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HIST 364: History of American Business

Course Overview

This course examines the history of business in the United States from the time of the country’s founding until the present, with a particular focus on the twentieth century. In addition to tracking important changes in the national economy, corporate structure, and business activity, the course also explores the development of a capitalist economy, the rise of Big Business, consumption, the relationship between business and labor, and the changing role of business as a social and cultural institution in America. Although many of us may be experienced at thinking about contemporary business practices and culture, the overriding goal of this course will be to engage with the history of American business enterprise and to think about how American business has changed over the last two centuries.

Required Textbook

See the course description for textbook information.

Assignments and Grading

To complete your assignments, you will be required to think analytically about American business. Reading assignments will help you contextualize and interpret historical evidence, while writing assignments will hone your proficiency in crafting clear, reasoned, and well-documented arguments about the history of business in America. You will have several different assignments that require you to think historically about American business enterprise. Each is reviewed in more detail below.

Course Grade

Your course grade will be calculated based on the following breakdown:

Discussion forum participation: 50 percent
Midterm essay: 20 percent
Final essay: 30 percent

Discussion Forum Participation

The discussion forum is where your thoughts and questions about the material will be valuable for your classmates—some of your classmates may answer your questions and others may debate the answers. This course depends on your participation. Learning takes place best in dialogue with others, and since this course is offered in an online format, the forum will replace all the ways in which you interact with other students in a classroom.

Each member of the class will draw different lessons from the readings, lesson notes, and discussion forums. You will invent your own interesting and memorable ways to think through and remember what we are learning. The entire class will benefit from your thoughts.

To participate or engage in the forum means that you offer your own comments and insights and also respond thoughtfully to others. It does not mean that you just agree with someone without putting any thought into it. It means to respond in a meaningful way—to make what you say valuable to the class. The discussion forum is different from the easy give-and-take of the classroom setting, but this sort of structured interaction is absolutely necessary for this course to truly be the equivalent of three fifty-minute class periods per week.

Note that two engagements with each discussion forum are the minimum! One of the benefits of the discussions is that you can begin posting before you finish reading, as questions or comments occur to you. Not all your postings must be somber and explanatory. Sometimes, you might just ask a question and explain why you think it is important. Note something that stood out to you, and try to articulate why it stood out to you. Take advantage of the format. Assume that we will benefit from your reactions to the course material.

The discussion forum is your forum, your space to air your thoughts and ideas. I will respond to questions and comments on your discussion forum once or twice a week.

Each lesson contains at least one starter question. These are for you to use to get your ideas flowing or simply to get the conversation rolling. You are not required to use these questions.

Grading Criteria

I will assign discussion forum grades for each lesson based on the following criteria:

Participation: You are required to participate at least twice during each lesson on two separate days to receive a grade for that week.

Length: Each of your posts must be 300–350 words. Failure to meet the minimum requirement will result in a lower discussion forum grade.

Citations: In your posts, use specific quotations and illustrations from the readings to show that you have completed and absorbed the material. Provide parenthetical citations (including page numbers) so the rest of the class can see where you derived your ideas and quotations. Below is an example of a parenthetical citation:

The invention of moveable type was a technological advance that helped spread the ideas of the Protestant Reformation (Chambers, p. 276).

Due Dates and Timeliness: Post your initial thread and your response by the due dates listed on the schedule. Remember that you must make your required posts on different days. Each student may be graded for only one post per day. You cannot make up for absences on the discussion forum by posting to forums for different weeks.


At the end of the semester, I will drop your lowest discussion forum participation score.

Exam Essays

You will write two, 1,500-word essays in this course that will count as your midterm and final exams. The essay topics will become available in the Exams section of Sakai seven days prior to their due dates. Use only the materials assigned in this course in crafting your essays. (In other words, no outside sources are required or permitted.) If your contributions to the discussion forum will help support your argument, by all means integrate this work into your essays and cite it. Be certain to cite all your sources (and the page numbers) for quotes, information, or ideas.

Visit the UNC Writing Center’s website for excellent advice on all aspects of preparing, writing, and polishing your assignments. You may even submit your essay to the Writing Center online, and a tutor will read and return your draft with comments (typically within one to three days). Of course, if you’re in Chapel Hill, you can meet with a Writing Center tutor in person.

I assign length requirements by the number of words because of the multiple ways of formatting an essay that are available to anyone with word processing software. If you are using Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010, the number of words is visible on the status bar at the bottom of the screen. You will find that there are roughly 275–300 words per page if that page is double-spaced with 12-point type and standard Microsoft Word margins of 1.25 inches. The 1,500-word limit does not include the cover page or Works Cited list.

You must cite the sources of ideas that are not your own. Use parenthetical references to cite your sources, and include a Works Cited page at the end of your essay.

Your essay must have a cover page that includes

Save your essay exams as Microsoft Word documents (either .doc or .docx) and upload them to the Exams section of Sakai by the due date. If you do not have Microsoft Word, please save your file as an .rtf file.

Essay exams are due by 11:30 pm on the due date noted in the schedule. You will lose up to a full letter grade for every 24-hour period for which your exam is late. I will accept exams submitted earlier than the due date. No late essays will be accepted for the final exam.

Hints for Success

Read each lesson carefully. In each lesson, I provide a short introduction to the topics for the week, highlighting some of the main themes you should consider while reading the texts. The lessons also contain questions to help guide your reading. Please do not answer these questions in a formal fashion (that is, don’t send me your answers); however, you may certainly bring them up in the discussion forum.

Read actively, not passively. Think about the discussion and reading questions as you go along—and take notes! You will be reading many different materials in this course. You may want to keep a notebook to write down your thoughts and ideas and to note important passages (and page numbers) to include in your discussions or exams. Likewise, I recommend downloading and printing the materials on electronic reserves. That way you can also write notes in the margins and highlight important passages.

Look ahead. Some weeks require substantially more reading than other weeks. Plan your time accordingly.

Participate in the discussion forum. Participation is required, so keep the discussion in mind as you read so that you can come up with a contribution that will be useful to yourself and to the rest of the class.

Visit the UNC Writing Center’s website and read the suggestions thoroughly.

Arrange access to a backup computer. This is a computer-based class, so do not wait until the last moment. Back up your work and have a plan if your computer fails. Run a virus scan each week.At no time whatsoever will I accept the lack of a computer or a computer failure for late exams or late discussion participation as a legitimate excuse.

Contacting Your Instructor

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. See the Contacts page for information about who to contact and when.

The most persistent problem in online classes is that instructors sometimes fail to receive student emails. Most often, it turns out that students have simply typed the email address incorrectly. If I were teaching this class in person, and if you were taking this class in person, we could take care of any communication glitches informally. But we cannot do this so easily in an online course. We need a more formal system to make certain we are communicating.

Become familiar with the information in the Tech Info page about using email. You are responsible for knowing the information about subject lines, email filters, using your UNC email address, and so on.

Be proactive. I should always respond to every email message within a day or two. If I ever fail to respond to any email you have sent me, it is almost certainly because I have not seen it. Don’t hesitate to let me know that you are waiting for a response after two days.

Academic Policies

By enrolling as a student in this course, you agree to abide by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill policies related to the acceptable use of online resources. Please consult the Acceptable Use Policy on topics such as copyright, net-etiquette, and privacy protection.

As part of this course, you may be asked to participate in online discussions or other online activities that may include personal information about you or other students in the course. Please be respectful of the rights and protection of other participants under the UNC-Chapel Hill Information Security Policies when participating in online classes.

When using online resources offered by organizations not affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill, such as Google or YouTube, please note that the Terms and Conditions of these companies and not the University’s Terms and Conditions apply. These third parties may offer different degrees of privacy protection and access rights to online content. You should be well aware of this when posting content to sites not managed by UNC-Chapel Hill.

When links to sites outside of the domain are inserted in class discussions, please be mindful that clicking on sites not affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill may pose a risk for your computer due to the possible presence of malware on such sites.

Honor Code

All work in this course, including participation in the discussion forum, falls under UNC’s Honor Code. Plagiarism is a serious offense and an Honor Code violation. All sources must be identified and referenced properly. You are responsible for informing yourself on what is and is not plagiarism. To make sure you understand plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the following resources:

Please contact me if you have any questions about plagiarism or the use of sources.

Course Outline

Lesson Topics
Lesson 1: Business in Colonial America
Lesson 2: The Foundations of American Capitalism
Lesson 3: The Market Revolution and the Growth of Manufacturing
Lesson 4: The Business of Slavery
Lesson 5: The Origins of Big Business in the Gilded Age
Lesson 6: Monopoly Capitalism and Its Discontents
Lesson 7: Progressivism and the Rise of Consumer Culture
Lesson 8: The Rise of Fordism
Lesson 9: The Return of Laissez-Faire and the Crash
Lesson 10: The Great Depression and the New Deal
Lesson 11: Business, Labor, and the Postwar Order
Lesson 12: The Rise of the Service Sector in the Age of Affluence
Lesson 13: Increased Government Regulation, the Business Response, and the Shift to Deregulation
Lesson 14: Big Business in the 1980s and the New Conservatism
Lesson 15: The IT and Tech Boom

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