Reading the Revolution

Next semester I might get the chance to design and teach a class on the American Revolution.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ve had the assigned reading for a course like this worked out in my head for years.

My favorite one-volume history of the Revolution is Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause, part of the Oxford History of the United States.  An updated edition just came out a few years ago.  Comprehensive and readable, it’s the logical choice for the main textbook. 

I’d supplement that with Bernard Bailyn’s classic The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, or maybe just the first few chapters.  It’s a very important study that clarifies a lot of otherwise puzzling aspects of the period’s rhetoric.  I don’t want to focus on politics to the exclusion of military affairs, so Joseph Plumb Martin’s firsthand account of life in the Continental Army would be a good middle-of-the-semester read.  I’d love to assign Charles Royster’s magnificent A Revolutionary People at War, too; it’s one of my all-time favorites.  Of course, I’d probably have to pick a chapter or two in order to fit it in with everything else.  I’d wrap things up with Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution, assigning a final paper asking students to assess the Revolution’s results in light of Wood’s arguments and the other material covered during the class. 

This class, though, will be aimed specifically at non-history majors who are interested in taking an upper-level U.S. history course for one of their required electives.  I don’t want to smother their enthusiasm with too much reading material.  The Glorious Cause is massive (the new edition is over 700 pages), so if I stick with it, I’ll probably have to jettison some of the supplemental readings.  I could abandon a main text altogether and rely entirely on chapters and excerpts, but as a student I much preferred the convenience of a short stack of assigned books to the hassle of downloading or copying a different assigned reading every week.  My problem is that all these books are very near and dear to my heart, so I’m faced with some agonizing choices.

It’s therefore time for a little audience participation.  Chime in with any suggestions you might have, but bear in mind that this class will cover political, military, and social aspects of the struggle for independence.

(My thanks to the always-handy Wikimedia Commons for the Trumbull painting of the surrender at Yorktown.)

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3 Comments

Filed under American Revolution, Historiography, Teaching History

3 responses to “Reading the Revolution

  1. Michael,

    Have you considered Ferling’s Almost a Miracle? In my humble opinion, it’s the best one-volume military treatment of the war yet written.

    Eric

  2. mlynchhistory

    You’re absolutely right about the quality of Ferling’s book. It’s a fantastic piece of work. It might be neat to handle the war with a generally chronological textbook like Ferling’s, and pause between the major campaigns to address political and social issues with excerpts from other books.

    Michael Lynch

  3. Michael,

    Exactly, and that’s why I suggested it. I can’t think of a much better textbook for a course on the Rev War.

    Eric

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