History 446: America Between the Wars

Spring 2000

Class meets Tues-Thurs 4.15-5.30 in 124 WALKER


Philip Jenkins                                                                             Office: 407 Weaver Building

Please note: I check my e-mail regularly (obsessively?) and this is an excellent way to get in touch with me if you have a quick question or if you want to make an appointment for a more substantial discussion.


The Course

This course discusses the history of the United States between 1918 and 1945, an era of quite revolutionary social, cultural and political transformation. Among other things, this period is known for the boom years of the so-called roaring twenties, followed by the catastrophe of the Crash and Great Depression, and the restoration efforts of the New Deal. The lead-up to the second world war also raised fundamental issues about the nature of the American nation, and the country's global role.



There are three components to this course:

a. Two essay exams.

Both will be in take-home format, and will draw on both classroom materials and outside readings.

b. Research paper.

You will also be expected to write a major research paper on some topic arising from the class. The paper should be at least fifteen pages in length, fully referenced, with the topic to be agreed with the instructor. Please note: I have to approve the specific topic in advance. Don't go ahead until you get written approval from me on this one (ie if you suggest a general topic and I suggest it is on the right lines but you need to think about the exact approach, that does not give the go-ahead). I will of course offer assistance with bibliographies and advice about library materials. Also, be aware that the Gordon book has just an excellent set of bibliographies on every conceivable topic: please use them.

One option which you may consider if you choose is the following: take any one novel from the list appended at the end of this syllabus: all were published by American writers between 1918 and 1945, and your paper will then discuss the book as a historical source on the period under discussion. You may well have come across some or all of these books in previous classes, and possibly written on them, but I stress that this is not a simple book report. It is a historical rather than a literary analysis (though you might need to touch on literary approaches). You might comment, for example, on how the book reflects the mood of the society at the particular time it was written; what it reveals about attitudes towards race, class or gender; and/or what it suggests about the political attitudes of the time. Basically, I want to know what a historian studying this period might learn from this book. Incidentally, none of these books is on reserve, since they should all be easy to get in cheap editions from any good bookstore. If you cannot get hold of a library copy, please be sure to order a copy of your own in lots of time. Any good bookstore (eg Svoboda's) should be able to get a copy within a week or two at most. These are also exactly the sort of items that will be available second-hand at Websters on Allen Street.

Whatever your choice of topic, you should submit a preliminary draft, which I will then discuss with you on an individual basis during office hours. This draft should be a complete version of everything you propose to be in the final paper, properly written and argued (ie not just a sketch or in point form). This draft will then be revised to create a final version due for presentation in the final examination period. Needless to say, grading will take account of issues such as grammar and punctuation.



Grading for the course will therefore be based on these components:

a. Two essay examinations, each 25% of the total grade                                  = 50%

b. research paper.                                                                                     = 50%


Regular class attendance and participation are of course expected as a necessary element of the final grade.


Class Policies

Deadlines matter, and I intend to enforce them strictly. If you miss a deadline without getting an extension in advance, you get a non-negotiable grade of F on that particular exam, paper or project. Do not get in touch with me after the fact to explain why you missed an exam, unless you produce a proper medical note. Excuses must always be supported by documentation. Valid reasons include medical problems and the like.


Required Texts

All are required, and all are in paperback.


1. Colin Gordon, ed., Major Problems in American History 1920-1945 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). ISBN: 0-395-87074-7

2. Philip Jenkins, Hoods and Shirts (University of North Carolina 1997). ISBN: 0807823163

3. Robert S. McElvaine, The Great Depression (Times Books 1994). ISBN: 0812923278

4. Studs Terkel, Hard Times (New York: Pantheon, 1986). ISBN: 0394746910




1. Jan 11

World War I and afterwards.

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 1-24


2. Jan 13

Reds and the Red Scare.

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 25-54


3. Jan 18


FILM -  The American Experience 2: The Great War, 1918

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 150-180


4. Jan 20

Immigrants and their enemies.

READ Jenkins, HOODS AND SHIRTS, chapters one through four


5. Jan 25

Gender and family.


6. Jan 27



7. Feb 1

FILM -  The American Experience 2: Demon Rum



8. Feb 3


FILM - Dust Bowl

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp.210-239



9. Feb 8

The boom.

FILM - The American Experience 3: Lindbergh

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 89-115


10. Feb 10

Corporate America.

FILM -  The Great Depression: 1 -- A Job at Ford's

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 56-87


11. Feb 15

Crash and Depression.

FILM - The American Experience 3: The Crash of 1929

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp.182-209


12. Feb 17

Coping with catastrophe.

FILM - The Great Depression: 2 -- The Road to Rock Bottom

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 273-301


13. Feb 22



14. Feb 24

The New Deal

FILM -  The Great Depression: 3 -- New Deal, New York

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 303-336


15. Feb 29


FILM -  The American Experience 5: Sit Down and Fight -- Walter Reuther and the Rise of the Autoworkers' Union

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 338-368


16. March 2

Crime and morality

FILM -  The American Experience 4: G-Men -- The Rise of J. Edgar Hoover #61455



17. March 14

The sex crime panic

FILM - The Great Depression: 6 -- To Be Somebody


18. March 16

The courts; Race and civil rights

FILM -  The American Experience 5: Goin' Back to T-Town


19. March 21



20. March 23

The South and West.

FILM -  The American Experience 6: The Hurricane of '38

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp.241-271


21. March 28

FILM -  The Great Depression: 4 -- We Have a Plan



22. March 30

Culture of the 1930s

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 118-149


23. April 4

The new radicalism

FILM - The American Experience 1: The Radio Priest

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 370-396



24. April 6

The radical Right 1930-42

FILM - The Great Depression: 5 -- Mean Things Happening

READ Jenkins, HOODS AND SHIRTS chapters five through eight


25. April 11

Isolation and intervention.

FILM - The Great Depression: 7 -- Arsenal of Democracy


26. April 13



27. April 18

The war.

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 398-426


28. April 20

The war's impact at home.

READ: Gordon, Major Problems, pp. 428-450


29. April 25

Towards the Cold War.

READ Jenkins, HOODS AND SHIRTS, chapters nine and ten


30. April 27






List of novels you might choose for the historical reading paper, IF that is the option you choose.


Lewis Browne, See What I Mean? (1943)

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy (1926)

Dashiell Hammett, The Dain Curse (1929)

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930)

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926)

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1941)

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922)

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith (1925)

Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (1927)

Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here (1935)

John O'Hara, Appointment in Samarra (1934)

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row (1945)

Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)