Course Description

This course explores the history of the United States through a focus on space and geography – not just the physical geography of mountains and coastlines, but how Americans have imprinted different kinds of space onto that land through maps and trade, elections and protest, migration and warfare. The course will not attempt to cover the entirety of U.S. history. Instead, it will drill deeply into three key topics: colonial North America, the U.S. Civil War, and the racial landscape of the modern United States. We will study these three historical case studies through spatial questions, such as: How did European powers and native peoples make maps of colonial North America? What was the topography of the Gettysburg battlefield and how did it shape the outcome of the Civil War? What were the historical patterns of spatial and racial inequality that helped give rise to #BlackLivesMatter and other modern protest movements?

In a world increasingly rife with maps, visualizations, and geographic information, this course will help students develop an overarching spatial literacy with which to study the past and the present. This spatial literacy encompasses three major components. First, students will hone different kinds of spatial analysis approaches, from interpreting maps as cultural artifacts to using Geographic Information System (GIS) software to examine datasets. Second, students will learn to evaluate and critique the ways in which people use maps to illuminate, persuade, and occasionally mislead. Third, they will put this literacy into practice by creating their own work of spatial history.

Learning Goals

  1. Understand how issues of space and geography have shaped key topics in American history
  2. Develop visual literacy, or the ability to read, interpret, and critique visual sources
  3. Learn qualitative and quantitative skills for spatial and historical analysis
  4. Design and complete a collaborative spatial history research project