A People's History of War in America

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

Exploring the lives of those who not only fought wars but those who lived through wars, this course explores the women, men, and children in U.S. history that shaped war. We delve into the experiences of women supporting families--and serving as spies. We investigate the decision of enslaved men to serve George Washington--or King George. We probe the effects of war-making on the natural and built environment. In short, we examine the world of war from the perspective of those most keenly and most wretchedly affected by it, not those who directed the armies or negotiated surrenders. In the end, we will have a better understanding of war and its effects.

"War is hell", a general remarked on his campaign to destroy the southern stamina for war during the American Civil War. Yet people have waged war on one another for all of US history, indeed through all of human history, and so continue to encounter the realities of war. Rather than focusing on battles and military tactics, this course offers a deeper understanding of the human experience of warfare by studying people ranging from the common soldiers to families on the home front, Native Americans on the frontier and enslaved African Americans. Students will develop a greater understanding of the personal hopes, fears, and motivations that shape warfare. By examining the social and cultural impact of violent conflict ranging from the colonial period to the Iraq War, students will gain a broad historical background on an issue of pressing present-day importance.

Covering wars from a range of periods, our discussions will center on key thematic questions. Is war unavoidable? How do women and children experience war differently from men? How do the movements of refugees, prisoners of war, and soldiers reshape societies? In what ways do movies and music influence the way that people view wars? We will examine these and other issues by relying on the writings, musical compositions, and films that people throughout U.S. history have produced to glorify - and denounce - war. Through work with this wide variety of source materials, students will develop a foundation for critical research in the humanities and social sciences.

By the end of this course, students should be able to understand and discuss the causes for wars and critically compare the experiences and effects of warfare for different segments of the population. Additionally, students will learn to critically evaluate primary sources and write successful college essays that present their analysis in efficient and well-supported arguments.

In this course, students will better appreciate the effects of war and how common folk survived (and sometimes thrived) during war. In addition to understanding war, the primary aim of this course is to prepare students to contribute effectively in class discussions and write strong college essays. To craft strong oral and written arguments, students will need to substantiate their claims and analysis with concrete and specific evidence. I am eager to work with you to help you hone your skills in analyzing primary sources and organizing analytical arguments.

Prerequisites: Students should possess a basic understanding of U.S. history.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEHI0942

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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