We the People: The 500-Year Battle Over Who is An American

“We the People.”  The Constitution begins with those deceptively simple words, but how do Americans define “We”?

In this class, we will trace how competing yet interconnected concepts of exclusion and inclusion have battled to define our national identity and community, focusing on a handful of exemplary topics and histories:
• the Revolutionary period and its debates on whether African American slaves were enemies or exemplary new Americans
• 19th century conflicts over Indian Removal and Chinese immigrants
• 20th century discriminations against Filipino and Japanese Americans.

Carefully exploring and critically examining such histories, and the key stories and figures, texts and voices that they feature, is vital to understanding America – and to making sense of the Obama and Trump eras, when the conflict between exclusion and inclusion and the battle over who is an American can be found in every significant debate and moment.


Group Leader: BEN RAILTON
Meets on: Fridays 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Starting: 10/9/2020
Sessions: 5
Class Size: unlimited
Teaching Style: Lecture and discussion
Weekly Preparation: 0.5-1 hour
Group Leader Biography:

Ben Railton is Professor of English Studies and Coordinator of American Studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. He is the author of five books, most recently We the People: The 500-Year Battle over Who is American (Rowman and Littlefield’s American Ways series). He also writes the daily American Studies blog, contributes the bimonthly Considering History column to the Saturday Evening Post, and is the Boston Chapter Leader for the Scholars Strategy Network.