HIST S116 - The American Revolution
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Instructor: Michael A. Blaakman
Summer 2016 – Session A
In America’s popular imagination, the American Revolution can seem terribly sanitized, even
quaint. A group of wrongfully oppressed North American colonists—most of them elite, white,
and male—become Patriots by standing up for their rights; their revolutionary cause requires
prolonged effort and sacrifice, but the happy ending of their noble struggle—mostly political,
rather than violent—seems somehow foreordained. Today we strive to live up to their example.
This course investigates every aspect of that story, and I hope that by the end of the summer you’ll
leave thinking differently about all of it. The course presents an introduction to the American
Revolution that uses ordinary people’s perspectives and stories as our point of entrée. During our
five weeks together, we’ll explore the American Revolution “from below,” focusing on the
choices and experiences of the diverse peoples whose lives intersected with the United States’
struggle for independence. We will trace the dynamism and upheavals, the violence and anxiety,
the ideals and the tragedies of the Revolution from many perspectives: female and male, black and
white and Indian, free and enslaved, American and British, Loyalist and Patriot.
You need not have done prior coursework on the American Revolution; short lectures will provide
a basic narrative of the period. In readings and discussions—as well as through art, archives, and
film—we’ll hone in on the stories of ordinary people, parsing primary sources and historians’
interpretations as we work through the course’s two overriding questions: How revolutionary was
the American Revolution? and Whose revolution was it?
In discussion questions, a short paper, and an in-class midterm, you’ll flex your writing muscles
and sharpen your ability to analyze primary sources and to synthesize and critique other historians’
arguments about the past. And throughout the course, you’ll use Yale’s magnificent archival
resources to craft a short primary research paper about a topic of your own choosing. We’ll work
together through the stages of that process, including selecting a topic and a question, finding and
interpreting primary sources, building an overarching historical argument, and writing
persuasively and elegantly.
COURSE REQUIREMENTS AND EVALUATION
On five occasions of your choosing throughout the summer, submit two or three discussion
questions about the readings by midnight before the class meeting in which we will discuss
them. Your questions will help to structure our discussions. Email your questions to
Follow-the-footnote paper (2-3pp.)
Due on a date of your choosing. You will choose when to submit this paper, based on your
own individual reactions to the secondary readings. When a historian makes a claim that
gives you pause or makes you wonder, follow the footnote! Find the primary source in the
Yale library or via an online database. Unless it’s a manuscript source in a distant archive,
you should be able to find it. Feel free to ask me for help. Once you’ve located the primary
source, photocopy it, read it, and write a two- to three-page paper evaluating how the
historian uses it. What aspects of the document do they focus on? What’s left out? Do you
think the source supports the scholar’s argument, or not so much? Why or why not? What
other historical arguments could the document be used support? (Consider either divergent
answers to the same question, or answers to other questions—and say what those questions
might be). Submit a copy of the primary document with your paper. I strongly encourage
you not to leave this assignment until the end of the summer.
An open-book, in-class essay.
Primary research paper (10-12pp.)
You will use Yale’s amazing library and archival collections to locate a primary source (or
a set of primary sources) that interests you, and make it the basis of a short primary
research paper. You will pose a question about the source, build an analytical argument
that answers your question, and situate that argument within our broader conversations
about the American Revolution this summer. Your topic might lead you to do a bit of
further reading in order to contextualize your sources, question, and argument. But this
paper differs from a full-blown research paper in that you are not required to intervene in a
specialized scholarly debate; for the purposes of this assignment, I’m more interested in
seeing you deeply engage with and imaginatively write about the remnants of the past. At
our last course meeting, you’ll share your findings in a short presentation. I will be
available to guide and support you through all stages of this process.
5% (pass/fail, due Friday #2)
10% (pass/fail, due Friday #4)
30% (graded, due Friday #5)
Participation and attendance. Informed and engaged discussion will be at the core of our
work together. You should therefore come to class having completed and thought about
the readings. The quality of your participation in class discussions can raise or lower your
overall course grade by 1/3 of a letter (i.e., from a B+ up to an A- or down to a B). Because
attendance is so crucial during our foreshortened summer schedule, each absence will
lower your overall course grade by 1/3 of a letter.
Late work. Assignments are due at the beginning of class. Work submitted less than 24
hours late will be penalized by a full letter grade; work submitted between 24 and 48 hours
past the deadline will be penalized by two full letter grades; and so on.
NOTE: READINGS STILL SUBJECT TO MINOR CHANGES
Final syllabus will be posted in early April
Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-1782 (Hill and
Woody Holton, ed., Black Americans in the Revolutionary Era: A Brief History with
Documents (Bedford–St. Martin’s, 2009).
Jill Lepore, The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over
American History (Princeton University Press, 2011).
Thomas Paine, Common Sense (Penguin, 1982 [orig. 1776]).
Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael, eds., Revolutionary Founders: Rebels,
Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation (Knopf, 2011).
All other readings will be available in a coursepack available for purchase at Tyco.
Reading assignments in that packet are marked with this thingy: §
NOTE: READINGS STILL SUBJECT TO MINOR CHANGES
Final syllabus will be posted in early April
(Introductions and) Empire
Black Americans in the Revolutionary Era, chapter 1.
Billy G. Smith, “Inequality in Late Colonial Philadelphia: A Note on
its Nature and Growth,” William and Mary Quarterly 41 (1984):
Rhys Isaac, “Evangelical Revolt: The Nature of the Baptists’
Challenge to the Traditional Order in Virginia, 1765 to 1775,”
William and Mary Quarterly 31 (1974): 345-368.
Woody Holton, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the
Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (University of North
Carolina Press, 1999), chapter 1: “Land Speculators versus Indians
and the Privy Council,” 3-38.
T. H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer
Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119
Serena Zabin, “Women and the Boston Massacre,” in Women in the
American Revolution (University of Virginia Press, 2016).
Yale Manuscripts and Archives Session
Jesse Lemisch, “Jack Tar in the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the
Politics of Revolutionary America,” William and Mary Quarterly 25
Pauline Maier, “Popular Uprisings and Civil Society in EighteenthCentury America,” William and Mary Quarterly 27 (1970): 3-35.
Revolutionary Founders, chapters 2-4:
o Ray Raphael, “Blacksmith Timothy Bigelow and the
Massachusetts Revolution of 1774,” 35-52.
o T. H. Breen, “Samuel Thompson’s War: The Career of an
American Insurgent,” 53-66.
o Gary B. Nash, “Philadelphia’s Radical Caucus that Propelled
Pennsylvania to Independence and Democracy,” 67-86.
Paine, Common Sense
Essays by “Plain Truth”
Steven Pincus, “1776: The Revolt Against Austerity,” NYR Daily
à DUE: 1-pg. proposal for primary research paper
Film Screening: Mary Silliman’s War (1994)
Primary sources on the experiences of the Loyalists (TBD)
Revolutionary Founders, chapters 9, 11, and 12:
o Cassandra Pybus, “Mary Perth, Harry Washington, and Moses
Wilkinson: Black Methodists Who Escaped from Slavery and
Founded a Nation,” 155-168.
o Colin G. Calloway, “Declaring Independence and Rebuilding a
Nation: Dragging Canoe and the Chickamauga Revolution,”
o James Kirby Martin, “Forgotten Heroes of the Revolution:
Han Yerry and Tyona Doxtader of the Oneida Indian Nation,”
Managing and Fighting
Black Americans in the Revolutionary Era, chap. 2
Jake Ruddiman, “‘A Record in the Hands of Thousands’: Power and
Negotiation in the Orderly Books of the Continental Army,” William
& Mary Quarterly 67 (2010): 747-774.
Primary sources on mobilization in revolutionary Virginia:
o Excerpts from “An Act for Speedily recruiting the Quota of
this State for the Continental Army,” May 1780.
o Charlotte County petition, May 26, 1780.
o Excerpts from the Pension Application of Edwin Hull.
o Theodorick Bland, Sr. to Theodorick Bland, Jr., Oct. 21, 1780.
o Excerpts from “An Act for Recruiting this State’s Quota of
Troops to Serve in the Continental Army,” Oct. 1780.
o Berkeley County petition, November 18, 1780.
o Joseph Jones to James Madison, Nov. 18 and Dec. 8, 1780.
o Theodorick Bland, Sr. to Theodorick Bland, Jr., Jan. 8, 1781.
o Thomas Gaskins to Jefferson, Feb 23 and March 17, 1781.
o George Skillern to Jefferson, April 14, 1781.
MIDTERM, followed by visit to Yale University Art Gallery
Fighting and Managing
Fenn, Pox Americana.
à Primary research paper check-in meetings with instructor
Woody Holton, “Did Democracy Cause the Recession that Led to
the Constitution?” Journal of American History 92 (September
James Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United
States,” April 1787.
Excerpt from Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women
and Politics in the Early American Republic (University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
Revolutionary Founders, chapters 13 and 17:
o Gregory Nobles, “‘Satan Smith, Shattuck, and Shays’: The
People’s Leaders in the Massachusetts Regulation of 1786,”
o Sheila Skemp, “America’s Mary Wollstonecraft Judith Sargent
Murray’s Case for the Equal Rights of Women,” 289-304.
Revolutionary Founders, chapters 15, 18, and 19:
o Wythe Holt, “The New Jerusalem: Herman Husband’s
Egalitarian Alternative to the United States Constitution,” 253272.
o Richard S. Newman, “Prince Hall, Richard Allen, and Daniel
Coker: Revolutionary Black Founders, Revolutionary Black
o Melvin Patrick Ely, “Richard and Judith Randolph, St. George
Tucker, George Wythe, Syphax Brown, and Hercules White:
Racial Equality and the Snares of Prejudice,” 323-336.
Black Americans in the Revolutionary Era, chapter 3.
à DUE: 10-pg. rough drafts of primary research papers
Max Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the
U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State (Oxford
University Press, 2003), chapter 13: “A Government for Free,” 191205.
Terry Bouton, “A Road Closed: Rural Insurgency in PostIndependence Pennsylvania,” Journal of American History 87
Primary sources on the Whiskey Rebellion:
o Excise Act (excerpts), 1791.
o Cartoon: “An Exciseman,” 1792.
o Hamilton to Washington, August 2, 1794.
o Carlisle Gazette, August 20, 1794, or Pittsburgh Gazette,
September 6, 1794.
o Report of the Commissioners sent to Western Pennsylvania,
September 24, 1794.
Revolutionary Founders, chapter 22: Alan Taylor, “The PloughJogger: Jedediah Peck and the Democratic Revolution,” 375-388.
Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes.
Gordon S. Wood, “No Thanks for the Memories,” a review of
Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes, New York Review of Books,
January 13, 2011.
In-Class Research Presentations
à DUE: final 10- to 12-pg. primary research papers
A NOTE ON PLAGIARISM
Plagiarism undermines the integrity of an intellectual community. I expect you to know the
definition and varieties of plagiarism, to properly cite all phrasing and ideas that are not your own,
and to submit only your own work. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. For more
Image credit: Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C. (c. 1859).
Original at the New-York Historical Society.