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 J Baskin Engineering, room 152 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 3:45 pm.
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.
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
Books are available at the Bay Tree Bookstore
Your class Power Point presentations.
Week 1: September 24
Introduction to the class
Week 2: September 29 and October 1
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 critics; NSC-68; FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech
Week 3: October 6 and 8
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
“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?
Week 4: October 13 and 15
Dissent, thaw, and television
Whitfield, chapters 6 to 9
Foner, Chapter 24
“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?
Anderson, chapters 1 and 2
Foner, chapter 25
Douglas, Where the Girls Are, introduction through chapter 6
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
Anderson, chapters 3 and 4
Addington, chapters 1-10
Malcolm X, The Ballot or Bullet speech
Section question: Please submit to your TA a one page prospectus of your term paper.
Start reading Phillips-Fein Invisible Hands, chapters one through six.
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
Section question: What was the “counterculture”? What did it think of Lyndon Johnson? Was it right?
Week 9: November 17 and 19
Nixon and his consequences
Gil Scott-Heron, 1970, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Section question: Why did Richard Nixon win the White House in 1968?
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?
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 3)
Section question: How does Invisible Hands define “conservatism”? Where does Kim Phillips-Fein think it came from?
Quiz 2: Tuesday, December 1; Anderson, chapters three through seven
Your final examination will take place on Tuesday December 8 from four through seven p.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.