History 21: The Issues of American History

(Winter 2003)


Professor Lloyd Benson

213-B Furman Hall ext. 3492

Office Hours:

10:30-11:30 Monday-Friday
1:30-3:00 Monday and Friday
1:30-5:00 Wednesday
other times by appointment




History is not a mere recounting of facts; rather, it is a battleground where historians offer competing explanations. One need only look at the arguments over the causes of the Civil War, the decision to bomb Hiroshima, or who assassinated John Kennedy to understand that there are many convincing ways that historical facts can be arranged. People use history for many reasons. In short, it is impossible to understand the past without understanding the perspectives of those who have interpreted it.

The purposes of this course are not only to familiarize students with the major individuals, movements, institutions, and ideas in United States history, but also to introduce students to historiography (the writing and philosophy of history), and to help students develop their own analytical insights into the past through the appraisal of historical monographs, articles, biographies, and primary sources. Special attention will be paid to the major schools of historical thought, to the most common ways of approaching American history (intellectual, political, and social, for example), to recurring historical themes such as continuity and change, to the problem of historical truth and objectivity, and to the problems of defining the meaning and identity of America. Finally, a significant amount of time will be devoted to understanding the relationship between ordinary people and the larger historical context in which they have lived. Students should finish the course with a sound factual knowledge of American history and a good idea of how historians do what they do.

There are a handful recurring topics and themes that we will pay special attention to this term and that will serve as organizing concepts for a number of our assignments. These include (a) the role of individuals and leadership in the context of social and historical constraints, (b) the relationship between the state on one hand and private individuals and private organizations on the other, (c) civil rights, democracy, and ordered liberty, (d) the question of American consensus and (e) the question of American memory, or who gets to make and who gets to "own" various histories.


Reading ssignments will average around a two hours each day, and will need to be completed before each class meeting. Slow readers can do well in this course, but are advised to consult with the instructor or Dr. Cloer in Special Services without delay. Students with disabilities who need academic accommodations should contact the Coordinator of Disability Services, (2998). After an meeting with the Coordinator, contact me during my office hours. Don't procrastinate: do this EARLY in the term, before the first assignments.

The following books are required for this course and are available for purchase at the Furman University Bookstore. You will need to acquire all of these titles by the second week of the term.

You are strongly advised to purchase all of these books during the first week of class. The bookstore will begin shipping unpurchased volumes back to the publishers and preparing for the next term almost immediately.


See the Schedule and Assignments Page for details.


Grading in this course will follow the standard university policies as outlined in the Helmsman. In brief, C is awarded for a typical amount of work, B for work that is in some way distinctive, creative, or innovative, and A for work of such originality and insight as to be competitive with the best work at any of the nation's top colleges. Grades of C- and below represent work not up to the Furman standard.

Class attendance is expected. I will pass around an attendance sheet each day. Be aware that missing as few as three days this term can put you in violation of official university rules. I reserve the right to invoke these policies in cases of flagrant abuse. More importantly, there will be in-class exercises almost every day that require your active participation.


Students with disabilities who need academic accommodations should contact the Coordinator of Disability Services, (x-2998). After an meeting with the coordinator, contact me during my office hours. Don't procrastinate: do this EARLY in the term before the first assignments are due. I will make every effort to provide the appropriate alternatives but will need some advance warning.


The academic community only works when all members freely exchange their ideas without taking credit for someone else's work. Academic honesty creates the trust that makes learning possible. When students complete their work with integrity, teachers do not have to adopt elaborate procedures that clog the educational mechanism. When all students in a class are honest, instructors can judge their work fairly and equally. And when all members of the institution strive to work honestly, the value of the diploma and the reputation of the school are enhanced. Most importantly, academic integrity ensures that special opportunities such as jobs, scholarships, and awards go to those who earned them. It is therefore in the interest of every student to promote the integrity of all students in the classroom.

You must include full citations in correct Turabian/Chicago format for any original ideas or products of others in all written or compiled work in this class. As a general rule, essays in this class should follow the documentation standards outlined in the pamphlet Plagiarism and Academic Integrity At Furman University. In on-line discussions where clear reference is being made to the assigned reading you do not need to provide a full citation but must provide page or paragraph numbers in parenthetical format. Note: Some of you may chose to submit assignments in multimedia formats. Any images, sound, or video that you did not create yourself must be properly documented and in the public domain or you will be considered in violation of the plagiarism policy and all other applicable regulations.

When in doubt, you should consult with me. Facts learned from class lectures and discussions should be considered indirect (weak) evidence and not sufficient for an academic paper. Consult with the suggested readings section of the textbook or with me for information on locating the original sources. You should discuss course material at every opportunity, but must not reveal test answers. When using study guides to prepare for in-class exams, students are not allowed to divide up topics or share their prepared answers. Copying of lecture notes falls into a gray area of academic honesty. To avoid problems, you should not copy another person's notes without prior permission from me. Because unreported academic dishonesty affects the grading scale and classroom atmosphere severely, you should report any questionable incidents to the instructor immediately.

Penalties for plagiarism are determined at the instructor's discretion. At a minimum a student found cheating will fail the assignment. He or she may be requested to leave the course with a grade of F. Additional penalties may be imposed by the Office of the Associate Academic Dean.


This paper is designed to introduce you to the issues of historical research through practical experience, investigating a topic of special interest to you After selecting a topic from the list below or developing your own alternative you will need to write an interpretive historical essay. In the body of the paper you will need to include a summary of the issue's main historical interpretations, a synopsis of the main events including their analytical aspects, and a thoughtful conclusion. Every paper is expected to have a cohesive, persuasive, and provocative original thesis that holds the whole work together.

You will need to submit a one paragraph topic proposal and preliminary bibliography to the online message system by January 16. The bibliography should be a very preliminary listing of the books and articles that you have identified as being most promising in their relevance. I will not assume at this point that you have actually gone through any of them.

Your final essay should be approximately 3000 to 3600 words long, exclusive of footnotes. You will not need to submit a bibliography. Essays that are much too long or short will be penalized. Essays need to be type-written and double-spaced, with a one inch margin minimum on all edges for comments. No special binding nor cover sheet should be used. I prefer endnotes. In addition to the printed copy you must also send me an electronic version of the paper in an e-mail attachment.

You will also be required to keep an itemized research diary as you do your research which must be submitted along with your final paper. As a minimum in this diary you will need to list

  1. The date of each research session
  2. The specific items you found, including author, title, year, volume, and page
  3. The means you used to find each source (i.e.: "looked in Alcuin," or "consulted the JSTOR database")
  4. A brief comment or two about the material's value as a source your topic. (i.e. "Too old," "Not a scholarly source," "Very useful for its coverage of ...")

You should be especially conscious to avoid plagiarism on this assignment. You will probably find it helpful to browse Barzun & Graff, The Modern Researcher and Kate L. Turabian, A manual for writers of term papers, theses, and dissertations. All papers must be footnoted correctly (see below). Incorrectly footnoted papers will fail the assignment automatically.

A paper copy of the research paper (with your research journal) is due at the beginning of class on 11 February. You must also submit an electronic copy of the paper only to me via e-mail before midnight on the same day.

As an alternative, students may develop and present a scholarly web project. (For examples, see 1846: Portrait of the Nation, The Crisis at Fort Sumter, or The Valley of the Shadow: Living the Civil War in Pa and Va.) These projects must contain 3000 to 3600 words of your own original content. Please consult with me immediately if you plan to pursue the web option.

At a minimum your research paper will need to be based on at least six scholarly books and five articles from a peer-reviewed scholarly journal such as the American Historical Review or the Journal of American History. (See important limits on what you may use, outlined in the footnoting section below). Consider these numbers as a bottom threshold. A paper having fewer than this number will probably receive an F. There is no exact correlation between the number of sources and the quality of the paper, but it is not unusual for A papers to have two or three different sources cited in every paragraph, and for it to include twenty or so different sources for the paper as a whole. I am impressed when students intelligently incorporate primary materials such as newspapers or diaries into their essays.

Stylistic Hints and Suggestions

Take a look at Strunk's Elements of Style. Closer to home, and with a good sense of humor, is Dr. Chris Blackwell's Writing Tips Page. I strongly recommend that you review his section on "How to make sure you have written a good paper." You may find other useful suggestions by looking for "online writing centers" on the web and consulting their writing tips pages.

Below I have listed a few of my personal peccadilloes about style and grammar. You are advised to double-check your papers for such things and remove them, lest red ink flow like water.

  1. A clear thesis and logical organization are essential.
  2. Write concisely.
  3. Avoid passive constructions such as "it was," and "it has been." You must tell who is doing the thing you describe.
  4. Like strong seasonings, quotations should be used sparingly.
  5. Do not use "I" in formal writing. Declarative sentences are more effective. Everyone already knows from the essay format that this is your own viewpoint. Indiscriminate use of "I" is at once a sign of vanity and of poor confidence.
  6. Sentences that combine commentary with descriptive information are a plus. (For example: "The author effectively describes Calhoun's position in the Southern Address of 1849.")
  7. Strive for gender-neutral phrasing.
  8. Do not start sentences with the word "however."
  9. The following words or phrases are powerless and inaccurate. Do not use them:
    1. obviously
    2. in terms of
    3. certain, certainly
    4. basically,
    5. "on a ____ basis"
    6. feels, felt
    7. in-depth
    8. deals with, dealt with
    9. succession (when you mean secession)
    10. Wilmont (when you mean Wilmot)
    11. dominate (when you mean dominant)
    12. Negro, when you mean "African-American" or "Black."
  10. Avoid qualifiers. Words such as "somewhat," "literally," and "definitely." are right out.
  11. Centuries ("the 1700s") are plural, not possessive. Do not use an apostrophe.
  12. Always use the past tense when describing events in the past.

Footnoting and Documentation Standards

All research papers must use standard historical footnoting. Papers using parenthetical footnotes will not pass the assignment. For examples of this style, consult the Barzun & Graff or Turabian books listed above. Be aware that footnotes are numbered sequentially by reference in the text, not as numbers referring to a specific book. In general, you should cite any idea in the paper that is not your own. If in doubt, include the reference or check with me. Ignorance of Furman's plagiarism policy or of documentation requirements will not be considered a legitimate excuse for improperly cited papers. These will simply be failed, and in a flagrant case may lead to failure of the course.

Some suggestions:

You should consolidate references where possible. In most cases there should be only one footnote for each paragraph. Separate multiple sources with semi-colons. The main exception to this rule is that any direct quote should be cited at the end of the quote itself.

Try to avoid quoting sources that have been quoted in another work. If you cannot locate the original source, be sure that your quote is cited correctly (see below).

Many resources will not meet the requirements of the assignment.

Even some articles available on First Search or Infotrac may not be scholarly enough or appropriate to your topic. Consult with me if you have doubts about the validity of your information.

Correct formatting of notes is critical. Below is a short list of example footnotes that may prove helpful.

For this type: Use the Footnote Citation Form in this column:
Book 1Kent Masterson Brown, Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander, (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1993), 142-156.
Same book,
next footnote
2Ibid., 256-267.
Same book,
later note
3Brown, Cushing, 154.
4Samuel L. Webb, "From Independents to Populists to Progressive Republicans: The Case of Chilton County, Alabama, 1880-1920," Journal of Southern History, LIX (November 1993), 707-736.
Newspaper 5Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury, 17 March 1857.
Source quoted in another source 6Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury, 17 March 1857, quoted in Smith, ed., Southern Reactions to the Dred Scott Case (Podunk, Nebraska: Neverpublished Press, 1999), 23.
Internet 7Smithsonian Institution, "1846: Portrait of the Nation," <http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/1846/index.htm> [24 January 1997].
(The date should be the date you consulted the source. Use your browser's information function to determine this. Because sites change frequently this date is mandatory.)
7Ibid.; Webb, "Independents to Populists," 707-711; Brown, Cushing, 45-56.

Possible Topics

Here is a list of possible research topics. You may pursue another topic with prior permission from me. I will ask you for your topic choices by the end of the first week of class.


Students in this class will take an interim examination and a comprehensive final. In order to meet the new ADA requirements and to offer all students a fair chance to complete their tests, The interim examination has been scheduled for the evening of the test day. You will not be asked material from that day's class on the test. It will require permission of the instructor and an official university excuse from the Associate Dean's office to reschedule any exam. Tests will be combinations of fill in the blank, short answer, and long essay questions. There will also be a section of passages from historian's works. For these passages you will need to provide an identification of the school to which the passage belongs and give a short list of the features you found distinctive in this identification. Students will be expected to show a solid grasp of names, dates, and details, and be able to identify historical schools. Responses to short answer questions will typically be four to six sentences long. They will need to include at minimum an explanation of causes and effects, along with a summary chronological description of the item itself. Longer essays will need to be proportionate in length to the time allotted them. Essay grammar and spelling will not affect scoring, but clear, concise expression and reasonably neat handwriting are always a plus.

The best in-class essays will be well-organized, have clear introductory and concluding paragraphs, have extensive details, and a convincing thesis. Longer essays should strive for a precise sense of chronological development and should address the essay topic with a sound balance of broad coverage and careful detail. Finally, students should feel free to agree or disagree with the essay question, but should pick one side, and make an effort to answer the arguments that might be made by someone arguing the other viewpoint.

Some Study Suggestions

You are responsible for integrating lectures, class activities and readings together into a single seamless analysis, so it is wise to work topic by topic, rather than studying the textbooks first and then the notes. Begin by looking at the major topics (as listed in the syllabus and in textbook chapters) that will be included on the test. For each of these main topics you should be able to give an itemized list of major causes. It is sometimes useful as a memorization tool to enumerate these (i.e. the SIX major factors leading to the Mexican War). When reading exams I look for evidence of a meticulous and organized study approach. For each event you should be able to give a a brief chronology of the most important historical turning points (usually look for at least four or five of these), and an accounting of the major individuals, organizations, or intellectual traditions most directly involved. Along with this should come some sense of the traits that distinguished this historical episode from any other moments in the past. Finally, develop a list of the most important results, implications, and reactions. Many of the main topics (Progressivism, Antebellum Reform, etc.) will be divided into subordinate topics. Apply the same rules of causes, chronology/characteristics, and consequences, to each of these. Finally, for each episode you should consider timing, location, alternative outcomes, and context. Why did this happen when and where it did, and not before or since, or someplace else? Could things have come out differently, and what were the choices available to the main players? What else was going on at the same time, and is it relevant to the current topic?

It goes almost without saying that systematic study in this class cannot be done well if you start a couple of days before the test. These are questions and organizing frameworks that you should work on every day between the major assignments.


Speaking ability is one of the most important things you should develop in a liberal arts education (and, incidentally, is the skill most valued by employers). All students are expected to regularly contribute their ideas and insights to the class as a whole and defend the positions that they take. Class discussions provide an excellent forum for clearing up concepts or facts that students find unclear, for exploring different theoretical perspectives, and for broadening one's understanding of the material. Discussions have the added benefit of providing students a no-risk chance to practice their speaking skills. Because discussion is so important, all participants are required to complete the reading assignments before class. Students who are uncomfortable talking in front of others should seek an alternative assignment for their participation grade within the first week of class.


Go to on-line discussions

I have established a web-based on-line message system for this course. In your first submission I would like you to write a couple of paragraphs introducing yourself. In subsequent postings you will be assigned to a specific team (Red, White, or Blue) that will have specific assigned days for posting. These days are indicated on the class schedule. You should post BEFORE CLASS on the day indicated, even if the topics have shifted. On this day you will have an explicit posting responsibility. Any follow-up postings should also be submitted by the end of that day. You should look over the other messages and post a comment and reaction to the other postings as well as to the readings and class activities. One portion of your grade will be based on how thoughtfully you build upon the contributions of other participants. You may post your initial message as far in advance as you want, within reason.

You should be reading every message every day, even on days you have not been assigned to post. The idea is for the discussion board to function as an ongoing study session and review. Since I will frequently make reference in class to specific postings it will also help you to understand class lectures and other exercises. I will take close repetition of previous postings as evidence that you have not properly thought about what other class members are saying. You are encouraged to chime in whenever you want, even if it is not your assigned day. Postings are due even on days when class is cancelled, when you have other assignments, or you have an excused absence.

Strive for sophistication in your postings. Your initial message about each topic should be at least a paragraph in length. Think before you submit. Once a message is sent it may not be possible to edit out the mistakes. In general the initial message will need to have the following components, though not necessarily in this order:

  1. Comments and reactions to the assigned topic or primary source.
  2. At least one specific, analytical, and critical comment evaluating the opinions stated by another participant.
  3. A comment on how the document or topic relates to issues or events covered elsewhere in the course, or to the overall course themes.

On-line Manners

Do not steer away from controversy. These topics have been selected in part because they raise difficult questions with strong emotional implications. If we did not care about them they would be scarcely worth talking about. Being able to argue a passionate point intellectually and analytically is one of the most important skills you can learn at Furman. The only ground rule is that messages should follow the rules of civilized academic discussion. Never submit anything you would not want me, the department chair, or Dr. Shi to read (whether it is fit for your parents I'll leave for you to decide). You may attack any flawed idea but never the person who uttered the statement. Likewise, it is okay to say that you are bothered or offended by something that someone says in a message, but direct your responses to the substance of the comment rather than to the admittedly flawed character of the author. Be alert that irony, sarcasm, and role-playing don't translate well into messages. In short, tact and discretion are essential. So are vigorous dissent and wise verbal defense.

Disclaimer and Technical Advice

This is network software whose reliability is not 100 percent guaranteed. Be patient. The system may take a minute or two to respond to your submissions, depending on how many previous messages there are and how busy the Furman network is. . Let me know if you have problems.