The American Revolution and Its Legacy: From British to American Nationalism

Sophomore and above—Year

It may be comforting to know that historians agree that an American Revolution did indeed occur. Less comforting but more intriguing may be the realization that historians do not agree on when it commenced and when it ended, much less on the full meaning of what exactly took place beyond the mere facts of the Revolution. Certainly, the question was profound enough to move John Adams to ask, “What do we mean by the Revolution?” In the fall, we will examine the causes and character of the Revolution by studying the political, intellectual, social, and cultural dimensions of this event. In the spring, we will look at how Americans adapted the legacy of the Revolution to the social and political changes of the 19th century and at how that legacy at once divided and unified Americans in this period. How were both opponents and defenders of slavery able to appeal to the Revolution to legitimize their views? What was the relationship between the Revolution and the Civil War? Was the Civil War a “second American Revolution”? By looking at how Americans used the memory of the Revolution to define their identity, the course ultimately aims to achieve a better understanding of the basis for, and nature of, American nationalism. Open to first-year students with permission of the instructor.