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Three Civil Wars

HIST 333

Three Civil Wars

  • Course ID:HIST 333
  • Semesters:1
  • Department:History
  • Teachers:Mark Grannis

Description and Objectives

In this course, we will look at three Anglo-American conflicts as chapters in one continuous story of emerging nationhood. Our focus will not be on battles, but on the collapse of civility that makes battles between former compatriots at first conceivable and then, seemingly, almost inevitable.

We can see the continuity by reflecting on what we already know about the American Civil War. The Civil War years constitute one of the most fascinating and formative periods in U.S. history, largely because that war refined and perfected principles that were present at the founding. But both sides imagined themselves to be fighting for principles that animated the founding fathers when they separated from Britain.

Similarly, the American Revolution was of course a civil war—an armed insurrection by people who (overwhelmingly) had lived their whole lives as subjects of Great Britain. And both sides in the American Revolution thought they were fighting for principles that had been settled on previous battlefields, in the English Civil War(s) that did so much to form Anglo-American political thought between 1637 and 1688. 

We can therefore acquire a much better understanding of American political thought by studying the way our political principles were shaped by these three conflicts. Moreover, in each case, we will observe a cycle in which social consensus first breaks down and must then be reconstructed in order for men and women living in the community to flourish. So naturally, after we have familiarized ourselves with these three episodes of descent into violence, we will want to evaluate the current state of American civil society. What makes people move from talking, to shouting, to pushing and shoving, to shooting? It has already happened here, but could it happen again? In our lifetimes? 

Outline of Topics Covered:

  • Unit 1: The English Civil War(s)
  • Unit 2: Republic, Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution
  • Unit 3: The American Revolution
  • Unit 4: The Second American Revolution
  • Unit 5: The American Civil War
  • Unit 6: Reconstruction
  • Unit 7: Analogies and Disanalogies


TBD, but here are some possibilities:

  • Mark Kishlansky, Charles I
  • Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (excerpts)
  • Gordon Wood, Power and Liberty
  • Jason Stevens (ed.), Causes of the Civil War

Whatever books we use, we will certainly supplement them with primary sources selected and edited by Mr. Grannis.

Course Requirements

You should expect daily reading assignments of 3,000 to 5,000 words, daily (or at least frequent) low-stakes quizzes, and two unit tests per quarter. Your quarterly grades will be based on your performance on quizzes and tests, the quality of your class participation, and any extra-credit projects you complete. Quizzes will test your retrieval based on the readings, but all unit tests will be open-note, so take good notes. There will be a comprehensive final examination.

Successful Students

The successful student will come to class prepared, listen attentively to the lecture material, and participate constructively in class discussion. He will be acutely aware of his own fallibility, which will make him humble about his own opinions, moderate in his language, and eager to learn from others. He will be charitable in his presuppositions about others and his interpretations of what they say and do, and this will make him very slow to take offense. At the same time, he will love truth enough to be courageous about defending it even when he stands alone in his opinion. Needless to say, he will be courageous enough to listen at least as much as he speaks. Such a student will be successful not just in this course but throughout his happy life.

Additional Resources

If you need any help understanding the material after we have gone over it in class, please contact me right away so that we can get to the root of the misunderstanding and provide additional practice or instruction where appropriate.