History 785.03 - Readings in Early American History - The Civil War Era

Prof. Mark Grimsley
Autumn Quarter 2005

This syllabus will be updated periodically throughout the quarter.

Most recent revision: Thursday, September 22

The course has three main purposes:

1. preparation for the PhD general examination;

2. exploration of the issues involved in history written for the specialist and history written for the layperson;

3. a writing workshop in which to practice effective writing for a non-specialist audience.


All students must be officially enrolled in the course by the end of the second full week of the quarter. No requests to add the course will be approved by the department chair after that time. Enrolling officially and on time is solely the responsibility of each student.


Written Assignments [700 points apportioned as follows:]

One book review of 800-1,000 words. Each review will consist of a holistic summary of the book's thesis and argument (about 60 percent of the word count), and an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, significance and significance (about 40 percent). The book review must conform to the guidelines of a scholarly journal; e.g., Journal of American History [200 points]

An effective one-page query letter. [100 points]

An effective article introduction. [100 points]

A 3,500-word article on a topic to be mutually agreed upon between the student and instructor. [300 points]

Papers are due in class on the date specified. Late papers will be penalized a full letter grade for each day they are overdue.

Class Participation [300 points]

Each week, one student will be responsible for leading the discussion. It is expected that she will come prepared with a) a thorough grasp of the book under review; b) background information on the author; c) familiarity with the book's critical reception; d) a sense of the book's relationship to works already discussed; and e) two or three provocative, open-ended questions to launch the discussion and a strategy for guiding the discussion in the most fruitful directions.

Please bear in mind that discussion leaders are not expected to present a report to the group, but rather to serve as "resource persons" to strengthen the discussion. It is the responsibility of every one in the class to be thoroughly prepared and engaged.

Background Reading (Required):
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
by James M. McPherson
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345359429 
Background Reading (Recommended)
Writing the Civil War : The Quest to Understand by James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper (Editors)
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
ISBN: 1570033897
Required Readings:
Storm Over Texas:  The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War
by Joel H. Silbey
Publisher:  Oxford University Press, 2005.
ISBN:  0195139445 (hardbound)
America in 1857:  A Nation on the Brink
by Kenneth M. Stampp
Publisher:  Oxford University Press, 1992
ISBN: 0195074815
Harriet Tubman:  The Road to Freedom
by Catherine Clinton
Publisher:  Back Bay
ISBN:  0316155942
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
by James M. McPherson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0195124995 
In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863
by Edward Ayers
Publisher:  W.W. Norton
ISBN:  0393326012

The Confederate War
by Gary W. Gallagher
Publisher: Harvard Univ Press
ISBN: 0674160568
The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (Vintage Civil War Library)
by Charles Royster
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 0679738789
April 1865:  The Month That Saved America
by Jay Winik
Publisher:  Harper Perennial
ISBN:  0060930888

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
by David W. Blight
Publisher: Belknap Press
ISBN: 0674008197

Class Schedule

Wednesday, September 21. Organizational; administrative


Monday, September 26. The Professional Historian and Popular History

(Note: These readings will be distributed at our first class meeting.)

James M. McPherson, "What's the Matter with History?" in McPherson, Drawn with the Sword: Rleflections on the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 231-253.

Leon F. Litwack, "Telling the Story: The Historian, The Filmmaker, and the Civil War," in Robert Brent Toplin, ed. Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 119-140.

Geoffrey C. Ward, "Refighting the Civil War," in Robert Brent Toplin, ed. Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 141-152.

Supplemental: Mark Grimsley, "The Professional Historian and Popular History," in Herman Hattaway and Ethan S. Rafuse, eds. The Ongoing Civil War: New Versions of Old Stories (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), 13-25.

Wednesday, September 28. The Origins of the Civil War - I.

Silbey, Storm Over Texas.


Monday, October 3. The Origins of the Civil War - II.

Stampp, America in 1857.

Wednesday, October 5. Colloquium; Cracking the Market

First Hour: Colloquium with Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice, winner of the 2004 National Book Award for non-fiction.

Second Hour: "Before Your First Sale," "Popular Magazines," and "Query Letter Clinic," from Kathryn S. Brogan and Robert Lee Brewer, eds. Writer's Market 2005 (Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004).


Monday, October 10. History and Biography

Clinton, Harriet Tubman.

Wednesday, October 12. Workshop: Reviewing Books for Academic and General Audiences


Monday, October 17. The Motivations of Civil War Soldiers

McPherson, For Cause and Comrades.

Supplemental: Mark Grimsley, "In Not So Dubious Battle: The Motivations of Civil War Soldiers", Journal of Military History 62, no. 1 (January 1998), 175-188. [You will need J-STOR to access this article online.]

Wednesday, October 19. Query Letters Due; Discussion of Query Letters


Monday, October 24. The Community Study

Ayers, In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Required browsing: Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the Civil War Era (web site)

Class participation assignment: Please bring to class a non-scholarly historical article you particularly admire. Bring enough photocopies for the class.

Wednesday, October 26. Book Reviews Due; Effective Article Introductions

Discussion of articles distributed in the previous class.


Monday, October 31. Explaining Victory and Defeat

Gallagher, The Confederate War.

Wednesday, November 2. No class.


Monday, November 7. A Destructive War

Royster, The Destructive War

(Note: Historian Michael Fellman will be a guest speaker at this meeting.)

Wednesday, November 9. Article Introductions Due; in-class critiques


Monday, November 14. The End of the Confederacy

Winik, April 1865

Wednesday, November 16. No class.


Monday, November 21. Remembering the War

Blight, Race and Reunion.

Wednesday, November 23. No class

WEEK 10.

Monday, November 28. Discussion of articles in progress

Wednesday, November 30. Discussion of articles in progress

Article Drafts Due, close of business on Wednesday, December 7

Graduate Reading List in Pre-1877 American History (Microsoft Word document)

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