The American Revolution

Required reading

Jack P. Greene, “The American Revolution,” The American Historical Review, 105:1 (February 2000)

Ilan Rachum, “From ‘American Independence’ to ‘American Revolution’,” Journal of American Studies, 27:1 (April 1993)


Daniel Leonard, “Letter Address to The Inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay” (1775)

John Adams, “Novanglus” (1775)

Edmund Burke, “On Conciliation with America” (1775)

Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence” (1776)

Seminar Topic

Seminar discussion will examine the outbreak of democratic revolution in the British colonies, paying close attention to both the ways that historians have assessed the American Revolution as well as those who partook in it. In particular, we will examine how thinkers and political actors on both side of the Atlantic interpreted the unrest generated between 1775 and 1776 and assess how perhaps primary documents either challenge or support the traditional narrative associated with American independence.

Questions to consider

  1. Did all colonist desire independence?
  2. How did observers conceptualize the events taking place in the colonies?
  3. What arguments did colonist use to justify breaking with the British Empire?
  4. Why does Rachum distinguish between American “Independence” and “Revolution”?
  5. In what ways did the American Revolution signal a failure of British imperialism?

Further Reading:

Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1993.

Bernard Bailey, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. New York: Belknap, 1992.

T. H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

Patrick Griffin, American Leviathan: Empire, Nation and the Revolutionary Frontier. New York. Hill and Wang, 2007.

R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Karianna Akemi Yokota, Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Seth Cotlar, Thomas Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.

Matthew Rainbow Hale, “Regenerating the World: The French Revolution, Civic Festivals and Forging of Modern American Democracy.” The Journal of American History, 103:4 (March 2017)

James Kloppenberg, Towards Democracy: The Struggle For Self-Rule in European and American Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Chapters 7 and 8.

Gary Nash, The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Judith van Bushkirk, Standing in their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.