What does Reconstruction history tell us about American history?

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These essays asks students to consider the historiography on Reconstruction (1863-1877).

To complete the assignment’s objectives it is important for students to address the topics in a systematic, well-organized writing format.  Be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

The introduction needs to tell the reader what will be covered in the body paragraphs.  The introduction needs to present a thesis, in this case, a brief synopsis of how you address the second part of the essay–the significance of Reconstruction, and more especially, how accurate is the description of Reconstruction provided by the historian that you will test in the third part of the essay.  The thesis is the most important part of any essay, so make sure it is substantive, make sure it “stands out.”

First, students will identify three arguments that have wielded influence in Reconstruction historiography.   Students need to illustrate a sharp understanding of each of the three arguments that they have selected.  The three most influential arguments are Dunning’s, Du Bois’, and Foner’s.  Students do not necessarily have to discuss Dunning, Du Bois, or Foner.  The Pressly reading indicates that historians have offered several different interpretations about Reconstruction.  Pick three and explain them in full.  After the introduction paragraph, students should spend the first three paragraphs of their essay discussing and developing the three arguments—about one paragraph for each historian.


Second, students will spend the next paragraph (or two) reflecting, analyzing, interpreting the significance of, and offering insight on, the importance of Reconstruction historiography.

You might address the following questions for the second section, or you can think of your own critical questions to address:

What does Reconstruction history tell us about American history?

What does Reconstruction history tell us about race in America?

What does Reconstruction history tell us about how/what historians want us to remember the Civil War?

What does Reconstruction history tell us about how historians’ interpretations change over time?

What does Reconstruction history tell us about American slavery?

How should Reconstruction be remembered?

What makes Reconstruction historiography important?


Third, students will test the validity/accuracy of one of the historian’s arguments by drawing on information from the primary sources—identify which author’s argument you will test, then analyze the truth of the argument by pointing to evidence gathered from the primary sources.  This section will read something like this:  “Historian A offers the most accurate/inaccurate assessment of Reconstruction based on the historical evidence 1, 2, 3.”  You need to match historical evidence to the author’s interpretation.


Besides Griffin’s Birth of a Nation, the primary sources are found in the Johnson.


Writing Standards

The essay will be 3-4 pages long, approximately 1200 words..

Standard margins.

12 point times new roman font.

In-text parenthetical citations.  For example: (Foner, 3), or (Johnson, 25).

The essay needs to reference/cite at least 3 sources from the list of required resources (readings/videos).  If the essay does not reference at least 3 sources, the grade will be penalized.

All essays need to be submitted to turn-it-in, through canvas.  I will not grade the essay if it’s not submitted to turn-it-in.

Proofread the essay.  If I can’t understand the writing, the grade will be penalized.

The rubric is posted on the course portal.

Every essay needs a formal works cited page.  Remember to cite each individual source.  MLA format for works cited page.

There is no need to consult outside sources.  All of the information needed to complete this essay is found in the module.  Students must reference the Johnson text.


Structure of Essay

-Every essay should have a formal introduction (paragraph 1).  The purpose of the introduction for this essay is to identify which three historians will be discussed in the first few paragraphs.  A sentence or two that addresses the second task about the significance of Reconstruction historiography.  And a couple of sentences explaining which historian’s interpretation will be analyzed, as well as the outcome of that analysis.  All of these points should be included in the introduction.

-Each of three historians that you select should be given a full treatment in the first three body paragraphs (paragraphs 2-4).   One historian per paragraph.

-When addressing the second task (paragraph 4, or paragraphs 4-5) students must make declarative and powerful statements regarding the historical significance of Reconstruction history.  This is your opportunity to express broader conclusions about Reconstruction—tell me why Reconstruction history matters.

-The third task (final body paragraph(s)) can only be accomplished by identifying a historian’s argument about Reconstruction, and then testing that interpretation based on real evidence gathered from the primary sources.  Assess the accuracy of the theory according to information found in the primary sources.  The evidence must be taken from the primary sources.  This is the argumentative section of the essay.  Your argument will read something like: “Foner’s interpretation of Reconstruction is valid (or invalid) for the following reasons, based on the following source and reasons.”

-Each essay should contain a short, formal conclusion (final paragraph) that restates the central themes discussed in the body paragraphs, offers broader conclusions about American history, or even tries to connect the paper to contemporary events.


If the essay fails to meet the above requirements the grade will be penalized.


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