July 4, 2018
I’m stewing, as usual, as I put together a new syllabus. In the fall, I’ll be teaching 35 undergraduates a history of the United States – the entire history, from the nation’s colonial roots to the present day. This is a difficult task at any time, but it’s especially difficult for me at the moment as the country plunges ever more deeply into a free-for-all over the meaning of who “we” are.
Though I am thoroughly opposed to using textbooks, especially at the university level, I also know it’s helpful to give students something to lay down a narrative. I’ve relied on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesfor the past eight years in the course on early American history I’ve offered at UMass Boston. A sprinkling of students over the years, usually from liberal, private high schools, has encountered the text before my class. For the rest, the book has mostly been a welcome introduction to early America, the subject of the course. I’m not sure Zinn’s overview will be the right fit for the class I’ll be teaching this fall, which will be at a somewhat selective, private college. I’ve tried to find an alternative, but I’m coming up empty-handed.