US Political Culture, 1896-1945

Alex Cummings

This course provides an introduction to diverse currents of political thought and practice in the early twentieth century United States. Starting out from a world of urban political machines and rural radicalism, Americans grappled with questions of economic reform, gender, immigration, imperialism, racism and war. The crushing electoral defeat of William Jennings Bryan in 1896 seemed to inaugurate a period of conservative dominance, yet these years also witnessed ongoing and energetic social reform, including measures as different as Prohibition and Social Security. By starting with the demise of Populism and ending with the triumphs and tragedies of New Deal liberalism in World War II, this course seeks to illuminate the continuities in American political culture that endured despite shifting electoral and economic fortunes, while making genuine changes easier for students to discern.


• Luis Alvarez, The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance During World War II
• Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition
• Dana Frank, Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919-1929
• Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century

Readings by Brinkley, Dos Passos, Gilmore, Herndon, Jackson, Matsumoto, McGerr, Rodgers, Tuttle, Wiebe and Zinn can be found in a course packet available at Village Copier. Readings by Bourne, Cywar, Domingo, Dubois, Riordon, Rudolph, and Twain can be accessed through Courseworks.


1. The Crisis of Confidence
• John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel, 134-137
• Omaha Platform of the People’s Party
• Riordon, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall

2. Empire and Metropolis
• Mark Twain, “Comments on the Moro Massacre”
• Robert Wiebe, “A Revolution in Values” and “Progressivism Arrives,” in Search for Order, 133-195

3. Conservative Progressives
• Hofstadter, “Theodore Roosevelt: The Conservative As Progressive,” 267-305
• Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow, 1-30

4. Politics on the Ballot, Billboard, and Sidewalk
• Michael McGerr, The Decline of Popular Politics, 138-183
• Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow, 147-176
• Zinn, “The Socialist Challenge,” 321-357

5. A War for Progress
• Randolph Bourne, “War Is the Health of the State”
• Alan Cywar, “John Dewey in World War I: Patriotism and International Progressivism” (JSTOR)
• W.E.B. Dubois, “My Impressions of Woodrow Wilson” (JSTOR)

6. Midterm

7. The Aftermath
• Valerie J. Matsumoto, Farming the Home Place: A Japanese American Community in California, 1919-1982
• William Tuttle, Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919

8. The Different Faces of “Normalcy”
• Kamal Abdel-Malek, America in an Arab Mirror, 49-60
• W.A. Domingo, “The New Negro – What Is He?”
• Dana Frank, Purchasing Power

9. Conservatism at High Tide
• Hofstadter, “Herbert Hoover and the Crisis of American Individualism,” 369-407

10. Pressure from the Left
• Denning, The Cultural Front

11. Pressure from the Right
• Film, Cradle Will Rock
• Frederick Rudolph, “The American Liberty League, 1934-1940” (JSTOR)

12. The Limits of Pragmatism
• Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War, 86-136
• Daniel T. Rodgers, “Interests,” in Contested Truths: Keywords in American Politics Since Independence, 176-211

13. War at Home and Abroad
• Luis Alvarez, The Power of the Zoot
• Rodgers, “Epilogue,” 212-225

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