Syllabus—The American Mind

what were they thinking? us intellectual history seminar & digital editing practicum. fall 2022 @ suny brockport.

Faith Ringgold, The Flag Is Bleeding, The American People Series 18, 1967.


How have Americans thought about themselves and their world? How do ideas matter to history? Is there such a thing as “the American Mind”? What happens when Americans go “out of their minds”? How have Americans contested who is part of the American Mind? We explore a diversity of past voices that remain relevant today through primary sources and historical scholarship. Students read selected sources and studies in US intellectual history, engage in extensive discussion, and develop a set of analytic writing assignments. Additionally, to develop employable, professional skills, students also complete an editorial assistantship in the course by working on a book forum to be published online. In the process, they acquire editing, research, project management, and digital production skills. No previous editorial or digital experience required. As part of their editorial assistantship, students complete a “digital sidebar” project (timeline, map, playlist, annotated bibliography, scholar interview, primary source annotation, short book review, or other component for the book forum). 500-level students complete one additional short assignment that links the course to the development of their potential graduate capstone thesis.

Required Materials

The books may be purchased at the SUNY Brockport bookstore or at an online bookseller. Be sure to purchase the proper editions. Books are also on reserve at Drake Library and can be obtained through Interlibrary Loan as another option.

  • Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019) **focus for book forum**
  • Philip J. Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004)
  • Andrew Hartman, A War for the Soul of America, Second Edition: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019)
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, ed., How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012)
  • Additional essays, readings, films, and multimedia materials on course website

At Library Reserves:

In addition to the books above, the following primary source readers are not required, but are available on reserve at the Drake Library.

  • David A. Hollinger and Charles Capper, eds., The American Intellectual Tradition, Volume I: 1630 to 1865, 7th edition
  • David A. Hollinger and Charles Capper, eds. The American Intellectual Tradition, Volume II: 1865 to the Present, 7th edition

Meetings and Readings Schedule

The instructor may adjust the meetings schedule as needed during the term, but will give clear instructions about any changes.

Week 01 — Unit 01: What Were They Thinking?

Monday, 08/29: Introductions

Wednesday, 08/31: What Is Intellectual History, Anyway?

Required Materials:

  • Peter Gordon, “What is Intellectual History? A frankly partisan introduction to a frequently misunderstood field,” unpublished manuscript, 2012

Friday, 09/02: No Class

Week 02 — Unit 02: Surveying US Intellectual History

Monday, 09/05: No Class, Labor Day

Wednesday, 09/07: What Is Intellectual History, Anyway?

Required Materials:

Friday, 09/09: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Introduction, Ch 1, 1-29

Week 03 — Surveying US Intellectual History

Monday, 09/12: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 2, 30-50

Wednesday, 09/14: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 3, 51-74

Friday, 09/16: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 4, 75-96

Week 04 — Surveying US Intellectual History

Monday, 09/19: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 5, 97-115

Wednesday, 09/21: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 6, 116-132

Friday, 09/23: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Week 05 — Surveying US Intellectual History

Monday, 09/26: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 7, 133-151

Wednesday, 09/28: Ratner-Rosenhagen, Ch 8, Epilogue, 152-180

Friday, 09/30: No Class—Catch Your Breath

Week 06 — Unit 03: Indians in Unexpected Places

Monday, 10/03: Deloria, Introduction, Violence, 1-51

Wednesday, 10/05: Drake Library Resources—Meet at Drake Library

Friday, 10/07: Deloria, Representation, 52-108

Week 07 — Indians in Unexpected Places

Monday, 10/10: Deloria, Athletics, 109-135

Wednesday, 10/12: Deloria, Technology, 136-182

Friday, 10/14: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Week 08 — Indians in Unexpected Places

Monday, 10/17: No Class

Wednesday, 10/19: Deloria, Music, Conclusion, 183-224

Friday, 10/21: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Week 09 — Unit 04: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective

Monday, 10/24: Introduction, The Combahee River Collective Statement

Wednesday, 10/26: Interviews and Comments: Taylor, Barbara Smith

Friday, 10/28: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Week 10 — Unit 05: The Examined Life

Monday, 10/31: Interviews and Comments: Beverly Smith, Demita Frazier, Alicia Garza, Barbara Ransby

Wednesday, 11/02: The Examined Life, dir. Astra Taylor (2006), first half

Friday, 11/04: The Examined Life, dir. Astra Taylor (2006), second half

Week 11 — Unit 06: A War for the Soul of America

Monday, 11/07:Hartman, Introduction, Ch 1, 1-37  

Wednesday, 11/09: Hartman, Ch 2, 38-69

Friday, 11/11: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Week 12 — A War for the Soul of America

Monday, 11/14: Hartman, Ch 3, 70-101

Wednesday, 11/16: Hartman, Ch 4, 102-133

Friday, 11/18: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Week 13 — A War for the Soul of America

Monday, 11/21: Hartman, Ch 5, 134-170

Wednesday, 11/23: No Class, Thanksgiving Break

Friday, 11/25: No Class, Thanksgiving Break

Week 14 — A War for the Soul of America

Monday, 11/28: Hartman, Ch 6, 171-199

Wednesday, 11/30: Hartman, Ch 7, 200-221, Ch 8, 222-252

Friday, 12/02: Hartman, Ch 9, 253-284

Week 15 — A War for the Soul of America—Conclusions

Monday, 12/05: Hartman, Conclusion, 284-304

Wednesday, 12/07: Open—Digital Editing Workshop

Friday, 12/09: Closing Discussion—So, What Were They Thinking?

Assignments Schedule

The instructor may adjust the assignments schedule as needed during the term, but will give clear instructions about any changes.

Tuesday, 09/13: Assignment 01—Student Introduction and Byrd Essay One-Paragraph Analysis

Tuesday, 10/04: Assignment 02—Contact Forum Writer

Tuesday, 10/11: Assignment 03—The Primary Source That Made American Intellectual History Interpretive Essay

Tuesday, 10/25: Assignment 04—Interpretive Essay Revisions

Tuesday, 11/08: Assignment 05—Digital Sidebar Proposal/Digital Editing Update Report

Friday, 12/16: Final—Digital Sidebar and Interpretive Digital Sidebar Essay

Friday, 12/16: 500-Level Students—Connecting Course to Potential Capstone Thesis Short Essay

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluations are never a judgment of you as a person, but rather they are meant to help you assess how you are processing material in the course and translating it into historical interpretation and understanding. We are working on college-level skills here and they take practice. History is a craft, and like any craft you must practice it to improve your abilities. Take advantage of the assignments and comments from professor to improve your capacities to analyze, communicate, write well, and express historical understanding. These skills will help you wherever you go and whatever you do in the future.

  • Assignment 01—Student Introduction and Byrd Essay One-Paragraph Analysis = 10%
  • Assignment 02—Contact Forum Writer = 10%
  • Assignment 03—The Primary Source That Made American Intellectual History Interpretive Essay = 15%
  • Assignment 04—Interpretive Essay Revisions = 15%
  • Assignment 05—Digital Sidebar Proposal/Digital Editing Update Report = 15%
  • Final—Digital Sidebar and Interpretive Digital Sidebar Essay (500-Level Students—Connecting Course to Potential Capstone Thesis Short Essay = 5 of 25%) = 25%
  • Attendance and Participation = 10%
    • At least one constructive comment per class = full credit; occasional constructive comments = most credit; attentive presence = some credit.

What Makes for Good Work?

Evaluation of assignments will be based on the following rubric:  

  1. Argument – presence of an articulated argument that makes an evidence-based claim and expresses the significance of that claim
  2. Evidence – presence of specific evidence from primary sources to support the argument
  3. Argumentation – presence of convincingly connection between evidence and argument, which is to say effective explanation of the evidence that links its details to the larger argument and its sub-arguments with logic and precision
  4. Contextualization – presence of contextualization, which is to say an accurate portrayal of historical contexts in which evidence appeared
  5. Style – presence of logical flow of reasoning and grace of prose, including:
    1. an effective introduction that hooks the reader with originality and states the argument of the assignment and its significance
    1. clear topic sentences that provide sub-arguments and their significance in relation to the overall argument
    1. effective transitions between paragraphs
    1. a compelling conclusion that restates argument and adds a final point
    1. accurate phrasing and word choice
    1. use of active rather than passive voice sentence constructions
  6. Digital sidebar – effective design and use of digital tool

Grading Standards

Remember to honor the Academic Honesty Policy at Brockport, including no plagiarism. Confused about what constitutes plagiarism? Don’t hesitate to ask your instructor. Also, as a side note, grades evaluate specific work in a class. They are never a judgment of you as a person. I value and respect all of you no matter what grade you receive. Grades are just a way to register your development in your studies.

A-level work is outstanding and reflects a student’s:

  • regular attendance, timely preparation, and on-time submission of assignments
    • thorough understanding of required course material
    • insightful, constructive, respectful and regular participation in class discussion
    • clear, compelling, and well-written assignments that include
      • a credible argument with some originality
      • argument supported by relevant, accurate and complete evidence
      • integration of argument and evidence in an insightful analysis
      • excellent organization: introduction, coherent paragraphs, smooth transitions, conclusion
      • sophisticated prose free of spelling and grammatical errors
      • correct page formatting when relevant
      • excellent formatting of footnotes or other form of required documentation

B-level work is good, but with minor problems in one or more areas

C-level work is acceptable, but with minor problems in several areas or major problems in at least one area

D-level work is poor, with major problems in more than one area

E-level work is unacceptable, failing to meet basic course requirements and/or standards of academic integrity/honesty

Attendance Policy

Students are allowed **three** absences for the semester, no questions asked, no need for doctor’s note. These include absences for any reason. Each additional absence may lower your grade at the instructor’s discretion. More than five absences are grounds for a failing grade in the course. If you have medical or other issues beyond the three absences, please communicate clearly, as soon as possible, about your situation so that we can come up with a reasonable plan for completing the class successfully. Please contact the instructor if you have questions about the attendance policy.

Covid update: Given the continued pandemic, please if you feel sick with symptoms, stay home, speak with Hazen Health Center or your doctor, and get tested. I will work with you to remain caught up on the course.

Academic Honesty Policy

Academic dishonesty, particularly in the form of plagiarism, will result in failed assignments, possible course failure, official reporting, and potential expulsion from Brockport. The Brockport Academic Honesty policy applies to all work in this course. To be certain about its stipulations, consult it on the College website. If you have additional questions about the Academic Honesty policy, please consult the instructor.


Citation: Using Chicago Manual of Style

The goals of citation are to allow the reader to track back your evidence to its original source, primary or secondary, and to give credit where it is due to other people if you use their ideas. But, you may ask, Professor Kramer, why is all the formatting so seemingly random and arcane?! Because, well, it is (or I find it that way)! To do it accurately is to stay honest to the ideas that scholarship and writing requires careful, error-free, empirical work, but you can always go back to the key idea of a citation: it allows your reader to go back and inspect the evidence you are using. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs back to what you used to develop an interpretation or argument and it allows you to distinguish between your original work and words or ideas you are borrowing from someone else.

1. There is a nice, quick overview of citation from the Chicago Manual of Style Shop Talk website. It includes lots of information and a pdf of examples.

2. For additional, helpful guidelines, visit the Drake Library’s Chicago Manual of Style page.

3. You can access the real deal and go right to the source—the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style—at the Drake Library Reserve Desk.

Writing Consultation

Writing Tutors are available through the Academic Success Center and are always helpful at any stage of writing. Don’t hesitate to consult with someone! Be sure to show them the assignment prompt and syllabus guidelines for good work in the course.

Research Consultation

The librarians at Drake Memorial Library are an incredible resource. You can consult with them remotely or in person. To schedule a meeting, go right to the front desk at Drake or visit the Library website.

Additional Information

Disabilities and Accommodations

As the father of a child who is neuroatypical, Professor Kramer recognizes that students may require accommodations to learn effectively. In accord with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Brockport Faculty Senate legislation, students with documented disabilities may be entitled to specific accommodations. SUNY Brockport is committed to fostering an optimal learning environment by applying current principles and practices of equity, diversity, and inclusion. If you are a student with a disability and want to utilize academic accommodations, you must register with Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to obtain an official accommodation letter which must be submitted to faculty for accommodation implementation. If you think you have a disability, you may want to meet with SAS to learn about related resources. You can find out more about Student Accessibility Services on the SAS website by contacting SAS via at or (585) 395-5409. Students, faculty, staff, and SAS work together to create an inclusive learning environment. As always, feel free to contact the instructor with any questions.

Discrimination and Harassment Policies

Sex and Gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, are prohibited in educational programs and activities, including classes. Title IX legislation and College policy require the College to provide sex and gender equity in all areas of campus life. If you or someone you know has experienced sex or gender discrimination (including gender identity or non-conformity), discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or pregnancy, sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking, we encourage you to seek assistance and to report the incident through these resources. Confidential assistance is available on campus at Hazen Center for Integrated Care and RESTORE. Faculty are NOT confidential under Title IX and will need to share information with the Title IX & College Compliance Officer.

Statement of Equity and Open Communication

We recognize that each class we teach is composed of diverse populations and are aware of and attentive to inequities of experience based on social identities including but not limited to race, class, assigned gender, gender identity, sexuality, geographical background, language background, religion, disability, age, and nationality. This classroom operates on a model of equity and partnership, in which we expect and appreciate diverse perspectives and ideas. If anyone is experiencing exclusion, intentional or unintentional aggression, silencing, or any other form of oppression, I encourage open communication with myself and/or the class as a whole.

Disruptive Student Behaviors

SUNY Brockport’s procedures for dealing with students who are disruptive in class can be found here.

Emergency Alert System

In case of emergency, the Emergency Alert System at The College at Brockport will be activated. Students are encouraged to maintain updated contact information using the link on the College’s Emergency Information website. Included on the website is detailed information about the College’s emergency operations plan, classroom emergency preparedness, evacuation procedures, emergency numbers, and safety videos. In addition, students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the Emergency Procedures posted in classrooms, halls, and buildings and all college facilities.

Learning Goals

The study of history is essential. By exploring how our world came to be, the study of history fosters the critical knowledge, breadth of perspective, intellectual growth, and communication and problem-solving skills that will help you lead purposeful lives, exercise responsible citizenship, and achieve career success. 

Course Learning Goals

In this upper-level history course, students have the opportunity to learn about:

  • The field of intellectual history as part of the historical discipline.
  • Historical facts concerning US history.
  • Historical interpretations concerning US history.
  • How history relates to the present.
  • How to think, write about, and discuss ideas about the past and present.
  • How to notice and analyze change and continuity over time.
  • How to notice and analyze structures of power, how they have developed over time, and why they have.
  • How to handle historical complexity through close analysis, paraphrasing, and interpretive questioning.
  • How others have interpreted and debated the past (historiography).
  • How to frame your own historical questions.
  • How to develop close, accurate, compelling interpretations of historical evidence yourself.
  • How to improve your skills of developing a historical narrative.
  • How to use evidence to develop a historical thesis, an argument-driven, evidence-based historical narrative.
  • How to paraphrase effectively.
  • How to use source citation using Chicago Manual of Style effectively and accurately.
  • How to connect your historical inquiry to useful, employable professional skills (editing, research, project management, writing, and digital publishing).

History Department Learning Goals

  • Articulate a thesis (a response to a historical problem).
  • Advance in logical sequence principal arguments in defense of a historical thesis.
  • Provide relevant evidence drawn from the evaluation of primary and/or secondary sources that supports the primary arguments in defense of a historical thesis.
  • Evaluate the significance of a historical thesis by relating it to a broader field of historical knowledge.
  • Express themselves clearly in writing that forwards a historical analysis.
  • Use disciplinary standards (Chicago Style) of documentation when referencing historical sources.
  • Students will identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments as they appear in their own and others’ work.
  • Students will write and reflect on the writing conventions of the disciplinary area, with multiple opportunities for feedback and revision or multiple opportunities for feedback.
  • Students will demonstrate understanding of the methods social scientists use to explore social phenomena, including observation, hypothesis development, measurement and data collection, experimentation, evaluation of evidence, and employment of interpretive analysis.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of major concepts, models and issues of history.
  • Students will develop proficiency in oral discourse and evaluate an oral presentation according to established criteria.

General Education Learning Goals

  • Students will identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments as they appear in their own and others’ work.
  • Students will write a short paper or report reflecting the writing conventions of the disciplinary area, with at least one opportunity for feedback and revision or multiple opportunities for feedback.

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