Browse Exhibits (15 total)
How and why do we study history, and how do we know what we know.
In Wednesday's lecture we discussed the difference between primary and secondary sources. As you read, think about who these documents were made by and who their intended audience was. How does the purpose of their creation change how we understand them as records of contact?
Contact between Natives and settlers happened in many different ways in many different places. How did the motives and cultural background of the groups involved shape their encounters?
As European settler populations grew in the late seventeenth century, they increasingly came into conflict with nearby Native groups over land rights, animal grazing, religion and trade. How did these conflicts grow, what sparked violence when events came to a head, and how did these conflicts differ?
In the late seventeenth and early eigtheenth century, Europeans increasingly sought to differentiate themselves from Native and African people they encountered in the Atlantic World by using law, clothing, sex and standards of civility to define racial differences that had previously been defined by religion and culture.
Racial boundaries became increasingly set as the eighteenth century progressed, while political tensions between the British colonies and London became increasingly strained.
British settlers in North America saw themselves as British: Protestant, commercial, maritime and free, with the right to exercise the power of Crown-in-Parliament in governing themselves. And yet the conclusion of the Seven Years' War forced them to confront some of the fundamental contradictions in this identity and how it was founded upon American dependence on the labor of enslaved people, the exclusion of Catholics, and the appropriation of Native lands.
Tensions over governance and the exercise of Crown-in-Parliament ratched up in the years following the Seven Years' War. Incidents like the Boston Massacre helped widen divisions between Britain and the colonies, where many colonists still considered themselves fighting for their rights as British citizens up to the eve of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
In the wake of the American Revolution, inhabitants of the new nation had to define the boundaries of the nation both spatially and philosophically. Who would be part of the new nation? Who was included in being "created equal"?
Although the Constitution and the conflicts of the 1790s settled some questions of governance, Americans still faced the fundamental question of whether their government would be OF the people or BY the people. The early decades of the nineteenth century saw growing pushes for social and economic reform as Americans continued to wrestle with the question of how land and labor would define American identity.
As Americans settled internal questions of whether the government would be of the people or by the people, they increasingly looked westward to the expansion of the nation. This brought its own problems as American settlers and state governments attempted to seize lands owned by Native American groups in order to fuel the plantation slavery economy.
American growth westward brought many new groups and lands into the bounds of the growing country, often not comfortably. Hispanic residents of the former Mexican Southwest found themselves excluded by American political systems while Asian immigrants came to the US for the same reasons as European immigrants, yet had none of the paths to whiteness marginal European groups like Catholics and Jews had. At the same time, free and enslaved African Americans and Native Americans were pushed farther from any possibility of political incorporation.
During the 1850s, long standing tensions between North and South over federal and state authority, political dominance, interpretations of the Constitution and slavery came to a head, culminating in the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of many of the Southern states.
The growing sectional crisis of the early nineteenth century broke out into full war with the election of Abraham Lincoln as the anti-slavery candidate in 1860. Though the North initially resisted the idea of fighting a war to end slavery, for the South the war was always and only about preserving the economic and social institution of slavery.
The years following the Civil War brought the nation back together but in many ways the nation was even more divided than ever over the extent of federal power, the preservation of states' rights, and the protection of individuals' rights in the face of states' rights.
As the United States grew in the early 19th century, the new nation continued to face fundamental questions regarding its economic, political and social identity.