How to write a thesis statement: Use this list to check your work.

How to write a thesis statement: Use this list to check your work.

Course Schedule

Before beginning read pages 1-5 of this textbook and the Final Exam


Due Date



I. 1870s

to ca. 1900

R, 6/21*

Assign m ent 1

Discussion 1

M, 6/25

Assignment 2

Discussion 2

II. ca. 1900

to 1929

R, 6/28

Assignment 3

Discussion 3

M, 7/2

Assignment 4

Discussion 4

III. 1929

to 1945

R, 7/5

Assignment 5

Discussion 5

M, 7/9

Assignment 6

Discussion 6

IV. 1945

to ca. 1970


Assignment 7

Discussion 7

M, 7/16

Assignment 8

Discussion 8

V. ca. 1970

to present

R, 7/19

Assignment 9

Discussion 9

M, 7/23

Assignment 10

Discussion 10

R, 7/26

Discussion 11

T, 7/31

Final Exam Due on Canvas by 11:59 pm

*You are required to submit one assigned task during the first week to remain enrolled in the class.

If you fail to do so, you will be withdrawn. If withdraw, re-enrollment will not be allowed.

PROLOGUE ESSAY: The essay below explains the general philosophy behind this class. You should read it carefully and be sure that you understand the nature of the class.

M.J. Smith, On Creating a Usable Past.

There’s an adage about history, that it’s just one damn thing after another. Lots of people think that history is a linear narrative of persons, places, events, and the like, the ‘knowing’ of which makes someone an expert in history. Historians, many believe, have a vast, encyclopedic knowledge of the past that they convey to students who are expected to ‘learn’ that information. But, as the philosopher of history R.G. Collingwood said in 1946, “Nothing capable of being memorized is history.” For our purposes, history is not a collection of information or “knowledge” about the past, but an intellectual tool that has value only to the extent that it is usable.

As with any tool, history requires a set of skills to be applied properly and effectively. In the words of the American Historical Association, history involves “the study of the human past as it is constructed and interpreted with human artifacts, written evidence, and oral traditions. It requires empathy for historical actors, respect for interpretive debate, and the skillful use of an evolving set of practices and tools.” In this class, you will be given the opportunity to develop those skills, methods, and habits of mind that will help you make use of the intellectual process, or discipline, that is history.

From its original Greek, the word history means to inquire. Writing in 1931, historian Carl Becker wrote that history is “an imaginative creation.” It is born in the mind, and it requires that we develop what Lendol Calder described in 2016 as “disciplined process of problem solving and supported by evidence.” The skills of historical inquiry can be used to solve problems, address issues, and develop ideas in your daily life. If done properly, you will be able to construct interpretations supported by evidence within a historical context.

In addition to the tools of inquiry, the course also calls for the development of empathy or historical perspective. As you study the experiences of people in the past you will need to understand them on their own terms, born of the historical context in which they lived. You should develop this ability to empathize with the people in the past not for their benefit, but for yours. Connecting with the people of the past helps you understand your place in the present. It gives you examples, experiences, and exemplars of how others have dealt with problems and took advantage of opportunities.

Thus, to create a usable past you need to develop skills: The ability to use evidence and reasoning to come to meaningful conclusions about historical problems. The ability to express understanding of the historical contexts from which the evidence is drawn. The ability to apply empathy to the people of the past. The ability to use the past to address contemporary issues.

At the end of the course, if you can do these things well, you will have a broader and stronger set of thinking skills. You will think more critically and effectively. You will have gone a long way toward creating a usable past. This will help you in all walks of life; it will make you a better citizen, family member, worker, and leader.


GUIDELINES FOR CHARACTERIZING CONTEXT. Making use of the past begins with understanding the context in which historical events, people, movements, ideas, institutions, cultures, etc. are positioned. Explaining historical context requires a clear statement of the broad nature and general contours of the period in question. This is its character and should encompass the entire period.

Learning Outcome addressed: Express Understanding of Historical Context.

How to Characterize Historical Context:

· 1. Write a two to four sentence statement that identifies and fully encompasses the period in question.

· 2. Express the nature and contours of the overall period. Don’t focus on one aspect.

· 3. Be scholarly, coherent, and show proper writing mechanics. Write in third person.

Exceeds Satisfactory:

· 4. Show complexity or thoughtfulness. Clearly suggest the distinctiveness of this period.

Example of a Characterization: The formative period for the United States began in antiquity and continued through the mid-1700s as the population and “American” culture took shape. Over this period indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans came to occupy the region that would become the United States. While Europeans were the dominant culture in the region, African slaves provided important and lasting elements of American life. The development of American culture and society in this period, a sense of American identity, was a necessary precursor for the movement for political independence that followed.

GUIDELINES FOR DESCRIBING FEATURES. You should be able to identify the most significant features of the period, those with the biggest impact. These are most impactful features, rather than specific details. Typically, there are five to seven such features.

Learning Outcome addressed: Express Understanding of Historical Context.

How to Describe the Most Significant Features: Use this list to check your work.

· 1. Describe the historical features of the period that had a broad impact, in two or three sentences each.

· 2. Be scholarly, coherent, and show proper writing mechanics. Write in third person.

Exceeds Satisfactory:

· 3. Show a sense of judgment about what is significant; don’t include unnecessary specifics or details.

Example of a Statement on a Significant Feature*: Development of the American colonies relied heavily on the use of indentured servitude and slave labor. Both added significant social and cultural elements to the country. But while slavery was a violent forced migration of Africans, indentured servants were mostly white Europeans.

*There are typically five to seven of these for each period.


Paragraphs and essays must begin with a concise statement that expresses your argument, interpretation, or claim about the issue in question. If it is clearly a factual statement, it is not a thesis. The thesis is what gives your work coherence, or holds it together. It is the controlling idea for the body of the work that follows. Without a thesis or with a weak thesis, the work is out of control; it is a ramble or a list. The thesis should be clear, focused, and complex. See the example below for a thesis for a paragraph.

Learning Outcome Addressed: (2) Develop and express a historical interpretation in a thesis.

How to write a thesis statement: Use this list to check your work.

· 1. Write a two to four original sentences thesis. Avoid using the terms of the question.

· 2. Identify the historical period in question within the thesis.

· 3. Focus fully and directly on the issue in question as reflected in the sources.

· 4. Be scholarly, coherent, and show proper writing mechanics. Write in third person.

Exceeds Satisfactory:

· 5. Be complex; address more than one aspect of the issue or idea. Reflect all of the sources.

· 6. Be thoughtful or insightful, rather than conventional, basic, or bland.

Example of a Thesis Statement:

Immigrants from Europe and Asia in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries faced derision and bigotry from the those who saw them as an economic and cultural threat. These new immigrants confronted the discrimination through activism and adaptation while maintaining their cultural heritage. They formed close-knit communities that helped them cope with life in their new homeland while providing a means to organize and advocate for their needs. While preserving their cultural heritage benefitted the immigrants, it fueled suspicion and distrust among the pre-existing population.


Paragraphs should be developed with evidence in the form of primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources are the accounts produced by historians or other scholars, generally long after the events have taken place. Primary sources are original letters, photographs, works of art, interviews, printed accounts, official records, statistics, or other material produced at the time to which they refer or by those who witnessed the events of the time. You must clearly identify the sources you use as part of a sentence, integrated within your own prose, as shown in bold face in the example paragraph below. Short quotations from sources, integrated carefully within your own sentences, make for good writing.

Learning Outcome Addressed: (3) Support the thesis with evidence.

How to use evidence: Use this list to check your work.

· 1. Write a point of two to four sentences.

· 2. Identify the source as part of a sentence.

· 3. Clearly support the thesis.

· 4. Cite sources in boldface by author, time reference, and type.

· 5. Incorporate at least one quotation from a primary source, not more than 15 words.

· 6. Be scholarly, coherent, and show proper writing mechanics. Write in third person.

Exceeds Satisfactory:

· 7. Fully develop the point without going over four sentences.

· 8. Uses the source and quotations very effectively to provide strong support for the thesis.

Example of a Point of Evidence:

In a 1902 magazine article, a Polish Jew named Sadie Frowne demonstrated her resolve to be a part of the American nation. Frowne recalled her arrival in America, the hardships of the voyage, and the joy she felt upon seeing the “Goddess of Liberty.” She lived in Jewish neighborhood in New York, but worked in the wider community where she had to fit in. She notes that she “can read quite well in English now and I look at the newspapers every day,” demonstrating her willingness to assimilate to her new nation.

GUIDELINES FOR DISCUSSION PARTICIPATION: Over the term you will discuss the experiences of people in the past. You should make direct reference to the source or sources by author, use some of the words from the sources, place the people in their historical context, and show understanding of the lived experiences of the people in the sources. Unlike other work in this class, discussion comments may be written in first person.

Learning Outcome addressed: (4) Show historical perspective or empathy.

Historical Perspective/Empathy:

By developing an appreciation of how others see, and saw, the world, we gain range, depth, and openness in our thinking. This is empathy, and it means to understand people in the past on the terms that come from the conditions in which they lived. You should be able to explain the lived experiences, decisions, and actions of people in a specific historical and social context. And you should be able to demonstrate understanding of how people in the past thought, felt, made decisions, acted, and faced consequences.

Empathy doesn’t mean sympathy; you don’t have to agree with historical actors. It means that you understand “where they are coming from” even if you find their ideas, words, and actions repugnant. As the writer Sisonke Msimang said recently, “We can’t afford to ignore the protagonists we don’t like.” The past includes many stories, and we can’t accept only those that confirm our world view. In the words of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

In 1964, the great American writer James Baldwin said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was [writers of the past] who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.” Baldwin’s message applies clearly to reading history and the stories of the past. When we read the stories of people in the past we can see what they faced and home they coped. This is empathy.

How to Participate in Discussions: Use this list to check your work.

· 1. Post a coherent original comment of about 150 words for each discussion by the due date.

· 2. Show historical perspective or empathy as explained above.

· 3. Post thoughtful responses to two classmates’ posts in each discussion within a day or two of the due date.

Exceeds Satisfactory

· 4. Participate significantly more than required.

Example of a one-paragraph informal comment for discussion:

Immigrants had a difficult time when they came to America. I can see that both Chinese and Jewish immigrants faced discrimination even though they came here to have a better life. Mary Tape just wanted to send her kids to good schools, but when she did they were “hated.” And Jews came from Russia but said “they were safer from assault and insult in that country than they are on the streets of Chicago.” Maybe it was because they were both seen as “different” than the white, Anglo, Christian Americans who were already in America. Both groups probably set themselves apart from society by living in neighborhoods where there were others like them. I can see that in the article by Jacob Riis. He showed how New York was divided up into these little communities of immigrants. That was probably more comfortable for them and gave them access to things that they might not find outside their own community, so it was understandable. Maybe that’s true for all of the United States at that time.

Example of an informal reply to a classmate:

You said in your post that immigrants should “mix-in” with the American community. My own grandparents came from Italy and had to make serious adjustments to life in America. They lived in the Italian neighborhood that helped them adjust. Maybe that’s why some people resented the immigrants; they were seen as different or people who set themselves apart from the “Americans.”

Part I (1870s to ca. 1900)

ASSIGNMENT 1: Answer the questions outside of Canvas. Save your responses. Submit on Canvas before the deadline on the Class Sc h edule.

1a. Write a statement characterizing this period based on the essay by Richard White below. Follow closely the Guidelines for Characterizing Context.

1b. Identify the five to seven most significant features of the period, based on White’s essay. Follow closely the Guidelines for Describing Features.

● Richard White. “The Rise of Industrial America, 1877-1900.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 49 W. 45th Street, 6th Floor · NYC, NY 10036 (646) 366-9666 © 2009–2014 All Rights Reserved. []

When in 1873 Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner entitled their co-authored novel The Gilded Age, they gave the late nineteenth century its popular name. The term reflected the combination of outward wealth and dazzle with inner corruption and poverty. Given the period’s absence of powerful and charismatic presidents, its lack of a dominant central event, and its sometimes tawdry history, historians have often defined the period by negatives. They stress greed, scandals, and corruption of the Gilded Age.

Twain and Warner were not wrong about the era’s corruption, but the years between 1877 and 1900 were also some of the most momentous and dynamic in American history. They set in motion developments that would shape the country for generations—the reunification of the South and North, the integration of four million newly freed African Americans, westward expansion, immigration, industrialization, urbanization. It was also a period of reform, in which many Americans sought to regulate corporations and shape the changes taking place all around them.

The End of Reconstruction

Reforms in the South seemed unlikely in 1877 when Congress resolved the previous autumn’s disputed presidential election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes on the backs of the nation’s freed blacks. A compromise gave Hayes the presidency in return for the end of Reconstruction and the removal of federal military support for the remaining biracial Republican governments that had emerged in the former Confederacy. With that agreement, Congress abandoned one of the greatest reforms in American history: the attempt to incorporate ex-slaves into the republic with all the rights and privileges of citizens.

The United States thus accepted a developing system of repression and segregation in the South that would take the name Jim Crow and persist for nearly a century. The freed people in the South found their choices largely confined to sharecropping and low-paying wage labor, especially as domestic servants. Although attempts at interracial politics would prove briefly successful in Virginia and North Carolina, African American efforts to preserve the citizenship and rights promised to black men in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution failed.
How to write a thesis statement: Use this list to check your work.