Should the U.S. Survey End with the Civil War or Reconstruction?

The United States survey course that I teach at Messiah College ends in 1865.  I barely make it through the Civil War, but I do spend some significant time on politics in the 1850s, the immediate causes of the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, some basic military stuff, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.

I often wonder what it must be like for my colleague who teaches the second half of the survey. (I should probably ask him). He has to start with Reconstruction.  As Kevin Schultz asks at Teaching United States History: “Can you effectively teach Reconstruction without having taught the Civil War?”

Great question.  Schultz is revising his U.S History textbook, HIST, and is wondering why Volume One ends with a chapter on Reconstruction and Volume Two begins with the same chapter.

What do you think?  Should Reconstruction be taught in the first half of the survey or the second half?  If it is taught in the first half it might alleviate the problem of the ever-expanding U.S. survey that Jonathan Rees recently wrote about.

3 thoughts on “Should the U.S. Survey End with the Civil War or Reconstruction?

  1. There's never a good way to “segment” the past: each thing that happens is a product of the thing that happened before it. It seems that, for courses like these, there has to be some overlap. When considering the African American past, in particular, a lot of recent scholarship seeks to examine the post-slavery period within the context of the slave period: it's hard to understand the things that occur in the late 19th century without a grasp of what they are reactions against. A difficult question.

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  2. Our survey splits at 1876 (not my decision). I cover Reconstruction in both courses b/c understanding the Jim Crow era and Gilded Age/Progressive Era politics needs to be placed into the context of the CW/Recon. period.

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