May 2014

The United States and Iraq

Note: The preceding three syllabi were prepared by participants of the
2008 SHAFR Summer Institute at Ohio State University. By design, they are concise
outlines of content and readings only and they are intended to provide basic
frameworks for adoption at colleges and universities.

Dollar Bill Great Seal, 1782

Perhaps the historical document handled most frequently by Americans is a copy of the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the one-dollar bill.  Adopted in 1782 by the Continental Congress, the seal contains several elements:  the familiar eagle with arrows and an olive branch, and a vaguely familiar pyramid with a glowing eye at its top.  Probably less noticed, but of particular importance to me, is the phrase below the pyramid, “Novus Ordo Seclorum”, which provides an excellent example of the attitude of American exceptionalism.

Ho Chi Minh Documents, 1930-1945

Few figures from the Cold War era have inspired historiographical debates that match that of Ho Chi Minh. Was he a nationalist, driven primarily by a desire to create an independent nation for his people? Was he a communist, part of a greater movement that put a primacy on the spread of a political ideology above all else? Was he both? Neither? Students interested in wading into this thicket should consider the following speeches. The first one, Ho’s “Appeal Made on the Occasion of the Founding of the Indochinese Communist Party,” was delivered in February 1930 in Hong Kong.

George Washington, “Farewell Address,” 1796

I use the “Farewell Address” chiefly to remind students about important changes and continuities in U.S. foreign policy since the days of the early republic, using Washington’s ideas as well as many of the words supplied by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.[1] As a short assignment, characteristic of how I try to engage students with primary sources, I ask them to identify the several passages they consider most important and to explain why.  I also ask them what they infer about the American political scene in the 1790s, or at least about Washington’s view of that scene.

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