Beyond the Good War:

Politics, Society, Culture in 1940s America


Class meets Monday evenings, 6.30-9.15

Philip Jenkins                                                                                         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

The decade of the 1940s occupies a curious place in American historical writing. The period is of course dominated by the events of the second world war and its immediate aftermath. Domestic affairs tend to get blurred into the story of the New Deal which immediately precedes it, and all the stereotypes of the 1950s which follow it, images of red-baiting, nuclear war, and Eisenhower prosperity. In fact, the 1940s represent a particularly crucial era, which for example marked a widespread national debate over how much of the New Deal inheritance could or should be saved: was the growth of the federal government a temporary expedient required to deal with the crisis of the great depression, or had the new welfare/warfare state come to stay? Meanwhile, the impact of total war had a massive influence on issues of race, gender and family structure, while military service rapidly accelerated the assimilation of ethnic minorities into a newly reconceived Americanism. In many ways, the mid- and late-1940s witness many of the debates and controversies which would characterize the next quarter century, for instance over civil rights, lynching, and desegregation, and the crucial 1948 election looks forward to the alignments of the 1960s as much as it recalls the New Deal. Culturally, too, the 1940s deserve to be recognized as a very vigorous era, notably in the American cinema. In social and behavioral science, this was a remarkable period, in which documents like the Kinsey report set the stage for the later “sexual revolution.” The era was far more than an interval between the populism of the 1930s and the new experiments of the 1950s. This seminar encourages students to apply interdisciplinary perspectives on what is still one of the most under-worked periods of modern American history. Throughout, we will make extensive use of popular culture, particularly literary and cinematic representations to understand political and social developments.

Course Requirements

The course will take the format of a reading and discussion seminar. I expect that each week, students will come to class having read a common set of chapters. In addition, I will be allotting particular books to people, either as individuals or small groups, so that they can be responsible for leading discussion about those particular issues. Each student should come to class with at least two open-ended questions around which the discussion of the readings should be organized.

Each student will write a major paper on a topic related to problems and controversies raised in the readings. The paper (about 20-25 typed pages, fully referenced) will analyze some issue related to the politics, culture, thought or social developments of the 1940s. Please note that this period is quite underworked, and there are substantial opportunities to maker an original contribution to knowledge, so choose a topic in which you can make substantial use of primary sources and particularly popular culture materials. DO please, at an early stages, check out the rich resources available in Pattee, in the Historical Collections and Labor Archives, and also in the Rare Books collection. My earnest (and quite realistic) hope is that your written work will be good enough to be submitted to a journal for publication. I will be asking each participant to make a presentation based on the paper to the whole group during April. Each student will have half an hour to present his/her research and the questions raised.

In addition, I want you to write a paper of about 1,200 words on any one fictional work published in the period 1940-1950, describing the content of the work, and discussing it critically as a historical source for the period in question. 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 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. FILM reviews would also be quite acceptable. Regular class attendance and participation are of course expected as a necessary element of the final grade.

In summary, the grade will be derived as follows:

paper                                                                                         - 60%

book review                                                                                - 20%

attendance and participation                                                           - 10%

presentation                                                                                - 10%




1. January 8

The 1940s: myths and stereotypes


2. January 15

The good war and afterwards

READ: The Good War


Goulden, The best years, 1945-1950


3. January 22

Domestic politics

READ: The End of Reform


Dunar, The Truman scandals and the politics of morality

Gabler, Winchell

McCullough, Truman

Moore, The Kefauver Committee and the Politics of Crime



Red baiting and the politics of spectacle


Fried, McCarthyism

Jenkins, Cold War at home

Rose The Cold War Comes to Main Street

Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes

Weinstein, and Vassiliev. The haunted wood


5. February 5

Labor Wars

READ: Rainbow at Midnight


MacDougall, Gideon’s Army

White and Maze Henry A. Wallace


6. February 12

Race and the American Dilemma

READ: Native Son


Hill, ed., The FBI's RACON

Jenkins The South in Black and White

Myrdal, An American dilemma

 O'Brien, The color of the law

Rise The Martinsville Seven

Egerton Speak Now against the day




7. February 19

Many Americas


READ: McWilliams,  California : The Great Exception

Cash, Mind of the South

Carey McWilliams, Southern California Country

Starr The Dream Endures


8. February 26    *BOOK REVIEW DUE TODAY!

Religion and the churches

READ: 1950 - Crossroads of American Religious Life


Bach, They Have Found a Faith

Blanshard, American freedom and Catholic power.

Braden, These Also Believe

Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs

Carey McWilliams, Mask for Privilege

Marty, Modern American Religion


9. March 12

Gender and family


Jenkins, Moral panic

May, Homeward Bound

Mitchell, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady


10. March 19


READ: The Killer Inside Me


Black, Hollywood censored

Kinsey, et al Sexual Behavior in the Human Male


11. March 26 *PAPER DRAFTS DUE

Sciences of mind and society

READ: The Age of Doubt


Abrahamsen, Crime and the Human Mind

Merton Mass persuasion

Wertham, The Show of Violence


12.April 2

Culture in the American Century

READ: Cannery Row


13. April 9

The Cinema


Koppes, Hollywood goes to war

Schatz, Boom and Bust


14-15. April 16/23





(items on reserve are marked with a *)


*David Abrahamsen, Crime and the Human Mind (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1944) - 364Ab82c

Marcus Bach, They Have Found a Faith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1946,) BR516.B27

Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censored PN1995.5.B49 1994 

*Blanshard, Paul, American freedom and Catholic power. (Boston : Beacon Press, 1949.)   282.73B611a

Charles S. Braden, These Also Believe (first published 1949. New York: Macmillan, 1963,)

*Andrew J. Dunar, The Truman scandals and the politics of morality Columbia : University of Missouri Press, 1984. E814.D86 1984

*W. J. Cash, Mind of the South (1941) F209.C3 1941

*John C. Culver & John Hyde. American dreamer : the life and times of Henry A. Wallace E748.W23C85 2000 

*Egerton, John. Speak now against the day E185.61.E28 1994

Fried, Albert McCarthyism : the great American Red scare New York : Oxford University Press, 1997. E743.5.F668 1997

*Neal Gabler, Winchell New York : Knopf, 1994. PN4874.W67G33 1994

*Joseph C. Goulden, The best years, 1945-1950 New York : Atheneum, 1976. HN58.G66 1976

*Robert A. Hill, ed., The FBI's RACON (Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press, 1995,) E743.5.F35 1995

McKay Jenkins The South in Black and White Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1999. PS261.J46 1999

Philip Jenkins, Cold War at home. F154.J46 1999

Philip Jenkins, Moral panic (Yale University Press, 1998). HV6570.2.J46 1998

Philip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs (Oxford University Press, 2000). BL2525.J46 2000

*Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia: W. B.Saunders, 1948). HQ18.U5K5

*Koppes, Clayton R. Hollywood goes to war (New York. London : Free Press : Collier Macmillan, c1987. ) D743.23.K66 1987

McCullough, David G., Truman E814.M26 1992

Curtis D. MacDougall, Gideon’s Army (New York: Marzani and Munsell, 1965) JK2391.P7M3

Carey McWilliams, California F861.M25 1971

Carey McWilliams, Mask for Privilege E184.J5M16

Carey McWilliams, Southern California Country (New York: Duell Sloan Pearce, 1946,) 979.49M259s

*Martin E. Marty, Modern American Religion: Under God Indivisible 1941-1960 University of Chicago 1996. BL2525.M37 1986

Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound (New York: Basic, 1988); HQ535.M387 1988

*Robert Merton Mass persuasion : the social psychology of a war bond drive (1946) 301.1523M558m

*Greg Mitchell, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady New York : Random House, 1998 . E856.M57 1998

*W. H. Moore, The Kefauver Committee and the Politics of Crime. HV6791.M67

* Gunnar Myrdal, An American dilemma : the Negro problem and modern democracy (New York. London : Harper & brothers, [1944] E185.6.M95 1944

 O'Brien, Gail Williams. The color of the law HV9955.S63O27 1999

*Eric W. Rise The Martinsville Seven (Charlottesville, VA: Univ. of Virginia, 1995) KF224.M29R57 1995

*Lisle Abbott Rose The Cold War Comes to Main Street University Press of Kansas 1999. E813.R56 1999

*Thomas Schatz, Boom and Bust, Univ. California Press 1999; PN1993.5.U6S318 1997           

Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes Princeton Univ. Press, 1999 E743.5.S37 1998

Kevin Starr The Dream Endures Oxford Univ. Press 1997 . F866.S78 1997

Weinstein, Allen, and Alexander Vassiliev. The haunted wood New York : Random House, c1999 UB271.R9W45 1999

Fredric Wertham, The Show of Violence (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1949). 364W49s

Graham White and John Maze Henry A. Wallace Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c1995. E748.W23W48 1995




Just to give some notions of the literary scene in these years, I offer some representative and fairly random authors and titles:



James M Cain, Double Indemnity

James M Cain, The Butterfly (1946)

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939)

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

Raymond Chandler, The High Window (1942)

Raymond Chandler, The Lady in the Lake (1943)

Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister (1949)

Howard Fast, Citizen Tom Paine (1943)

Howard Fast, Freedom Road (1944)

William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses (1942)

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (1948)

Kenneth Fearing,, The Big Clock (1946)

Robert A. Heinlein, Waldo and Magic, inc.(1950)

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

Laura Z Hobson, Gentleman's agreement (1947)

Charles Jackson Outer Edges (1948)

Charles Jackson Lost Weekend (1944)

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

Sinclair Lewis, Kingsblood Royal (1947)

Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead (1948)

Carson McCullers, The heart is a lonely hunter (1940)

Irwin Shaw, The Young Lions (1948)

Lilian Smith, Strange Fruit (1944)

Spillane, Micky, I, The Jury (1947)

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row (1945)

Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me (1950)

Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar (1948)

Mary Jane Ward, The Snake Pit (1946)

Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men (1946)

Thornton Wilder, The Ides of March (1947)

Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)

Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945)


Obviously, lots of other writers are active in the era, for example, and in no particular order: John P. Marquand, Wallace Stegner, Upton Sinclair, Cornell Woolrich, Zora Neale Hurston, and William Saroyan.




Major poets of the period would include:

Robert Frost                               Robert Lowell                             T. S. Eliot

Wallace Stevens              Marianne Moore              e.e. cummings

William Carlos Williams  Gwendolyn Brooks                      Theodore Roethke

Richard Wilbur,              Karl Shapiro                               Randall Jarrell

John Crowe Ransom                    Allen Tate                                  Conrad Aiken



Lillian Hellman, Watch on the Rhine (1941)

Arthur Miller, All My Sons (1947)

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (1949)

Thornton Wilder The Skin of Our Teeth (1942).

Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie (1944)

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)



James M Burnham The coming defeat of communism. (1950)

James M Burnham The Machiavellians: defenders of freedom (1943)

W. J. Cash, Mind of the South (1941)

Barrows Dunham, Man Against Myth (Boston: Little Brown, 1947)

Robert Merton Mass persuasion : the social psychology of a war bond drive (1946)

Robert Merton and L. Wilson Sociological analysis (1949).

Arnold Toynbee, Study of History (1946)