HIST 2341: History of the Western U.S.
Professor Cameron Blevins
Northeastern University, Spring 2018
Robinson Hall 411, Mon/Wed 2:50-4:30pm
This course examines the history of the area that eventually became the western United States. American history is typically narrated from an eastern perspective, a story about a nation moving westward across the continent. This course reverses that perspective, looking at American history from the point of view of different peoples and places in the West. It moves chronologically from the fifteenth century to the present, teleporting from place to place across the West - from a Mandan village along the Missouri River to the geysers of Yellowstone National Park to the glowing neon signs of the Las Vegas strip. These different perspectives paint an unfamiliar picture of otherwise familiar historical topics. You will learn about a powerful indigenous empire of Comanches that dominated its Euro-American neighbors, a Pacific world of commerce, trade, and travel that linked San Francisco to Shanghai, and a landscape of rugged wilderness and “wide-open spaces” that was also the most urbanized region in the country. The course will trace the history of the U.S. West, the emergence of a powerful regional mythology, and its significance within the larger history of the United States.
What does American history look like from the perspective of the West? In this course, you will cultivate the skill of historical empathy by looking at the world through the eyes of different peoples and places in the West, many of whom have been written out of the nation’s history. Together, we will learn how changing our point of view gives us a much fuller picture about the past.
Geography and History:
What is the role of geography in historical events and processes? By the end of this course, you will have a firm grasp of the different places, locations, and features that make up the western United States and an understanding of how the region’s geography has shaped its history.
Mythmaking / Mythbusting:
What is the relationship between history and myth? Why have western tropes like “cowboys and Indians” so dominated the American imagination? You will not only learn how to “bust” myths by separating fact from fiction, but to analyze how and why societies create these myths in the first place.