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History- HY 120: The American Past

Blocks 1 and 2: Bryan Rommel-Ruiz

This class meets the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time requirement.

Palmer HallWhat is American history? Is it an extension of European history? Or a history that is unique unto itself, maybe even exceptional: the historical manifestation of the Hegelian philosophical ideal of human freedom? This course has us search for the meaning of America, from its distant past in medieval Europe through our current position as global leader. The first part of this class goes to the heart of the course by asking the question of whether colonial American history is an extension of English history or whether it is the prehistory of the United States. In this regard, it asks the question of whether the American Revolution was truly a revolution as a political, social, and cultural break from its European roots, or whether is was an affirmation of an independent society and culture that was moving inevitably towards political independence. The second half of this course explores the theme of "Searching for America" by looking closely at its formative ideology: liberal democracy. Can a liberal democracy remain stable and prosperous over a large geographic area with a large population? This classic Madisonian question has been put to the test numerous times throughout our national history since 1776, and this class will look at the ways the emergence of the United States as a liberal democracy both affirmed Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian ideas of independence and prosperity, and the ways the ideology of Lockian liberalism endured the challenges of racial slavery, geographic expansion, civil war, industrialization, and globalization. Is the United States truly exceptional in its achievement of Lockian liberalism, or can it be a model for modern liberal democracies throughout the world? If so, can we, or should we encourage the development of democratic societies? This last question has been the central idea behind American foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson's administration, and has become more pressing as we remain the most powerful industrial democracy in an age of integrated political, cultural, and economic globalization.

A two-block course with one instructor; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


  • The two-block course serves as a gateway into the History major, fulfilling one of the possible Introductory courses History majors are required to take.
  • This class is a Prowl based course, and students will be able to log in to the course page (as a guest) by early August to see the required readings or order books ahead of time.