, Smithsonian, May 2003
George Washington generally is regarded as one of the nation’s greatest presidents. During the Revolutionary War however, his leadership of the army came under bitter criticism and the Conway Cabal nearly led to his resignation.
18. Evacuation Day: New York City’s Forgotten Past, Erik Peter Axelson, American History, August 2006
The British occupied New York City from 1776 to November 25, 1783, which came to be known and celebrated as “Evacuation Day.” Erik Axelson discusses the key role New York City played before, during, and after the American Revolution.
19. The Necessity of Refusing My Signature, Mark Bernstein, American History, October 2006
George Mason was well known as the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and of that state’s constitution. He refused to sign the national Constitution because, among other things, it did not contain a Bill of Rights. Although ultimately vindicated, Mason lost favor with individuals such as George Washington and also dimmed his standing with later historians.UNIT 3. National Consolidation and Expansion
20. Remembering Martha, Robert P. Watson, OAH Magazine of History, Winter 2000
George Washington has been the subject of countless books and articles, yet he remains a “distant, aloof” figure. Martha Washington in these accounts usually is given only casual mention or omitted entirely. “This is unfortunate,” author Watson writes, “because neglecting the life of Martha Washington undermines our ability to truly know her husband.”
21. The Best of Enemies, Ron Chernow, Time, July 5, 2004
The two most influential members of President George Washington’s first cabinet were Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson’s vision for the United States was a nation of small, independent farmers. Hamilton understood that agriculture would be the nation’s backbone in the foreseeable future, but he also wanted to foster commerce, manufacturing, and financial institutions. Their differences over the proper future of the nation led to a struggle that reverberates to this day.
22. Cliffhanger, John Ferling, Smithsonian, November 2004
Because the Constitution did not provide for the emergence of political parties, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson tied in the electoral college even though both were Republicans. People at the time feared the possibility of violence and the threat of some states to secede if the issue were not resolved satisfactorily. Ferling analyzes the course of this crisis, including the possibility that Jefferson struck a deal with the Federalists to secure the presidency.
23. The Revolution of 1803, Peter S. Onuf, Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2003
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 more than doubled the size of the United States, which some Americans already believed was too large. This acquisition had enormous ramifications at the time and changed the course of the nation’s history.
24. Saving New Orleans, Winston Groom, Smithsonian, August 2006
By autumn 1814, the United States was on the verge of collapse. The British planned an attack on New Orleans, which would have split the young nation in two. They tried to bribe notorious pirate Jean Laffite into joining their cause. Instead he revealed their plans to General Andrew Jackson and played a key role in defending the city.
25. Women in the Early Republic, Patricia Cline Cohen, OAH Magazine of History, Winter 2000
Despite the enormous interest in women’s history over the past decades, Patricia Cohen writes, until recently the period 1790 to 1830 has received relatively little attention. Cohen tries to explain the reasons for this neglect and along the way discusses the lives of a number of notable women.
26. African Americans in the Early Republic, Gary B. Nash, OAH Magazine of History, Winter 2000
Although coverage of African Americans in history textbooks is far more comprehensive than it was a few decades ago, Nash discusses five areas that still receive short shrift. Among these are topics such as the rise of free black communities and early abolitionism.
27. Liberty Is Exploitation, Barbara M. Tucker, OAH Magazine of History, May 2005
Manufacturing in the nation’s early years moved from the home to the workshop to the factory. Tucker analyzes this process, which involved the use of Child Labor and Pauper Labor. She focuses on the systems devised by Samuel Slater. The paternalism of these early years gave way to a system within which labor was considered just another cost of production.
28. From Detroit to the Promised Land, Karolyn Smardz Frost, American History, April 2007
In 1833 a Detroit judge ruled that a young couple that had escaped slavery some years before, must be returned to their owners. His ruling touched off riots in the city. In separate incidents both the husband and wife were rescued and spirited off to Canada. Officials there refused to extradite the pair, thereby sending a message that Canada would be a safe haven for escaped slaves.
29. Andrew Jackson Versus the Cherokee Nation, Robert V. Remini, American History, August 2001
As president, former Indian fighter Andrew Jackson in 1836 used his office to bring about the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia to west of the Mississippi. When the great removal began several years later, the tribe suffered grievously on what became known as “the trail of tears.”
30. Storm over Mexico, Godfrey Hodgson, History Today, March 2005
The phrase “Manifest Destiny” became popular during the 1840s. Those who supported the idea believed that the United States was destined to rule over Mexico and the Caribbean. There was no greater advocate of this notion than Jane McManus, a remarkable woman who was a political journalist, a land speculator, and a pioneer settler in Texas. She was, Hodgson writes, “Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in one.”UNIT 4. The Civil War and Reconstruction
31. Free at Last, Fergus M. Bordewich, Smithsonian, December 2004
What became known as the “underground railroad” provided escape routes for thousands of slaves fleeing to freedom. Among other things, its existence convinced white Southerners that the North meant to abolish slavery if it could. Bordewich describes how the system functioned, and tells the more recent story of how the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (which opened in the summer of 2005) was created.
32. A Day to Remember, Charles Phillips, American History, October 2005
John Brown’s Raid and his subsequent execution touched off a firestorm in both North and South. To Northern abolitionists he was a martyr to the cause of freedom. To Southerners he was a fanatic intent on destroying their way of life. Author Charles Phillips discusses the raid and how it went wrong.
33. New York City’s Secession Crisis, Chuck Leddy, Civil War Times Illustrated, January 2007
Some of New York City’s most influential business and political leaders proposed secession from the Union and worked to arrange an accommodation with the South in the months before the Civil War. Leddy shows how the city’s prosperity seemed to depend on the continued existence of slavery.
34. Lincoln and the Constitutional Dilemma of Emancipation, Edna Greene Medford, OAH Magazine of History, January 2007
The Civil War began as a struggle over national union, but ultimately became a conflict over the continued existence of slavery. Author Edna Medford analyzes developments that led to the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
35. A Gallant Rush for Glory, William C. Kashatus, American History, October 2000
On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, consisting of 600 black men launched an assault on the Southern stronghold of Fort Wagner, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. The attackers fought gallantly, but were repulsed with heavy losses. William Kashatus examines how black units came to be formed during the war and describes the battle itself.
36. How the West Was Lost, Chris Smallbone, History Today, April 2006
At the beginning of the 19th Century Americans knew little about the Great Plains, which was referred to as the “Great American Desert” on many maps. The relentless push of white settlers westward displaced Native American tribes from their lands, a process speeded up by the construction of the Union-Pacific and Kansas-Pacific railroads shortly after the Civil War. Countless treaties were made and broken along the way.
37. America’s Birth at Appomattox, Anne Wortham, The World & I, May 1999
Wortham argues that ties of “friendship, battlefield comradeship, and shared nationality” helped to further reconciliation between the North and South after the fighting stopped.
38. The American Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction on the World Stage, Edward L. Ayers, OAH Magazine of History, January 2006
The Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction were seminal events in American history. The author argues that the war “has carried a different meaning for every generation of Americans” and “embodied struggles that would confront people on every continent.”