Blogs > Cliopatria > Query on Revolutionary War history

Jul 18, 2005 11:46 am

Query on Revolutionary War history

I may be teaching a course on the "Era of the American Revolution" (1763-1789 more or less) in Spring 2006. If so, it will be the first time that I have taught it in detail.

There are many people that I respect who take part in discussions here at Cliopatria. I would be deeply appreciative in suggested readings for students. (The course is for advanced undergrads).

I am particularly interested in communicating the competing ideologies of the revolution and the social milieu. But I do not want to neglect the military struggle (and that is the area I am weakest in).

However, don't let any of that discuourage suggestions that lead in a different direction.

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Tomas Kaldor - 7/19/2005

Isaac Kramnick wrote an interesting synthesis of the literature on competing ideologies called something like Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism. There's interesting material on the adoption of Coke's constitutional fundamentalism by James Otis and Patrick Henry. Rakove has written some interesting stuff on the late transition to some elements of liberalism one sees incorporated in the Constitution.

Caleb McDaniel - 7/18/2005

Oscar, I haven't used this in a course myself, but I would recommend taking a look at Sylvia Frey's _Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age_. The subtitle is somewhat narrower than the book's subject matter, which triangulates military history, social history, and religious history to make an argument about the importance of slave insurrections (and fears thereof) in the course of the Revolutionary War.

Tom Bruscino - 7/18/2005

Two classics:

John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed

Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War


Ben W. Brumfield - 7/18/2005

As someone who hasn't taken a history course since high school, I might be able to vouch for accessibility to "advanced undergrads."

Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution is a good read, but I'd especially want to communicate the contents of chapter 5, part 1 on the conflict between the British and colonial understanding of representation. It's interesting because one part of the American theory would later win in Britain with the Reform Act of 1832 and the elimination of the rotten boroughs.

Rhys Isaac's The Transformation of Virginia is a good in-depth study of how social change and Revolution contributed to each other in Virginia, detailing the conversion of a hierarchical colonial society to an egalitarian, independent one. If nothing else, your students are likely to be shocked by his description of election day (pp. 110-114).

T.H. Breen's Tobacco Culture probably has a focus that's too narrow for you, but chapters 4 and 5 do a good job of explaining the effect of indebtedness upon the politics of the Virginia ruling class.

David Hackett Fischer's Liberty and Freedom has some flaws (particularly the etymological arguments he keeps touting on book tours), but the first section on the different regional iconography of liberty (pp. 19-118) might make for some interesting discussion.

The military history is hard. I'd be interested to see what suggestions you get.

Fischer's Washington's Crossing is an enjoyable read, and touches on strategy, tactics, the social history of the three armies involved, and the leadership styles of both Washington and his opponents.

I understand that Joseph Plumb Martin's Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier shows up often in courses, and found the book to be a lot of fun myself. It does limit itself to camp life, however.

Avoid Döhla's Hessian diary -- it's only interesting if you're familiar enough with the revolution to understand when he's wrong.

David Silbey - 7/18/2005


I taught a course on the American Revolution last fall. These were the four primary readings:

Don Higginbotham, War of American Independence
--very good on the military aspect

David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride
--Gave the students a taste of using a very focused piece of history that nonetheless broadens out to larger concerns.

Michael Kammen, The Origins of the American Constitution
--A classic

Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution
--Good for the competing ideologies

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