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An Irishman once defined a nation as “the same people living in the same place.” That may do pretty well for some people in some countries; but it’s never made a lot of sense for the United States of America. For centuries, debates about what America is, and who counts as American, have been shaped instead by debates over the countries past. Is America the nation of immigrants? Of frontier settlers? Of democracy and freedom? Of slavery and Jim Crow? If there is a single “American people,” who gets to be part of it?

Studying the history of the United States helps you participate in and advance these concurrent debates about the nation’s past and its future. This course surveys the history of the United States; in each period, we will look at through the various conceptions of the nation that have dominated in its history, and explore the reality of what happened as well as engaging the ever-more vital issues of what’s at stake in how we talk about the past.

By the end of this course, you should be able to articulate your own vision of the history of the United States, and to better uncover its traces in the world you walk through every day.