Course Overview: History of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest

What is Covered

HSTAA 432, History of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest is an upper-division, undergraduate course on local and regional history. It focuses primarily on the three American states of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, with additional attention to British Columbia, Alaska, western Montana, and California, from the mid-18th to the late 20th century.

The course begins by introducing students to today's Pacific Northwest and placing current issues and concerns into historical context. It then moves to consider Pacific Northwest history over two broad eras. Part I, "Contacts and Contests: Non-Indians, Indians, and Resources, 1741-1900," considers the years when different groups of peoples both interacted with one another and tried to assert or retain control over the region. It examines the native peoples of the Northwest; the arrival, influence, and impact upon Indians of European and American explorers, fur traders, and missionaries; and the eventual success of the United States in colonizing a part of the region and asserting control over native peoples through treaties and reservations. Part II, "The American Northwest: Urban And Industrial Growth, 1846-Present," considers the emergence of a modern American region by looking at economic, political, urban, and cultural developments during the later 19th and 20th centuries.

Three connected sets of themes provide a focus for the course. One is the changing circumstances of and relationships between the diverse peoples and cultures of the region. The chronology of the course begins with the advent of European explorers in the 18th century, but it pays ample attention to the experiences of both native peoples in the Northwest and the assorted immigrants who arrived from other parts of North America and from Europe and Asia. Another set of themes revolves around diverse people's uses for and attitudes toward natural resources. Of course, different groups and cultures had different uses for and ideas about such things as forests, fish, and land, and these uses and ideas changed over time. It is important to understand how some peoples were able to assert their values and uses for natural resources over those of others. The third set of themes, intimately linked to the first two, is how a sense of regional identity evolved over time in the Pacific Northwest. Two aspects of this identity especially preoccupy us—the question of who supposedly belonged and did not belong in the region, and the matter of how regional residents related to and identified with the natural environs of a distinctive place. To a large extent, the answers to these questions were shaped by the agendas of the many newcomers who came to colonize, settle, and exploit opportunity in the Northwest.

Sources of Information

Students in HSTAA 432 are responsible for the information presented in three different venues. First, there is basic course content presented in lectures, which serve as both interpretive overview and "textbook." Second, a substantial amount of reading on specific topics and events is required for the course. Assigned reading includes two paperback books (Dietrich, The Final Forest, and Sone, Nisei Daughter) and a packet consisting of xeroxed copies of primary sources and scholarly articles. Each reading assignment will be accompanied by a sheet of "study questions" designed to stimulate thinking and discussion in sections. Students are also required to do additional, independent readings to complete the research-paper assignment. Third, weekly sections will discuss the readings and lectures. Students are expected to attend sections having completed and thought about the readings and to participate in an informed fashion in discussions.

Let me note another, optional, overlapping source of information—a website devoted to Pacific Northwest history and maintained by the History Department's Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. This site contains a wide variety of materials pertaining to regional history, including summary versions of some of the interpretive material presented in lectures.


The required readings for HSTAA 432 are available as follows. Two paperback books for the course are available for purchase at the University Book Store. They are: William Dietrich, Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest (New York, 1993), and Monica Sone, Nisei Daughter (Seattle, 1979). The remainder of the readings consist of eleven different selections, which are chapters, articles, and excerpts from a variety of primary sources and secondary materials. These selections have been photocopied and are available in a packet for sale at the Suzzallo Copy Center, 5th floor, Suzzallo Library. If you would feel more comfortable following along in an optional textbook, I suggest Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes, The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History, rev. ed. (Lincoln, 1996). Additional readings will be mentioned throughout the course, and you should feel free to inquire about them. Schwantes's textbook also contains a useful bibliography.

Goals of the Course

One major goal of HSTAA 432 is to have students become familiar with the course content as presented in the different venues and be able to write effectively about it in a mixture of assignments. This entails learning a variety of facts about and perspectives on the Pacific Northwest—one kind of thinking. Some memorization is involved, as is close and careful reading. It is also important to link past events and trends with present-day conditions.

Another goal is to improve students' abilities to think historically—about the Northwest after 1750 or so as well as about other places and times. Historical thinking entails: the recognition of complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty in human affairs; the development of a critical—and often skeptical—attitude toward sources of information; and the understanding that events occur sequentially and that the sequence matters. Historical thinking also requires that one try to understand past events and trends from the different points of view that people living at the time had, and to recognize that those points of view from the past are generally substantially different from our own today.

To encourage better historical thinking, HSTAA 432 relies on a good deal of reading of primary sources, i.e. documents created by people who were eyewitnesses to the events and developments of past times. Students are required to read and think critically about these primary sources, to try to appreciate where their authors "were coming from" and why they arrived at the conclusions that they expressed. On at least one occasion, students must write a short paper about the primary-source documents they are readings. Students are also asked to read and write about secondary sources, i.e. the writings of several historians who have themselves used primary sources to construct arguments about the past. Finally, the course requires that students write their own research papers, based at least in part on the reading of primary sources, to demonstrate their own abilities to read sources critically and to think and write historically.

Another goal in HSTAA 432 is the ability to think conceptually. Coming to terms with the past requires that one impose some intellectual order on the numerous, diverse, sometimes chaotic set of facts from previous times, to make connections between different trends and events and historical persons. This is done by working carefully with concepts that help to clarify the past by explaining patterns in historical development. Conceptual thinking links various events together. For example, conceptual thinking has produced the three major themes of this course (relations between diverse peoples; relations between peoples and environs; and the emergence of regional identities) and it also has enabled us to divide the course chronologically into two cogent periods. Conceptual thinking also links local and regional history to broader contexts, such as national and international developments. For example, the late-18th-century rise of the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest and the late-19th-century emergence of the logging and fishing industries can both be regarded as aspects of a changing global system of market capitalism.

Conceptual thinking permits us to pull together selectively a variety of issues, sources, and events into explanations of the past. Students will be asked to develop such explanations in essays composed for a midterm and a final examination. Essay exams require the integration of material from all parts of the course—lectures, readings, discussion sections—into essays that argue a thesis in response to an exam question, and demonstrate historical and conceptual thinking.

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Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest