Course Syllabus

“When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that ‘all men are created equal’ a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim ‘a self evident lie.’ The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away;
it is still a great day–for burning fire-crackers!!!
Abraham Lincoln, 1855 

“With Liberty –and Justice”—
They cut the rope in bits
And passed them out,
For souvenirs, among the men and boys!
The teeth, no doubt, on golden chains
Will hang
About the favored necks of sweethearts, wives,
And daughters, mothers, sisters, babies, too!
“For ALL!”
Esther Popel, 1934


  • Brands, H.W. American Dreams: The United States since 1945. New York: Penguin, 2011. [LIBRARY RESERVE]


Additional Readings & Resources

  • Ayers, Hannah and Lance Warren. “An Outrage.” Field Studio [WEB]
  • Blight, David W. “For Something beyond the Battlefield”: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War,” Journal of American History 75 (March 1989): 1156-1178. [JSTOR]
  • Chmielelewski, Wendy, “Her Hat Was in the Ring.” Swarthmore College [WEB]
  • Donoghue, Amanda. “Discovering Joshua Lippincott.” Dickinson College, [WEB]
  • Edwards, Rebecca. “1896.” Vassar College [WEB]
  • History 118 Oral History Essays (Andrea Bisbjerg, Glenn Carr, Matthew Ferry, Jordan Forry, Sarah Goldberg, Heidi Kim, Kassidy Lesher, Andrew Long, Charlie Luparello, Dana Marecheau, Caly McCarthy, Patrick Meier, Max Menkes, Matt Pasquali, Nick Reese, Troy Thornton, Roberto Valentino, Vince Warzecha, and Sam Weisman)
  • Locke, Joseph and Ben Wright, eds., American Yawp, 2017-18 ed., [WEB]
  • Macfarlane, Colin. “Henry W. Spradley, Citizen.” Dickinson College [WEB]
  • Magliocca, Gerard. “Father of the 14th Amendment. New York Times, Sep. 17, 2013 [WEB]
  • Pinsker, Matthew and Sarah Goldberg, eds “Prince of Emancipation.” Google Arts [WEB]
  • Schutte, Ryan. “Eufaula Riot of 1874.” Dickinson College, [WEB]


Midterm Exam

On Thursday, March 1, students will take a midterm essay exam covering US history between Reconstruction and the Second World War.  Possible questions will be distributed in advance.  The best answers will demonstrate an ability to support a thoughtful interpretation with strong evidence, including short quotations, striking statistics and careful, chronological references to important events and historical figures.

Oral History Project // Research

The highlight of this semester will be a multi-media oral history project that students will undertake to illustrate an important episode or trend covered in H.W. Brands’s American Dreams (2011).  To begin, students will have to identify an interview subject who can remember participating in some major event or era (pre-2000) described by Prof. Brands in his survey of US history since 1945.  Then, by Monday, April 9 [REVISED], students will need to post selected transcripts of their initial interview Q&A at the course website, a short audio or video clip from that interview, as well as a Timeline JS that provides a concise, graphic summary of the event or era under study using properly credited excerpts from secondary sources and historic images from the public domain.  Each transcript should cover at least 500 words, each snippet should be at least 30 seconds, and each timeline should provide at least six entries.  Late research submissions will be penalized up to 5 points per day.

Oral History Project // Final Essay

By MONDAY, April 30 [REVISED], students will also have to post a thoughtful online essay (about 1,500 words or less) that uses quotations from the oral history interviews which they’ve conducted, along with supporting historical research, to help illustrate some important interpretation from the book, American Dreams.  For this essay, students should use a variety of primary and secondary sources in addition to multiple interviews with their subject. Students who supplement their posts with well-produced documentary video about their projects can receive up to 5 extra credit points. All posts should include a revised timeline from the earlier assignment, edited interview transcripts, and short audio or video snippets from the interview(s).  Details on how to conduct interviews and how to produce audio/video supplements are posted at the course website.  Late posts will be penalized up to 5 points per day.  The best oral history projects will be published at the course site and used in future History 118 courses.

Final Exam

On Thursday, May 10, students will take a final essay exam that will cover topics in American history since 1945.  Possible questions will be distributed in advance.  The best exam answers will demonstrate an ability to support a thoughtful interpretation with an array of strong evidence, including short quotations, striking statistics and references to important events and historical figures.

Grade Distribution

Class Participation                  10 percent

Midterm exam                         20 percent

Oral History Research           20 percent

Oral History Essay                 20 percent

Final exam                              30 percent


Day Date Discussion Topic Reading Assignment
Tuesday 1/23 Methods & Expectations
Thursday 1/25 Second Founding Yawp ch. 15 + Magliocca essay, Spradley video
Tuesday 1/30 Politics of Reconstruction Prince Rivers exhibit + 1874 video
Thursday 2/1 Race and Reunion Blight article + “An Outrage” video
Tuesday 2/6 Farmers & Workers Yawp chap. 16 + 1896 site
Thursday 2/8 Closing of the Frontier Yawp chap. 17 + Indian School exhibit
Tuesday 2/13 American Empire Yawp chap. 19
Thursday 2/15 Progressives & Women Yawp chap. 20 + Her Hat site
Tuesday 2/20 NO CLASS
Tuesday 2/20 Lecture: Komozi Woodard [Required] ATS, 7pm
Thursday 2/23 First World War Yawp chap. 21
Tuesday 2/27 Great Depression Yawp chap 23
Thursday 3/1 Midterm exam
Tuesday 3/6 World War II Brands, chap 1
Thursday 3/8 Cold War Brands, chap 2 + oral history by Forry
Tuesday 3/13 SPRING RECESS
Thursday 3/15 SPRING RECESS
Tuesday 3/20 Communists Brands, chap 3 + Meier, Valentino
Thursday 3/22 1950s Brands, chap 4 + Lesher, Menkes
Tuesday 3/27 New Frontier Brands, chap 5 + Thornton, Ferry
Thursday 3/29 Vietnam Era Brands, chap 6 + Goldberg, Reese
Tuesday 4/3 Toward Watergate Brands, chap 7 + McCarthy, Pasquali
Thursday 4/5 1970s Brands, chap 8 + Long, Weisman
Thursday 4/5 Lecture: John Bodnar [Required] 630pm, Stern
Monday 4/9 Oral history research due By 5pm
Tuesday 4/10 Reagan Realignment Brands, chap 9
Thursday 4/12 Iran-Contra Brands, chap 10 + Marecheau, Warzecha
Tuesday 4/17 End of Cold War Brands, chap 11 + Bisbjerg, Luparello
Thursday 4/19 Clinton World // 1992 campaign Brands, chaps 12 + Carr, Kim
Tuesday 4/24 Culture Wars Brands, chaps 13 // Impeachment
Thursday 4/26 9-11 Brands, chap. 14 // Gore v. Bush
Monday 4/30 Oral history essays due By 5pm
Tuesday 5/1 Obama Years Brands, chap. 15
Thursday 5/3 Lessons & Legacies
Thursday 5/10 FINAL EXAM 2pm – 5pm