US Since 1945

Alex Cummings


This course is designed to introduce students to the critical issues that shaped American society since the Second World War, from the fight against Communism to debates about terrorism and globalization in the early twenty-first century. Central themes of the course will include: the fragmentation of mass society into niches defined by class, race, religion, and taste; the rise of the New Right and neoconservatism; the relaxing of social mores, particularly regarding sexuality; and the efforts of American thinkers on both the left and the right to cope with the challenges of a globalizing, multipolar world. The course will ask students to analyze pop cultural representations of political and social change, such as films, television programs, and sound recordings, while drawing on the historical interpretations of leading scholars. Most selections will be available online in PDF form, but students are encouraged to purchase Bruce Schulman’s The Seventies, James Mann’s The Rise of the Vulcans, and Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror.

Week 1: Building the “Free World”

• Melvyn Leffler, The Specter of Communism, 64-96
• Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise, 1-29

Week 2: Freedom and Constraint in the Age of Anxiety

• Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound, 10-30
• James Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, 54-97
• Clips: “The House in the Middle” (1954), Advise and Consent (1962)

Week 3: Searching for a Great Society
• The Port Huron Statement (1962)
• Lyndon B. Johnson, “Great Society” speech (1964)

Week 4: Race, Rights, and Identity

• Marc Simon Rodriguez, “A Movement Made of ‘Young Mexican Americans Seeking Change’: Critical Citizenship, Migration, and the Chicano Movement in Texas and Wisconsin, 1960-1975”
• Stokely Carmichael, “Black Power” speech (text and audio, 1966)
• “Activist Amy Uyematsu Proclaims the Emergence of ‘Yellow Power’”(1969)

Week 5: The New Left, Counterculture, and Capitalism

• Doug Rossinow, “‘The Revolution Is about Our Lives’: The New Left’s Counterculture”
• Bruce Schulman, The Seventies, 78-101

Week 6: The Sexual Revolution

• Beth Bailey, “Prescribing the Pill: Politics, Culture, and the Sexual Revolution in America’s Heartland”
• Schulman, Seventies, 159-189
• Clips: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)

Week 7: The Original Quagmire

• James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet, 1-20
• Lorena Oropeza, ¡Raza Sí, Guerra No!
• Clips: The Deer Hunter, Rambo

Week 8: Cities in Crisis

• Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, 7-20, 41-66
• Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, 256-290
• New York Daily News, “Ford to City: Drop Dead” (1975)

Week 9: The Rise and Rise of the New Right

• Kimberly Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan
• E.J. Dionne, Why Americans Hate Politics, 147-170
• Clip: “Freedom 101” (video mash-up of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Malcolm X, 2008)

Week 10: Multicultural America

• Mike Davis, Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US City, 1-48
• Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror
• Clips: Star Trek, The Jeffersons, Roseanne, I’m the One that I Want
• Maya Angelou, “Inaugural Poem” (text and video, 1993)

Week 11: Deindustrialization and the New Economy

• Joseph Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 1-26
• Clip: Michael Moore, Roger & Me (1989)
• Bruce Springsteen, “The River” (1980)

Week 12: Neoliberalism and Nineties Culture

• Thomas Frank, “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent” (1997)
• Bill Clinton, “Big Government” speech (1996)
• Clips: Nirvana, “In Bloom” (1992), the Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy” (1994), Eve Ensler, “The Vagina Monologues” (1996)

Week 13: Globalization, War, and the US in the World

• Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 165-178
• Peter Coclanis, “Down Highway 52: Globalization, Higher Education, and the Economic Future of the American South”
• Los Tigres del Norte, “Somos Mas Americanos” (2001), Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” (2001), Jay-Z and Punjabi MC, “Indian Night Rider” (2006)

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