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Empire of Liberty & Bondage: The United States, 1775-1877 - HIS00008I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. David Huyssen
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to important specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological or geographical focus;
  • To enable them to work on those topics by combining access to the specialised expertise of staff through lectures with their own close study and discussion of issues and reading;
  • To deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of a range of historical subjects and issues; and
  • To support students’ progression from the broad chronological and conceptual work undertaken at Stage 1 of their programme to more detailed and rigorous study of particular topics.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have a broad overview of specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological and geographical focus;
  • Be able to evaluate different interpretations of the subject matter and approaches to it;
  • Gain a critical awareness of the primary material and secondary works used in these interpretations and approaches; and
  • Be able to synthesise information from lectures, discussion groups and reading to make evidence-based arguments both orally and in writing.

Module content

In 1775, thirteen of Britain’s North American colonies began an unlikely revolt against the most powerful army in the world. A century later, the United States had assumed imperial dimensions and had positioned itself as a major power in geopolitics and the global economy. This module examines the emergence of the United States from the American Revolution to Reconstruction, and explores the major defining contradictions and tensions of the Early Republic—namely, between slavery, freedom, and dreams of empire—that have left indelible marks on US and world history to this day. The module will offer both an introduction to American history across this period, and an exploration of the historical approaches that have been applied to the early United States in recent decades.

Teaching Programme:
This 20-credit module consists of 16 twice weekly lectures delivered in weeks 2-9 plus one round-up session in week 10, and eight 90 minute discussion groups.

The lecture programme will include the following:-

Week Two: Declaring independence
1. How not to run an empire
2. The path to independence

Week Three: The limits of the American Revolution
3. The constitutional counter-revolution
4. Created equal

Week Four: The location of American power
5. America and the world
6. Native Americans and the persistence of Britain

Week Five: Early national society
7. Politics in the early republic
8. How America starts getting rich

Week Six: Migration and reform
9. Politics beyond the ballot box
10. Arrivals and departures

Week Seven: Democracy and Imperialism
11. Jacksonian America
12. Empire and slavery

Week Eight: Civil War
13. Collapse of the Union
14. Crucible of a new republic

Week Nine: Reconstructions
15. ‘How to end the war’
16. Dialectic of repression and resistance

Seminar discussions will develop the themes addressed in each week’s lectures and in the required reading for each week, which will comprise around 75-100 pages.


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will be required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in either week 5 or week 7 of the autumn term. They will then complete a 2,000-word essay for summative assessment, due in week 1 of the spring term.


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Penguin, 2000.

Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W.W. Norton, 1975.

Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: a history of the early Republic, 1789-1815. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.