HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

Course Introduction

Getting Started

Profs. Trudy Tattersall and Daniel (Danny) Samson welcome you to HIST2F90! We're glad you have chosen to join us in our adventure in online learning. Please be aware that this course is designed for you to do all of your learning online on your own time. There are no scheduled classes, but you have to do regular work every week.

Once you've read the course syllabus, take some time to look over the materials on this page. It's best to use a laptop or desktop computer to view course resources such as this online e-textbook as well as the Brock University Brightspace learning management system. You can also view Brightspace or this e-textbook on a smartphone or tablet. If that helps you keep up with the course, great! Keeping up is important. Just be aware that a larger screen and keyboard will help you to be able to make the best use of your time and the resources we provide.

When you go into Brightspace you will notice a series of tool icons on top of the screen. You will spend most of your time in the "Discussions" tab as you have all been assigned discussion groups in which you will post, respond, and engage with one another. Brightspace also gives you access to quizzes, assignments, a messaging system, a calendar, etc. We will make more of these options and tools available as the course progresses. Please familiarize yourself with Brightspace in the first week of the course (the Week starting on the first day of classes: Wednesday, Sept. 6. 2023), but be aware that more and more Brightspace resources will become available as the weeks of the course progress.

Note: Unless we tell you otherwise, each course week will start on Mondays and finish on the Friday of that week. This is the time in which you have to complete each weekly Lesson and its Forum discussion contributions.

For you to succeed in this course - and indeed for the course to succeed for all of you - we will all have to progress through the course on the same weekly schedule. A common schedule allows all of you to respond to one another in the weekly Forums. Therefore, while you can work mostly at your own pace within each course week, you will have to make sure that you complete each week's learning activities within the scheduled time. This is especially important for the Forums. Please plan your time well! The Course Overview (aka "Home" on the dropdown menu) and Syllabus has the main details. The Calendar in Brightspace is there to help remind you of activities and deadlines (note that the Calendar in Brightspace will only be available starting in the second or third week of the course, and it will be updated from time to time -- so check back on the Calendar as well as other resources on a regular basis).

We strive to keep the structure of each Lesson the same, so that you know what to expect from week to week. With very few exceptions (such as this "Getting started" entry) each Lesson will include these headings:You'll be working with these headings every week, so let's have a look at what they contain. 

This week's big question

Each lesson has a "big question" focused on that week's theme. You should use this question to help you organize your learning for the week, and also help you think in a step-by-step way about the overall course question. Recall that we have a big over-arching question for the course:
For the period between 1400 and 1850, what were the most significant factors in the rise of the liberal-capitalistic West?
Each week's Big Question is what you will be discussing with other members of your Forum Group. You will use the primary and secondary sources in the Lesson to provide you with evidence as you think about and discuss the question. Good answers are based on evidence from the assigned sources!

So, the course has a Big Question, each week has its own Big Question, and each week also has a series of smaller questions. They're all connected. The smaller questions help focus our attention on facets of the weekly big questions; the weekly big questions help us to think about the the Big Question for the entire course.

For this week (Wednesday, Sept.6, to Monday, Sept. 11 2022 -- a short week, because Wednesday the 6th is the University's first day of classes) the "big question" is meant to help you introduce yourself to your Forum colleagues to each other, while also getting you to start thinking historically. 

The question or task for the week is:    

Introduce yourself to your Forum group. Tell everyone something about your perspective on the world, and perhaps, how do you see yourself fitting into a larger history. Perhaps it is an Atlantic history, or a North American History, or an Asian History...or perhaps, yours is a little more complicated.

Video introductions

The videos are meant to help you get started with the Lesson. Watch them before you begin each Lesson.

Learning outcomes

Each week under this heading we will outline a series of benchmarks to help guide your learning. These "outcomes" are meant to help you and us evaluate whether you are learning something substantial.

The syllabus also includes a list of learning outcomes for the course as a whole. In summary, the course outcomes fall under three categories (knowledge, professional practice, and skills). At the end of this course you should have the ability to:

  1. Describe and explain the significance of the major developments in the early modern Atlantic world;
  2. Communicate ideas/arguments effectively and honestly in all course work;
  3. Ask good historical questions and form strong arguments that answer these questions using the best evidence you can find.

For each week of the course the learning outcomes will be much more specific. For example, by the end of this Introduction (the first course week) you should have:

  • Read the syllabus and be able to answer questions about the main aspects of the course (themes, organization, and policies); and
  • Read about and be able to name the 6 dimensions of historical thinking, as outlined on the Historical Thinking website.

Although you might not notice a direct connection between this week's learning outcomes and the outcomes for the course as a whole, you should keep the general outcomes from the syllabus in mind as we move through the course. In a month or two you should recognize yourself building more and more overall abilities in knowledge, professional practice and skills.

Questions to consider, and learning activities

Under this heading we will usually give you more detailed questions. These further questions are meant as elaborations on the big question for the week. Therefore, you should always keep the big question in front of you.

The questions are meant to guide not only your personal learning but also your discussions with other students in the course Forum. You should contribute to the Forum AFTER you have read and thought about all the assigned sources for the week, but you should also follow the schedule as outlined in the course syllabus and in on the Calendar. This will require that you PLAN CAREFULLY.


Every week, a "background" section will provide you with some general context for the Lesson's subject. 

In addition to introducing you to the history of the early modern Atlantic world, this course is also designed to teach you more generally about the practice of history. In everyday speech we often use the word "history" to mean "the past." To learn about history at the university level, however, you need to be aware of another more advanced meaning of "history": inquiry about the past. One of the most basic questions about the past is: How do we know anything? Where does our knowledge about the past come from? You might think the answer to this basic question is that knowledge about the past comes from textbooks. But where does the knowledge in textbooks come from? The answer to this question has many parts. The short answer is that we learn about the past most fundamentally not from sources about the past but rather from sources from the past. Historians call these primary sources. Learning how to work effectively with sources from (as well as about) the past takes lots of practice.

As the course progresses, we will reveal more and more aspects to the study of history to you. The skills we will be teaching you are meant to be cumulative. This means that they build on each other. In other words, you should not think about each week's Lesson as an isolated unit but rather as one part of a larger whole. Our intention in teaching you about the practice of historical inquiry is that you will be able to apply the overall skills of inquiry to questions outside of the course.


Under this heading you learn the basic skills of historical interpretation.

This course teaches you not only about the history of certain times and places, but also about the practice of history -- about doing and making history. To practice a trade, you need tools. Under this heading we will provide you with tools or exercises that will help you improve your reading, writing, inquiring and thinking in this course -- and we hope also in your life beyond the course.
This week we will get you to acquire an overview of the principles of thinking historically. Historical thinking is a variation on critical thinking. To start learning about it, you should read the following introductions from The Historical Thinking Project (click on the links):

One of the purposes of the Forum exercise this week is to get you to think about your perspective as an interpreter of evidence about and from the past.

Primary sources (sources from the past)

Sources are the building materials of historical studies. You might already have a good idea about the differences between primary and secondary sources. Here's a quick refresher.

Primary sources are created in the past worlds that we want to study. They take lots of forms: personal journals, travel accounts, letters, posters, and books and newspapers from the time you are investigating. In this course, most our primary sources are written/textual sources, but they can include paintings, prints, music scores, oral accounts, and archaeological remains (e.g., pottery, or even bones or DNA samples). 

In most Lessons in the e-textbook, under the "Primary Sources" heading you will normally find information about and links to the required primary readings for each week. For this introductory week, however, we will not provide you with any primary materials. You can think of your memories and stories as the primary materials for the week!

Secondary sources (sources about the past)

Secondary sources are interpretations that try to make sense of past worlds. Most secondary sources you will use in history courses are modern, published texts. Usually these take the form of essays in academic journals and books about historical subjects. Although the formats that secondary sources take are less varied than is the case for primary sources, not all secondary sources take the form of printed materials. Lectures are an example, as are documentaries.

The thing that all secondary sources have in common is that they provide interpretations of evidence from the past. Think about this when you write your answers to each week's big question. You are writing your own interpretation of evidence -- your own secondary source.

Learning tip: Whenever you read a source (whether primary or secondary), always make sure you associate the main themes of the source with the author. Knowing who wrote a letter or painted a portrait or created a documentary or gave a lecture is usually a very important step for effective critical and historical thinking.

Supplemental material

Under this heading we'll provide you with some extra notes that are significant but are not required for the course. You may even find some of them interesting!

For this first supplemental section we'll provide you some tips on how to succeed in this course.

How to Succeed in the Course

Plan your time: To succeed at a high level in most university courses, you need devote between 6 and 9 hours of time to each course, each week. We have structured the expectations in HIST 2F90 to be more modest in the first few weeks, so that you have a chance to get used to learning in the online environment. However, the workload will increase as the course progresses, so you need to plan your time effectively and be disciplined every week. You will need to stay disciplined, of course, in all of your university courses, if you wish to succeed, but disciplined and regular work is especially crucial for success in an online course such as this one. Based on the experiences of students in other online courses, those who keep up with course work tend to do better than they might in face-to-face courses, while those who do not keep up tend to do more poorly. We would like you all to succeed.

Take responsibility for your own learning: One of the great advantages of an online course is that it offers you great flexibility in your time; one of the great disadvantages of an online course is that it’s easy to ignore.  Success in this course demands that you schedule your time wisely and take responsibility for your own learning.

To be an effective and active learner we expect that you will: 

  1. Check Brightspace regularly (including Announcements and the Calendar);
  2. Make sure that you read all available resources thoughtfully and carefully;
  3. Review readings and materials thoughtfully and reflectively before you make contributions to each week's Forum;
  4. Be self-motivated and self-directed rather than passive;
  5. Manage your time effectively;
  6. Troubleshoot problems rather than simply waiting to be told what to do;
  7. Keep records of your research and learning (this includes all essay notes and drafts and copies for assignments).

Reminder: Starting on Wednesday the 6th (2023) starting at 8 am it'll be time for you to start introducing yourselves to each other in the Brightspace Discussions. See the instructions above (in the section "This week's big question") for more details.

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