American Issues: A Primary Source Reader in United States History, Volume I--To 1877 (3rd Edition)

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9780130940179: American Issues: A Primary Source Reader in United States History, Volume I--To 1877 (3rd Edition)

For a two-semester, freshman/sophomore undergraduate level course in Survey of American History. This popular two-volume series presents an anthology of primary documents, letters, and articles in which participants and contemporary observers express their opinions, make their observations, and reach their conclusions about events and issues of their own day that affected the nation and the American society as a whole. Updated throughout with new material and fresh perspectives, the texts continue to stimulate critical thinking and promote active learning about American history-leading students to reject received ideas when appropriate, relate the past to their own experience, and reach conclusions on the basis of evidence.

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This is an anthology of primary documents — the raw materials of history — in which participants and contemporary observers express their opinions, make observations, and reach their own conclusions about events and issues of their own day that affected the nation and American society. The readings span the American past and deal with political, social, cultural, and economic problems. Each section presents differing and often opposing points of view drawing attention to the complexity and diversity of the American past.

Irwin Unger and Robert R. Tomes raise questions that force readers to confront the disparity, intricacy, and apparent contradictions contained in what they often assume about their history. The readings are arranged in a strategic manner and are accompanied by text and questions designed to stimulate analytical and critical thinking, active learning, and the formulation of mature judgments. Most of all, students and readers can form their own conclusions from these interesting and often provocative documents.

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Americans worry about the state of education in the United States today. Recently we have been told how little students know about science, geography, mathematics, and history; we fear that our country will be unprepared to compete against the other advanced industrial societies in years to come. We are also concerned that the new generation will lack the shared civic knowledge essential for a functioning democratic system.

There is indeed reason to be dismayed by how small a stock of historical information young Americans possess. But it is important also to realize that education is not just transmission of data. It is also the fostering of critical thinking. The most encyclopedic knowledge does students little good if they cannot use it to reach valid and useful conclusions. It is this belief that has inspired American Issues. This two-volume work will stimulate critical thinking and active learning about U.S. history—leading students to reject received ideas when appropriate, relate the past to their own experience, and reach conclusions on the basis of evidence. At times, no doubt, students will have to do additional reading beyond this textbook; that, of course, is all to the good.

American Issues is not a compendium of scholars' views. It is constructed out of primary documents, the raw material of history. In its pages participants and contemporary observers express their opinions, make their observations, and reach their conclusions about events and issues of their own day that affected the nation and American society. The selections do not point in one direction on any given issue. On the contrary, they were chosen to raise questions and force the student to confront disparity, complexity, and apparent contradiction. American Issues avoids giving students the "simple bottom line." Rather, it compels them to grapple with the same ambiguous raw materials that historians process to reach their conclusions. To further the engagement process, each selection asks specific questions of the student. The approach resembles that of the 1950 Japanese movie Rashomon, in which an event was depicted from the perspectives of several participants and viewers were expected to reach their own conclusions. That approach, we believe, is an incomparable way to enlighten students about the rich complexity and fullness of historical reality.

We would like to acknowledge the following reviewers of this text: Stephen H. Coe, Eastern Kentucky University; Samuel Crompton, Holyoke Community College; Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State University; John A. Hall, Albion College; Edward L. Schapsmeier, Illinois State University; Rebecca S. Shoemaker, Indiana State University; and Donald G. Sofchalk, Mankato State University.

The selections in Volume I and Volume II range widely in subject matter across the American past. Besides the key political questions, they deal with the social, cultural, economic, and gender problems our predecessors faced. American Issues is guided by the sense that America has always been a heterogeneous society whose inhabitants led their lives in many ways. Yet it does not abandon the view that all of our forebears were also part of the same American experience and shared many concerns of their era.

What can we expect from conscientious use of American Issues? No single text can turn a passive human sponge into an active seeker and thinker. But American Issues can, we believe, engage college students' natural curiosity and tendency to differ and encourage the habit of critical appraisal. Instructors and students alike will find American Issues a stimulating and challenging introduction to informed and discriminating thinking about the American past.

Irwin Unger
Robert R. Tomes

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