Against the backdrop of increasing tensions over slavery, Abraham Lincoln posed the question in 1855 of whether the United States could “as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave and half free.” The answer came in 1861, when war broke out between the federal government at Washington and the newly seceded Confederacy. The American Civil War and the period of Reconstruction that followed are often regarded by historians as a “Second American Revolution”: together they constitute one of the most dramatic social upheavals of the nineteenth century world, and their outcome established the foundations upon which the modern United States would be built. Making use of a range of primary sources and some of the best recent scholarship in the vibrant field of Civil War & Reconstruction historiography, we will approach the events through close examination of four specific historical problems: 1) Sectionalism and the Causes of War; 2) Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party and Black Freedom; 3) Slavery & Grand Strategy, North and South; and 4) Reconstruction & the Limits of Emancipation.
This module aims to provide you with a comprehensive and detailed understanding of one of the most critical periods in American history. For each problem, we will make use of a selection of secondary readings, primary source materials, and interpretive essays. In particular, we will be making extensive use of primary materials—from government and military documents to public speeches and newspaper editorials, diary entries and broadsides, private correspondence, sermons, courtroom and other oral testimony. But in order to make sense of these materials, it will be necessary that you devote a considerable effort to becoming familiar with the chronology of and major themes arising in the period under discussion, and that you develop a sense of how historians have agreed and disagreed in interpreting these issues. Much of your time will therefore be spent acquainting yourself with the very substantial secondary literature in the field.
Most of your learning in this module will take place outside the classroom—in your reading of the secondary literature from week to week; in individual or group discussions of primary materials, and in working together with your classmates on essays. We have scheduled a weekly seminar, and these meetings will take various forms over the course of the semester: in introducing a problem, the seminar will be introduced by a short lecture intended to lay the groundwork for work in primary sources and secondary literature. We will make frequent use of film and video, and will devote considerable effort to learning how to work with gobbets, or primary source extracts. Occasionally I will assign a group of gobbets related to the secondary readings which you will be expected to analyse in a written commentary. These will count toward the seminar contribution element of your final mark.
Your final mark will be based on three criteria:
Ten percent (10%) will be based on your seminar contribution as measured by your informed participation from week to week.
Ten precent (10%) will be based on written work submitted and presented to the seminar.
Thirty percent (30%) will be based on your mark for an assigned essay due in Week Ten.
Fifty percent (50%) on a two-hour examination paper in which you will comment on 5 of 15 gobbets from selected documents.