This is a history course focused on the nineteenth-century settlement of the American West. But this is also a methods course, so right from the start I want to highlight that there is an argument embedded in the course title. What does it mean to frame the nineteenth-century West as a period of “settlement”? What does that word call to mind? I see covered wagons and pioneers; I picture the Wilder family and their homestead, or that screen from the Oregon Trail computer game that asks the traveler to make a difficult decision: caulk the wagon or ford the river? Settlers are one part of this history, and we’ll certainly study them and their experiences. But they aren’t the only people in the nineteenth-century West, and settlement is only part of the story. This semester we’ll explore other frames for thinking about the West—as homeland, frontier, borderland, and empire. We’ll look at the kinds of debates historians are still having about the history of the West—and about how to tell that history. And we’ll participate in those scholarly conversations through class discussions and short writing assignments that will prepare us to pursue research questions, analyze primary and secondary sources, and develop arguments grounded in the rich historiography of the American West.

HIS 244: Settlement of the US West, 1800-1900 Spring 2016 syllabus here.

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Nicholas King, with annotations by Meriwether Lewis. “Tracing of western North America showing the Mississippi, and the Missouri for a short distance above the Kansas, Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Winnipeg, and the country onwards to the Pacific” with annotations in the hand of Meriwether Lewis, 1803. [carried as far as Mandan village]. Engraved map with annotations in pen and ink. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.