History 110G – Age of Extremes

A scene from the San Francisco City Hall HUAC riots.

A scene from the San Francisco City Hall HUAC riots; 1960

Welcome to History 110G: Age of Extremes, the United States during the Cold War. This course explores the evolution of the United States from the Second World War through the administration of President Ronald Reagan, with an eye towards understanding the dramatically shifting social transformations that we associate with the period.

Lectures for the course will take place at Porter Acad 144 on Tuesday and Thursdays,  5:20PM – 6:55PM


The class has a mid-term, final exam, two quizzes, section responsibilities, and a term paper. The mid-term and final will work with the same format: you will receive a series of essay questions in advance, and will have to answer one in great detail. In addition, you will receive an array of identifications and will have to write paragraphs explaining five out of seven of them.

Your term paper requirement is explained here.

Participants in the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.

Participants in the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.

Section attendance begins on the third week of class and is mandatory. If you miss more than one section, I reserve the right to substantially reduce your grade or fail you.

You must hand in five section response papers, which should be one to two pages, double spaced. Your TAs will grade them pass/fail. You must answer the section paper for week three and the term paper summary. You choose the other three section papers yourself.

There will be brief multiple choice quizzes on weeks 5 and 10 of the class.

The mid-term is worth 20 percent of your grade; the final 25 percent; the term paper 25 percent; each quiz is worth 2.5 percent; and your section work is worth 25 percent of your grade.

Philosophy of the class

Age of Extremes explores the increasingly polarized atmosphere characteristic of post-World War II United States America. The period’s timeline can be briefly summarized as follows: a relatively brief hiatus of euphoria after the Second World War, followed by an onset of extreme anxiety over the perceived threat of communism, followed by a significant lurch to the left, followed by an even more intense shift to the right.

Can we locate a specific social engine propelling this narrative? This course will explore a variety of sources of stress: tensions over class that exploded during the Great Depression and gender inequalities loom large over the story in key moments. But race stands out as the most consistent driver of social conflict in the second half of the twentieth century. When Americans fought with each other during the Age of Extremes, they more likely fought over some issue that was directly or indirectly connected to the pervasive condition of white supremacy in the USA. This course will continuously make the case for that observation over its eleven weeks by linking race questions to the many other historical issues explored.


Steven J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War
Terry Anderson, The Movement and the Sixties
Larry Addington, America’s War in Vietnam
Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessman’s Crusade Against the New Deal
Susan Douglas, Where the Girls Are
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, volume 2
Your class Power Point presentations.


Week 1: September 28
Introduction to the class

Week 2: October 3 and 5
The “Good War” and its aftermath

Foner, Give Me Liberty, chapters 21 and 22

Online readings: The Munich Agreement, Neville Chamberlain, and appeasement, The Yalta Agreement (Yalta text); The Iron Curtain speech; “Containment” and its critics; The Marshall Plan; The Truman Doctrine and its criticsNSC-68; FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech

Joseph McCarthy at the Army versus McCarthy hearings

Joseph McCarthy at the Army versus McCarthy hearings

Week 3: October 10 and 12
The origins and culture of domestic anti-communism

Sections begin this week.

Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, chapters 1 to 5
Foner, Give Me Liberty, Chapter 23

Online readings: Joe McCarthy’s Wheeling West Virginia speech; Ayn Rand’s testimony before HUAC; the Nixon/Khrushchev debate; Joseph Welch, “Have you no sense of decency?”; (alternative site here).

“Why I won’t vote,” by W.E.B. Du Bois

Section question: How did the experience of the Great Depression and Second World War frame American expectations for the future?


Eisenhower, the first TV president

Week 4: October 17 and 19
Dissent, thaw, and television

Whitfield, chapters 6 to 9
Foner, Chapter 24

Online readings: Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, “Homosexuality and Age”; Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland” speech

“The effects of segregation and the consequences of desegregation, a social science statement,” brief to the Supreme Court in Brown versus Board of Education, 1953.

Section question: What does the experience of McCarthyism tell you about American mass culture and politics?

my-boyfriend-ack_thumb2Week 5: October 24 and 26
The early sixties

Anderson, chapters 1 and 2
Foner, chapter 25
Douglas, Where the Girls Are, introduction through chapter 6

Online readings: Kennedy’s inaugural address; Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech; The Port Huron Statement; The Sharon Statement; Goldwater, Conscience of a Conservative;

John Lewis, original March on Washington speech, 1963; Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream speech”; Ella Baker, the “bigger than a hamburger” speech.

Section question: Define the “Kennedy era.” Was it everything it was hyped up to be?

Quiz 1: (Thursday) Whitfield through chapter 9; one question will ask what you are doing for your term paper; another will ask for the correct spelling of your Teaching Assistant’s name

lyndoninyourfaceWeek 6: October 31 and November 2
Lyndon Johnson

Anderson, chapters 3 and 4
Addington, chapters 1-10

Online readings: The House We Live In; Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin speech; the Great Society speech, 1967; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Malcolm X, The Ballot or Bullet speech

Section question: Please submit to your TA a one page prospectus of your term paper.

Week 7: November 7 and 9
The course continues; midterm exam, November 9.

Start reading Phillips-Fein Invisible Hands, chapters one through six.

whywestrikeWeek 8: November 14 and 16
The second wave of the 1960s

Anderson, chapters 5, 6

Online readings:  National Organization for Women founding statement; Eugene McCarthy, press conference, 1967; The Fair Housing Act (Civil Rights Act) of 1968; Richard Nixon, nomination acceptance speech, 1968

Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power” speech; Cesar Chavez: “The Mexican American and the Church.”

Section question: What was the “counterculture”? What did it think of Lyndon Johnson? Was it right?

Week 9: November 21 and Happy Holidays
Nixon and his consequences

Addington, chapters 11-14
Online readings: Nixon’s  “Silent Majority” speech, 1969; Columbia students, “Why We Strike”

Gil Scott-Heron, 1970, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Section question: Why did Richard Nixon win the White House in 1968?

womenequalityWeek 10: November 28 and 30
The Age of Disco

Anderson, chapter 7
Foner, chapter 26
Douglas, rest of book

Online readings: Betty Friedan, testimony before a Senate committee, 1970; Supreme Court, Roe. v. Wade, 1973; Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence and energy policy speeches; Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Section question: Why did Ronald Reagan become President of the United States?

Quiz 2: Thursday, November 30; Anderson, chapters three through seven

Ronald ReaganWeek 11: December 5 and 7
Ronald Reagan and the “New Right”

Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands, chapters seven through epilogue
Ronald Reagan: First Inauguration address, 1981

Term paper due: Within ten minutes of the last day of lectures (Thursday, December 7)

Section question: How does Invisible Hands define “conservatism”? Where does Kim Phillips-Fein think it came from?

Your final examination will take place on Friday, December 15, 8:00–11:00 a.m. Please do not schedule outings or vacations for this date. I will not schedule alternate exams unless you are a DRC student. Please do not ask me to make an exception in your case. I won’t.

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