HIST-383 What Is Citizenship?
Spring for 2017-2018
In 1862, U.S. Attorney Edward Bates, prompted by an inquiry from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, found himself face to face with the question, “Who is a citizen? What constitutes a citizen of the United States?” With the Civil War swirling around him, Bates was forced to admit, “I have often been pained by the fruitless search in our law books and the records of our courts for a clear and satisfactory definition of the phrase citizen of the United States.” Neither Bates nor Chase was a legal slouch; they were in fact two of the best legal minds in the country at the time, but even they realized that no fixed or static meaning of the word “citizen” existed. Instead, to continue borrowing from Edward Bates, “the exact meaning of the word [and] the constituent elements of the thing we prize so highly” has always been a work in progress. Sometimes the meaning of citizenship has expanded. Other times it has contracted. In other words, the meaning of citizenship in the United States has a history.

For the first half of this seminar, we will read about the history of citizenship, particularly in the United States. In the second half of the semester, students will arrive at their own answer to the question posed by the title of this class in one of two ways. Each student may choose to write an original research paper on some aspect of the changing nature of U.S. citizenship at a specific moment in U.S. history. Alternatively, a student may choose to volunteer over the course of the semester with an organization that the student believes calls on him or her to exercise active citizenship (organization and the time and content of the volunteer work to be cleared with the instructor). Students choosing the second option will write a long reflective essay placing t heir experiences with the organization in conversation with books read for class, the history of citizenship, and additional relevant research. Whichever option a student chooses, by the end of the semester, he or she will have produced a substantial piece of written work posing and defending with evidence an answer to the question, “What is U.S. citizenship?”
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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