Department of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Social Sciences

Choate Rosemary Hall

Wallingford, Connecticut

History 310


Mr. Ned Gallagher


Goals of History 310

     History 310 is an exploration of the history and culture of the United States and the various people who have called themselves Americans in the last four centuries.

     History is, by definition, a personal reckoning with the past.

Course credo #1:
There is no certain truth about history.

Students sometimes find this statement difficult to understand. Yet history is a dynamic discipline; our perspectives on the past are constantly changing, yet forever woefully incomplete. As historians we are fundamentally limited by one simple circumstance: we weren't there. We really can't say we know what happened, say, on Lexington Green in 1775, simply because we were not present to observe events for ourselves. We inevitably are dependent upon the observations of others, and therefore we always must be careful of the biases and limitations of their vantage points, as well as our own. The very uncertainty about history makes it a challenging and stimulating, if often frustrating discipline. We will consider historiography--the study of the study of history, if you will--regularly as the course progresses.

Propositional Knowledge ("Content"): History 310 is a survey of United States history from the earliest explorations of the North American continent by Europeans through the early 21st century. It investigates the following dimensions of historical understanding--definitions which you should remember:

Moreover, because this course aspires to be truly interdisciplinary, we are especially concerned with examining how American history both shaped and was reflected in its culture--in the nation's literature, art, film, and music, in particular.

Methodological Knowledge ("Skills"): This course represents an intensive effort to explore the historical legacies of this Republic and its peoples. The primary aim of the course is not merely to accumulate knowledge of American history, in the sense of learning a narrative of events. Knowledge of people, places, ideas, and happenings will be an important part of our undertaking, but only a part. What we are seeking is to begin to understand the nature of American society and how and why historical change took place in this nation. In order to achieve such an understanding, we also must seek to develop certain intellectual skills of reading, researching, thinking, writing, listening, and oral articulation to enable us to go about this, or any other, analytical task. The course, then, as a year-long undertaking, has two primary aims:

The course is designed with these aims in mind to be a coöperative learning experience in appreciating and understanding the rich tapestry of American history. Needless to say, no such understanding can be taught by someone else; it can only be learned for oneself.

Daily Preparation

Assigned Reading: This is the main input of factual material, as well as various interpretations and analyses of that material. Clearly you cannot learn much in the classroom without doing the reading first. Much of our discussion in class will be conducted by the Socratic method; that is, you will complete certain assignments and will be expected to answer questions based on them. It is therefore important that you learn how to understand the material before you come to class. Looking at it another way, we will not have enough time in class to cover all the things that might appear on tests, so you had better learn them by yourself.

Course credo #2:
I hear, and I forget;
I see, and I remember;
I do, and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

Like athletes in training, young scholars must be sure they are properly nourished. As the reading you do for this course will be your primary "food for thought," you should pay close attention to how this nourishment is being ingested. You may find--like the decathlete weaned on junk food--that easy shortcuts will undermine your efforts when the moment of truth arrives. Assigned reading will provide focal points for daily discussion. I will try to give you pointers in advance of what to look for in the reading to enable you to get more out of it. Get into the habit of reading the syllabus carefully each night before you begin the assignment.

Classroom Work

Lectures: This method will be used sparingly, as generally it removes the burden of active learning from the student, emphasizing a more passive role instead. Because, however, much of the information in the course will be new to you, I will provide background information when relevant to highlight material and to fill in gaps left by the reading. For the most part, however, I will "lecture" only in the sense of guiding class discussion.

Discussions: The core of the course consists of the Socratic discussions in class, in which we will explore the reading and the topic(s) at hand. Productive discussions are frequently contradictory and ambiguous, producing different perspectives to chew on rather than kernels of truth to swallow whole. Asking seemingly stupid questions may well be a way of overcoming confusion and beginning to understand. Each person will be expected to come to his or her own understanding of the processes involved. Such activity is not without a considerable degree of intellectual risk, but it is hoped that in the discussions you will be willing to take such risks for the very real intellectual gains which will accrue both to you and to the group as a whole.
     Since the main learning in the course comes from the reading and discussions, you should attend class and be prepared to discuss the reading. If you do neither, do not be surprised to feel you are learning little, wasting your time, or receiving a poor or failing grade, for you are not--in any meaningful sense--taking the course. You cannot learn much simply by writing the papers and taking the exams. Nor can you pass the course; final grades will be based on a combination of class and written work.

Oral Presentations: There will be regular opportunities in this course to share your ideas about the subject matter with the rest of the class on a more formal basis. While academia emphasizes the written word, most "real world" situations are centered on oral/aural interaction; hence the emphasis on developing skills in face-to-face communication. Debates, reports, role playing, and other activities will be evaluated in a manner similar to the grading of written work.

Written Work

     It is in your writing that you have the chance to work out your ideas most rigorously and to communicate these to others. I will give you some general notes on writing, but I also encourage students who would like to work on their writing to see me, to submit drafts of their papers for criticism in advance of their due dates, or to consider rewriting papers. In the meantime, the following are some general guidelines regarding written work in the course.

Quizzes: These serve two primary purposes. They are, of course, an insurance policy of sorts, whereby I, the teacher, can better expect you to have put in the requisite effort on assigned reading. More importantly, however, they are also a channel of feedback on how well you understand the material presented in the reading and in class. You can expect quizzes frequently, usually unannounced.

Exams: These are reflective and integrative, designed to help you pull together main themes in the course. Depending on length, exams generally include objective questions, separate short definition or identification questions, and longer interpretive essays. All tests will demand not only that you know what has been studied just recently, but that you be able to connect that material in a general thematic way with what was studied earlier in the year. Each exam will be an important opportunity for me to assess your mastery of the knowledge and the skills the course seeks to develop. More importantly, an exam should be considered a worthwhile educational experience in its own right. A comprehensive final examination will be administered at the end of the term.

Make-up tests: In the event of an excused absence on the day of a scheduled exam, a mutually convenient date for a make-up test will be determined by the teacher and the student. It is the student's responsibility to reschedule and take the make-up exam within seven (7) calendar days of the original scheduled test date.

Short Papers: Papers on set topics keyed to assigned reading are designed to encourage you to work out your understanding of a given problem. As such, there are no 'right' answers, only how well you think your way through the problem as evidenced by the clarity and logic of your analysis, argumentation, and writing. All papers should include footnotes and bibliography when appropriate, and be presented in standard form, all of which is discussed in the guidelines I'll make available in class and online. Word processing is highly recommended if possible; if not, typed papers are always appreciated, though not required.

Position Papers: Each term, some students express an interest in "extra credit" work. While I generally discourage this approach--I would prefer you to concentrate on doing your best work on the scheduled quizzes, tests, and papers--I will welcome brief position papers, dealing with anything related to the course, in consideration for "brownie points." I will not put a firm grade or value on such work, which will be returned to you with my comments, but I can state that submission of position papers only can help in the determination of your final term grade.

Submission of Papers: Due dates for all major written assignments are announced in the syllabus at the outset of the term; time is allowed for working on them whenever possible and you should program your time accordingly (e.g., writing a paper before it is due if necessary to avoid conflicts with other work). Late work will be accepted, but, in the interest of fairness to all, it will be penalized one notch ("A-" to "B+") for the first 24-hour period it is overdue, two notches for the second, and so on. Late term papers will be penalized one full letter grade ("A-" to "B-") every 24 hours. Only in extreme cases will late work be accepted more than five days after it is due. School policy dictates that late work accepted after the last day of classes in the term can receive a grade of no more than 50%.

     The only acceptable ways of submitting writte assignments are (in order of preference): (1) hand it to me in class on the due date; (2) submit it via email; or (3) turn it in to my secretary in the Johnson Athletic Center. You may NOT leave it in my faculty mailbox nor slip it under the door to my office or apartment.

Grading and Criticism: Grading of papers and exams will be based on the quality and thoroughness of your research (where appropriate), the originality and coherence of your analysis and argumentation, and the clarity of your writing. While all written work should be your own, in accord with the school expectations regarding academic honesty, you are encouraged to discuss your work with me and with each other if you wish. You are also encouraged to respond to my criticisms of your work and to discuss ways in which you might improve your writing with me, including rewriting and resubmitting papers where appropriate.
     More important than the actual grade you receive is my written commentary on your paper. I hope you will pay close attention to the comments made on the evaluation sheet and in the body of the text; they are written in hopes of improving both your writing and your thinking. These comments can refer to your specific strengths and weaknesses as a historian and as a writer in ways that a simple number or letter grade cannot.
     I hope you will feel free to share with me any questions or concerns about any particular grade; I also hope, however, that you are genuinely concerned with what you learn in the course rather than the mark (or other such superficial feedback) you get. For the sake of uniformity, the school has established a guide to converting scores on a 100-point scale to grades ranging from A+ to F:

A+: 97-100 B+: 87-89 C+: 77-79 D+: 67-69
A: 93-96 B: 83-86 C: 73-76 D: 63-66 F: 0-59
A-: 90-92 B-: 80-82 C-: 70-72 D-: 60-62

This document copyright © 1987-2007 Ned Gallagher. All rights reserved.
Last revised: August 22, 2007