Reading and Writing the Story of America
Advanced Placement United States History
What is the Story of America?
An Introduction to the Course
History is more than just a list of facts and dates; it is, instead, a kind of storytelling. Names, places, and dates are important to the stories we tell about the past, of course, just as any good book needs characters and a setting. But without a plot—or, in the case of histories, an argument—there would be no good reason to pick up the book in the first place. As Harvard historian Jill Lepore persuasively suggests, history “is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence. In the writing of history, a story without argument fades into antiquarianism [i.e., a mere love of the past],” while “an argument without a story risks pedantry [i.e., excessive concern with minor details].”
This course is a survey of what has happened throughout the history of the United States. It is also an introduction to the way professional historians and others have written “the story of America.” In books, movies, classrooms, campaign speeches, museums, and more, people have told stories about the United States—stories complete with heroes, villains, and lessons to be learned. None of these stories give us the complete picture of what it means to be an American. “The story of America,” Harvard historian Jill Lepore reminds us, “isn’t carved in stone, or even inked on parchment; it is, instead, told, and fought over, again and again.”