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, August 15, 1855

“We believe that all men are created equal, yet many are denied equal treatment …. But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it.”

–Lyndon Baines Johnson, July 2, 1964

Required Books

  • Brands, H.W. American Dreams: The United States since 1945. New York: Penguin, 2011.
  • Lears, Jackson. Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2009.

Additional Readings & Resources

Midterm Exam

On Thursday, October 12, students will take a midterm essay exam covering US history between Reconstruction and World War I.  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 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 described by Prof. Brands (but only from the period between 1945 and 2000).  Then by MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13 (REVISED), students will create a research post at the course website that includes a relevant quotation from the Brands book, a description of the interview subject, an edited transcript of an initial oral history interview and a supporting timeline. Transcripts need to be at least 500 words (counting answers only).  Interviews may be conducted in person, on the phone, or, if necessary, by email.  Good interviews will demonstrate a sophisticated line of questions that probe subject memories of particular value to historians.  In addition, students will also have to embed on their research post a custom-built Timeline JS that provides a concise, graphic summary of the historical context most relevant to their interview topic.  These timelines (minimum six entries) should include only quotations from secondary sources, properly cited with companion images (also properly credited).  Late research posts will be penalized up to 5 points per day.

Oral History Essay

By Friday, December 8, students will have to post a thoughtful online essay (about 1,500 words) 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. Each post should also include the following:  Chicago-style footnotes, an edited transcript from portions of the interviews, and a revised and embedded TimelineJS.  Students who supplement their posts with well-produced audio or video supplements can also receive up to 5 extra credit points. 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, December 14, 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 8/29 Methods & Expectations What do we owe?
Thursday 8/31 Reconstruction Prince of Emancipation
Tuesday 9/5 Second Founding Pinsker + Magliocca essays, Anthony trial
Thursday 9/7 Closing Frontier Lears, chap. 1 + Lippincott
Tuesday 9/12 Gilded Age

Andrew Carnegie // John D. Rockefeller // Emily French
Lears, chap. 2
Tuesday 9/12 Required Lecture: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz ATS, 7pm //  VIDEO
Thursday 9/14 Segregation (1pm start)

Jacob Riis // Ida B. Wells // Booker T. Washington
Lears, chap. 3 + Lynching syllabus
Tuesday 9/19 Populists & Progressives

Frances Willard // Tom Watson // William Jennings Bryan // JP Morgan
Lears, chaps. 4-5
Thursday 9/21 NO CLASS
Tuesday 9/26 NO CLASS // Draft Exam
Thursday 9/28 NO CLASS // Draft Exam
Tuesday 10/3 Modern America

Henry Adams // Harry Houdini // Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Lears, chap. 6
Thursday 10/5 American Empire

Theodore Roosevelt // Eugene Debs // Woodrow Wilson
Lears, chap. 7
Tuesday 10/10 World War I Lears, conclusion
Thursday 10/12 Midterm Exam
Tuesday 10/17 FALL PAUSE
Thursday 10/19 Great Depression Baker + Yawp, chap. 23
Tuesday 10/24 World War II Brands, chap 1
Tuesday 10/24 Required Lecture:  Erica Frankenberg  VIDEO ATS, 7pm
Thursday 10/26 Cold War Brands, chap 2 + oral history by Forry
Tuesday 10/31 Communists Brands, chap 3 + Meier
Thursday 11/2 1950s Brands, chap 4 + Lesher
Tuesday 11/7 New Frontier Brands, chap 5 + Ferry
Thursday 11/9 Vietnam Era Brands, chap 6 + Forte, Goldberg
Monday 11/13 Oral History Research due Due by 5pm (post)
Tuesday 11/14 Toward Watergate Brands, chap 7 + Reese, McCarthy
Thursday 11/16 1970s Brands, chap 8   + Weisman
Tuesday 11/21 NO CLASS  
Thursday 11/23 THANKSGIVING
Tuesday 11/28 End of Cold War Brands, 10-11 + Marecheau, Bisbjerg
Tuesday 11/28 Required Presentation: Sarah Goldberg Denny 317, 12pm
Thursday 11/30 1990s Brands, chaps 12-13 + Carr
Tuesday 12/5 Since 9/11 Brands, chaps 14-15
Thursday 12/7 Lessons & Legacies
Friday 12/8 Oral History Essays due By 5pm (post)
Thursday 12/14 Final Exam 2pm