AMERICA IN THE 1940S
NOTE ON RESEARCH PAPERS
Some general comments on the papers, which in my view are a crucial component of this course. Indeed, my main goal throughout the course is to get you into the world of academic writing and, ideally, publishing, so I will be treating these papers as if they are submissions for a scholarly journal. I’ll be saying some things about the difference between good undergraduate work and real graduate scholarship. This all has implications for the selection of topics – see my remarks on the syllabus, which I won’t repeat here.
I am looking for original work, but I am also aware of the limitations you face in terms of resources. Without going too far from Penn State, what can you find? Well, I mention the MS collections in Pattee/Paterno, and Congressional documents are also a very rich source. And of course, you have access to the news media, through the newspapers on microfilm; and DO become familiar with the Index to Periodical Literature. Given this, what can you do realistically? The following list is absolutely not intended to be exhaustive, and I’m open to suggestions. I’m aware that the course covers society, politics and culture, and this list might lean too heavily in the direction of politics and maybe society - so what about culture? Please help set me right on this. Also, I’d be happy to come up with a topic that might assist you in your main area of interest, perhaps your thesis research. But anyway, here are some initial ideas:
1. The Home Front in World War II – lots of possibilities here in terms of community case-studies.
2. Indeed, local or regional case-studies offer a lot of potential for other themes. How about the desegregation of places or institutions in the 1940s?
3. Elections or political campaigns, especially the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948, in its local aspects – this is an interesting and fruitful topic
4. Fears and panics – campaigns against psychopaths, molesters, anti-crime movements, etc.
5. Veterans, and the reintegration of servicemen after the war.
6. Religious movements – again, on a regional or local basis. Moral campaigns against movies, comic books, vice…. There are some major Catholic examples on this. The whole anti-Catholic movement inspired by Blanshard’s 1949 book is fascinating in all this. Try using church or diocesan archives or newspapers.
7. Anti-corruption campaigns in politics or law-enforcement. Great examples in many major cities in this period
8. Labor conflicts, labor movement struggles – some amazing resources on this at Penn State, in both the mineworkers and steelworkers papers. Pitt has the electrical workers’ papers.
9. Looking at the newspapers in this period, just what strikes you in terms of what is covered day by day, not the big political story, but the more personal stuff. Are they concerned about things like domestic violence, rape, child abuse? What can we learn from the coverage? How does this mesh with what we see in major films and novels? What about cartoons? How do they depict minorities, women, radicals…… you get the idea. How about the content of advertisements?
10. How about some of the lesser-noticed ethnic groups in this period – there’s a lot to be written about Native Americans in this period; also Asian-Americans, particularly Chinese.
11. Take a particular year, like 1947 – then take six or so films from that year, and discuss how the cinema of that year reflects the political/ cultural realities.
In any of these instances, a paper would benefit greatly from integrating standard political or social history with cultural aspects, films, novels, radio etc.