Explores the history of citizenship in the United States. Discusses discrimination, criteria for inclusion/exclusion over time, and changing qualifications to become a citizen. Who counts as an American? How do we decide as a society? What does it mean to be an American citizen? What rights, privilege, and responsibilities are part of that definition? In the founding generation, citizenship was limited to property-owning white men, and since that time, struggles to expand American citizenship have been at the core of the American story. The course will cover relevant state and federal Constitutional amendments, Supreme Court decisions, and collective action by excluded groups. Generally offered in the fall of national election years, so the always-churning debate about the meaning of American citizenship takes on renewed currency… right under our watchful gaze.

Why this course?

This course grows out of new historical scholarship about the struggle to expand American citizenship, and the importance of two ongoing historical trends: a growth in ethnic and racial diversity in the United States, and a decline in political participation as measured by voting statistics. Both students who are citizens and those who currently are not will benefit from learning about the complex history of the categories of American citizenship, and the legacy of discrimination and exclusion experienced by many people in the American past. The course’s goal is to appreciate the meaning of American citizenship in the history of our nation and in students’ own lives.

Archived Syllabi:

Fall 2016 (PDF Full Color / Online Flipbook)
Fall 2014 (PDF Full Color / Online Flipbook)
Fall 2012 (PDF Full Color / Online Flipbook)
Spring 2012 (PDF Plain Text / Online Flipbook)

Student Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Develop a theoretical and interpretive framework for the concept of citizenship and how it has changed over time in the US
  • Analyze and compare key episodes in US history in light of dynamic or competing definitions of American citizenship
  • Explain the development of the US & MA constitutions in context of historical political processes, including: convention, drafting, ratification, amendment, judicial rulings, challenge, protest, and reinterpretation
  • Trace the expansion of the boundaries of American citizenship by constructing a well-researched historical narrative
  • Craft a historically informed personal understanding of one’s own citizenship

If you are a History major or minor, this course is designed to help you strengthen these six core skills of historical thinking: (especially #2, #4, #5, and #6)

1) Students will recall and explain historical events and facts of significance to their coursework, being able to set them in chronological order. Students will have a working sense of how history unfolded.

2) Students will set historical facts/events in broader context. They will have the “flavor of an era” and be able to connect facts together. Students will experience history as a flow, not as separate discrete “bits” of information.

3) Students will identify primary and secondary sources, and understand the scholarly uses of each. Students can analyze a given source using appropriate questions, methods and techniques. Students will gain information literacy with respect to both printed and online sources of historical information.

4) Students will frame questions for historical research and conduct a program of research inquiry, demonstrating strong and independent research skills.

5) Students will create original works of historical scholarship.

6) Students will reflect on their own learning process and become self-reliant and independent learners.


If you are a Political Science minor, this course is designed to help you achieve the program’s core student outcomes: (especially #1, #2 and #6)

1) Students will identify and explain the structure and function of government, both as an abstract concept and in specific historical and national contexts.

2) Students will differentiate among and apply key concepts in the field of political science, such as power, sovereignty and legitimacy.

3) Students will compare political systems, constitutions, national interests, and ideas of international responsibilities as elements of global politics.

4) Students will apply political theory in their examination of political systems.

5) Students will select and apply appropriate methodologies (such as from economics, anthropology, psychology, organizational behavior, and history) to evaluate different political systems and theories.

6) Students will determine the relevance of political participation to political outcomes; they will connect their political science learning to their own political identity.

Course and Credit Legal-ese:

This course is a 3-credit* upper-level elective in the History major/minor (if taken as HI 320) or the Political Science minor (if taken as PO 320). Everyone receives WAC and DAC credit for it. In addition, if taken for a minor or in your LASC program, Citizen Nation fulfills ONE of the following: Constitutions (CON), Thought, Language and Culture (TLC) or US and its Role in the World (USW).

*By University definition:
Federal regulation defines a credit hour as an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutional established equivalence that reasonably approximates not less than –

(1) One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or

(2) At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.