The Founding of the Thirteen Colonies: A Four-Part Course with Benjamin Rubin

The Founding of the Thirteen Colonies: A Four-Part Course with Benjamin Rubin


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The original thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America were founded for a variety of reasons - some were built on economic opportunity, others on religious freedom, still others on utopian visions, or as ways to alleviate Britain's increasing problem with overcrowding. But all of them created societies that combined the old world and the new in diverse and novel ways that shape the American experience to this day.

This course will examine each of colonial America's four major regions: New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Chesapeake, and the Deep South, paying special attention to the factors that made each region unique, but also to the common threads that bound them together.

Led by an expert on early American history, Ben Rubin, this course will focus on the themes of geographical and cultural diversity that shaped colonial America. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased appreciation for colonial America's legacy in shaping the American past and present.

Lecture 1: The Chesapeake

The first English colonies on the mainland were clustered around the Chesapeake Bay and built on America's first cash crop: tobacco. By the 18th century, the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware had developed into some of the wealthiest on the mainland. But this wealth came at a terrible price: the birth of American slavery.

Lecture 2: New England

Founded by religious dissenters with visions of heaven on earth, the Puritan colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, faced early struggles. War, famine, and cultural fracture marked the early years of these colonies, but they ultimately developed into one of the most stable and culturally influential regions of the United States. Utopia or dystopia? We’ll decide in our second lecture.

Lecture 3: The Middle Colonies

New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania became the urban powerhouses of colonial America, containing the two largest and most cosmopolitan cities, built on immigration and trade. In our third lecture, we’ll learn that they were not without their own contentious histories of struggle. We’ll discuss the war between the English and the Dutch, some of the most violent conflict with native peoples, and a wholly different vision of utopia.

Lecture 4: The Deep South

If the Chesapeake was where the horrors of American slavery were born, the Deep South is where they were perfected. In our final lecture, we’ll head to the colonies of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. We’ll discuss how they built one of the most economically successful, and efficiently brutal plantation systems in the New World around their own cash crop: rice. Accompanying this system was some of the most extravagant wealth, the most crushing poverty, and the deepest sectarian rifts in the New World.

Ben Rubin holds a bachelor's degree from Hanover College, a Master's from Western Carolina University, and is completing his Ph.D. at Drew University. He is also a graduate of the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University. His work has been published in the Journal of Backcountry Studies and in Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. In addition to academic experience, Ben worked as a docent at the Biltmore House in Asheville, and as a whitewater raft guide on the Nantahala River.

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in American history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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