Late Modern US History 1975-2010
407 Pat Neff (254) 710-7555
I check my e-mail regularly, so 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.
This course discusses aspects of the very recent period of US history, a period that is a little difficult to name, but “Late Modern” is a standard usage.
The course is unusual in its chronological setting. Many college courses at various levels discuss specific eras of US history, but for various reasons, few of them have moved beyond an arbitrary boundary set around the early to mid-1970s. I talk about these chronological issues in this blogpost, which provides an extended rationale for the present course:
Whatever the reasons, the consequence is that few courses presently address a lengthy period of immense significance, which is marked by changes and developments quite as momentous in any era of the nation’s history. That is true whether we are considering matters of race and ethnicity; gender and sexuality; national security and terrorism; the changing role of religion in public life; and (arguably most important of all) in technology.
So tumultuous has this “late modern” period been that it now forms the subject of a substantial and growing literature, which lays the foundation for an emerging academic field. University departments are becoming aware of what has hitherto been a serious gulf in their coverage, and academic jobs are appearing at a steady rate. As the field is still developing, one of our major tasks will be to identify its most important critical questions and debates.
As you will see from what follows here, this is also a course about different ways of doing history. We will explore a variety of different studies, which are both top-down and bottom-up in their approach. Some are more theoretical, others strictly nuts and bolts in their approach. Some are more popular, other more academic. Some of the authors will be reading explicitly think of themselves as historians, others are sociologists or political scientists.
I have a particular interest in the nature of sources, and how historians employ diverse materials to draw conclusions. Throughout, we will pay close attention to the use of documents and other forms of evidence. Obviously, from the nature of the era, sources come in very diverse media and forms, and are by no means limited to hard copy books and writings.
Among other themes, the course will explore how popular culture can be used to illuminate themes in social and political history; and at the same time, to understand the interrelationship between popular culture and mainstream politics. We will use our understanding of political and social realities to illuminate the study of culture, high and low, from film and fiction to the visual arts.
A glance at this syllabus will indicate my own particular areas of interest, both themes and geographical areas. I am however very flexible towards accommodating other people's interests and areas of expertise, and would encourage individuals to use their papers to pursue their own particular projects. Ideally, I would like this class to provide a foundation that you can build upon in your dissertation work.
Although this is primarily a history course, I am open to a wide variety of other disciplines and approaches, including literary and artistic methods and subject matters.
GOALS OF THE COURSE
To examine how particular eras acquire the historical stereotypes they do.
To understand the making of historical memory, as it is created and cultivated through scholarship, popular media, journalism, and cultural work. The past is legacy; what we think about it is history.
To show how the political assumptions and prejudices of academic historians lead them to create and sustain myths and stereotypes about historical eras and themes. As part of this, to see how historians over- or under-state particular eras by the decision to study them, or not. Arguably, historians tend to over-study eras of revolutionary or radical change, and underplay the equally significant periods of reaction or retrenchment.
To show even in a fairly recent historical period, common scholarly and popular assumptions and stereotypes can be very far from any kind of objective accuracy.
To show how easily commonly accepted stereotypes about American history break down when set in an international or comparative context.
To point out the flaws and limitations involved in discussing American history in terms of presidential and national politics, eg "the Reagan Revolution,” "the Clinton years.” The problems of personalizing history.
To explore the role of social, cultural, technological and demographic factors in explaining what are often seen as purely political developments.
To stress the essential integration of domestic and foreign policy themes that are commonly treated as wholly separate.
To explore the importance of changing gender roles in the making of mainstream political life.
To understand the changing role of religion in American life and politics, a story that is far more complex than the familiar stereotype of the "Christian Right".
To explore how popular culture can be used to illuminate themes in social and political history; and at the same time, to understand the interrelationship between popular culture and mainstream politics, and the complex influences that link the two - influences that run both ways.
To use our understanding of political and social realities to illuminate the study of culture, high and low, from film and fiction to the visual arts.
To understand the history of commemoration, and the interplay of history, politics and memory. In the US context, these questions often (but not inevitably) concern matters of race.
To show how so much of what we take for granted has not always existed, and in fact emerges out of a particular set of debates and controversies in a specific historical setting. As examples, to explore the origin of themes, problems and assumptions that originated in this era, eg concepts of child abuse, the "war on terror," and the drug war. Far from being timeless or inevitable, all these were historically contingent and originated in a particular set of historical circumstances.
To understand the origins of current party political structures and ideologies. We will observe the critical transition in American politics from the historic emphasis on class and economics to the politics of morality, identity, gender: in short, the end of New Deal alignments. In the process, we will ask whether the old politics were in fact as class-oriented as they are commonly represented; and at the same time, how far class underlies modern alignments.
To challenge the popular view that politics based on issues of morality and gender represent a diversion from "real" politics of economics and class; to suggest that issues of morality have their own independent validity.
To understand the origins of modern gender attitudes and assumptions.
To understand the continuing power of conspiracy and paranoia in American political culture.
To allow members of the seminar to explore these themes in detail with specific reference to issues, problems or debates relevant to their own interests.
To help members of the seminar identify and explore understudied research topics.
All these are, or should be, in affordable paperback editions.
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New Press, 2011)
Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New Press, 2010)
Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution (New York: Simon and Schuster 2015)
Walter Isaacson, The Innovators (Simon and Schuster 2014)
Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Philip Jenkins, Images of Terror (materials to be circulated electronically)
Doug Rossinow, The Reagan Era (Columbia University Press, 2015)
Gil Troy, The Age of Clinton (Thomas Dunne, 2015)
Gil Troy and Vincent J. Cannato eds., Living in the Eighties (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)
Daniel Williams, God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)
I could easily have used lots more collections of documents, readings, etc., but an unimaginably vast range of texts is available for free on the Internet. These cover every conceivable topic you might be researching. Early in the course, please get to know your way around the resources they offer.
Just because I require a book does not mean that I vouch for its argument, or agree with most or all of it. (That also applies to texts that criticize me!) Part of graduate education is learning how to address texts and sources of different genres and approaches, including those that might be far removed from your own. And even some that make you angry! I can’t make this point too strongly.
In these required books, I have strived to offer a balance not just of viewpoints, but of ways of telling a story. One might be more analytical, another more of a survey. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? Reading such a diverse range of books should help you understand the many and various ways in which a story can be told.
And even reading a bad book can give you strong hints about how to write a good one ….
I expect you to use these books in different ways. In some cases, you will be reading through from start to finish. In others, I will be specifying particular sections or areas that demand your attention. I will do this in more detail in the web pages that I am assigning to each title. These are intended to give you guidance about reading and contextualizing each book.
A General Note on Reading Required Books
I also offer the following list of questions that apply to any and all of the prescribed books – or indeed, to some extent, to any academic book that you might encounter:
1. First, obviously, what is the book about, and what is its central theme or point?
2. Does the author make his/her case well and clearly? Is the book well-written and well-argued? (the two points are not necessarily the same!) If not, why not?
3. The fact that the book was published indicates that somebody thought it made an important and innovative point – there’s no point in just rehashing old familiar arguments, or so we would think. What’s new about this book? Is it a controversial study?
4. What did the book tell us that was not previously known? What can we learn about how the book fits into the existing literature, yet advances beyond previous knowledge? What earlier or established position is it arguing against?
5. Why are people studying this kind of topic right now? What does this tell us about the state of historical writing and scholarship?
6. Does the author push the evidence to make it fit into contemporary concerns and obsessions? How?
7. What major questions and issues surface that relate to the topics of the present course?
8. Is the book of any interest or significance beyond the immediate scope of the study addressed?
9. Are there questions that you would like to ask that the author does not deal with, or covers poorly?
10. What can we learn from the footnotes and acknowledgments about how the author went about his/her research?
11.If you were going to challenge the book or its arguments seriously, how might you go about it? What other sources or perspectives might you use or explore? Why do you think the author did not do what you are suggesting?
12.Assume you were an academic reviewer for this book, prior to publication. Would you support publication or not? Why? What if any changes might you suggest or demand?
SYLLABUS OF CLASSES
1. January 8 Introduction
How the US absorbed the experience of the 1960s. Hedonism, individualism, and transformation in the Seventies.
DISCUSS: several blogposts of mine, collected here:
January 15 MLK day NO CLASS
2. January 22 Reagan’s Revolution
The claims and limitations of the “Reagan Revolution” at home and abroad. Moralism, militarism and reconstruction.
DISCUSS: Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares
See discussion questions at http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/j/p/jpj1/decade.htm
3. January 29 America in the World: The Cold War and Afterwards
Nuclear decisions, and how the world avoided annihilation. New World Orders. Were the right decisions made?
DISCUSS: Douglas Rossinow, The Reagan Era
See discussion questions at
4. February 5 Culture Wars
LIBRARY VISIT TODAY
Revolutions in gender and sexuality, and the reaction they stirred. How the culture wars were lost and won.
DISCUSS: Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution
See discussion questions at
5. February 12 Crime, Criminals, and Monsters
How social problems were reconfigured to emphasize individual guilt and sin. Creating monsters. The Drug War as the central battlefront of social policy.
DISCUSS: Troy, The Age of Clinton
See discussion questions at
I NEED TO KNOW THE TITLE AND TOPIC OF YOUR TERM PAPER TODAY, PLEASE
6. February 19 The Old Economy
The decline of traditional manufacturing, crisis of the old working class. The oil boom and energy policy
DISCUSS: Jefferson Cowie, The Last Days of the Working Class
See discussion questions at
7. February 26 The New Economy and its Crises. Or, Winners and Losers
Remaking the world: finance and high tech; the new global economic order; free trade and NAFTA. Towards the crash of 2007-2008
DISCUSS: Isaacson, The Innovators
See discussion questions at
March 5 SPRING BREAK NO CLASS
8. March 12 Changing America
Facing West from California’s Shores: reconstructing America’s racial and ethnic realities. Redrawing America’s internal maps. South, West, Migration. Cities.
DISCUSS: Troy and Cannato eds., Living in the Eighties
See discussion questions at
9. March 19 A New Religious World
Religious changes since the 1970s and how they relate to social, economic and culture trends. Revolutions in the churches.
DISCUSS: Williams, God's Own Party
See discussion questions at
PAPER DRAFTS ARE DUE TODAY
10. March 26 Race and American Dilemmas
Race, class and politics; race and the criminal justice system. Race and the Obama years. Issues of memory and commemoration. The Politics of Protest
DISCUSS: Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
See discussion questions at
April 2 EASTER NO CLASS
11. April 9 Wars Without End
US involvement with Iran and the Arab Gulf; conflicts with Qaeda and terrorism. Wars on terror, and life during wartime. The new hundred years war?
DISCUSS: Philip Jenkins, Images of Terror
See discussion questions at
12. April 16 CLASS PRESENTATIONS
13. April 23 CLASS PRESENTATIONS
Hard copies of final paper drafts are due at my office in Pat Neff by Tuesday, May 8 at 10am. If you want to hand it in earlier than that, great.
In most cases, you cannot submit papers electronically. An exception can be made in rare circumstances, eg if, say, you live 40 miles out of town and driving in especially to deliver the paper would be a major personal inconvenience. (P.S. most of you do not live 40 miles out of town).
REQUIREMENTS AND POLICIES
The course will take the format of a reading and research seminar.
Each week, students will come to class having read an assigned book or document. Each student should come to class with open-ended questions growing out of the general theme, around which the discussion of the readings should be organized. In each case, I will supply beforehand a general list of questions and prompts that will guide you in making your way through the readings.
Participants will write a substantial research paper on a topic of their choice. Students should base their research on primary sources from the period, supported by scholarly secondary sources, either books or journal articles. I am flexible about possible themes, and am happy to assist you in developing a workable topic and a list of sources. See below for more comments on this issue.
By the week of February 12, I need to know the title and topic of the paper you will be writing. Obviously, I need to approve your choice before you proceed with writing it.
Undergraduate papers should be between 5,000 and 6,000 words, including footnotes. Graduate student papers would be between 6,000 and 8,000 words, including footnotes. You should follow Kate Turabian’s A Manual For Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations as a style guide. Grading will of course take account of issues such as grammar and punctuation.
By the week of March 19, I will expect you to submit a preliminary draft, which I will then discuss with you on an individual basis during office hours. The draft by the way, is a full-length version of the paper, fully referenced, as opposed to a two or three page “concept paper”, and it should thus be in connected prose, not in point form. This draft will then be revised to create a final version due for presentation in the final examination period. That gives you plenty of time to do any necessary fine-tuning.
Attendance and Participation 20%
SOME CLASS MATERIALS AND GUIDELINES
General Comments on Writing and Publishing
Both Dr. Kidd and myself blog a great deal, and both of us have written at some length on the way in which historians work, how they choose topics, etc. You should check out some of our columns on this issue, as they do offer useful guidelines that should be helpful as you think about your own work for this coming semester. Do especially look at my piece here:
Other posts you might find useful on the subject of publishing include:
Together, these posts – and plenty by my Baylor colleagues – summarize a great deal of the introductory material I would otherwise be going over verbally in class, so do please take the time to look at them.
Choosing a Topic
One other piece you should look at is this one, which specifically addresses what a graduate course is and how a seminar paper fits into that structure:
So how do you choose a topic for a paper? You can start with the general comments above, but these are all very broad. The question then arises of how you can say something useful and interesting within a very small space, which is what a seminar paper actually is.
As to a subject, my main criterion is that it should fit within the period of the course, which is easy enough, but also speaks to the general themes and issues that we have identified. For that, see the relevant section above, especially that section on American Megatrends.
Within those parameters, you might choose a particular individual, a movement, an episode, a controversy, or a region. One approach I find valuable is that of microhistory, where you focus on a specific conflict or incident, but not only for the details of that one thing. You use that phenomenon as a key to unlock a much larger picture of social attitudes and feelings, and possibly wider debates and movements. In any of these cases, you would be trying to say something that no scholar has said before, which might mean focusing on some theme that has not been picked up before. That does of course getting to know exactly what has been said on the topic.
Detailed local and regional histories are appropriate, especially since major cities summarize so many of the themes I have identified. New York City and San Francisco are both massively tempting, but they have been done to death in this era. There are so many other potential candidates.
Histories based in culture and art are fine, provided that the discussion is tilted towards the major themes of the course. Visual arts offer some really tempting examples, as does music (punk, hip-hop, country, grunge…) – but do remember that I insist on primary source materials.
A similar point can be made about sport as a potential subject.
One excellent area to explore for the present topic is that of social movements, which might include pressure groups or mutual support groups. Among the very miscellaneous causes that come to mind immediately in such movements are anti-nuclear, civil rights, women’s rights, Latino rights, environmental, not to mention broader political pressure groups of all sides, from Occupy to Tea Party. Particular issues would include shale oil and fracking, saving industrial plants and factories; 1980s battles over Central America and refugees; debates over abortion, censorship, pornography, gender violence and rape; gay rights and gay marriage; drunk driving; NAFTA; police behavior and official illegality. Some of the long continuities in such movements are of interest, as individuals and groups have morphed and developed since the 1970s. Through such movements, we often see the shifting battlefronts of the culture wars.
Self-help groups are also interesting, especially in the world of “survivors” of various kinds.
Although this is certainly not just a course about Texas, I strongly encourage you to check out resources available on this state, which in so many ways serves as a microcosm in many of the debates and issues that I hope to cover in my courses. Texas would certainly offer plenty of options in terms of political developments, technological advances, urban history, racial controversies and debates, immigration, and generally in social movements over a wide range of issues.
Do note: if you never mention the word Texas in your papers, that is also fine! And if you do nothing even tangentially connected to social movements, that is also quite acceptable. The comments here are just meant as helpful examples.
That Texas comment also gets to the critical importance of using primary sources, loosely defined. Depending on the topic, these might include popular culture materials. Do be aware of the very rich resources to be found in visual evidence – paintings, prints, leaflets, films…. Music can also be a rich historical source. If you can find such materials nearby, in archives within the state, that’s fine.
One limitation there, though. A topic might seem wonderfully interesting, but if you can’t find a way to study it using at least some primary sources, then you will have a problem.
I am always interested in issues of memory, commemoration and reputation – why some people or movements change in historical esteem (or popular regard) over time. Some of the fiercest cultural battles of this era were firmly rooted in history, for instance, in the Enola Gay controversy of the early 1990s. Today we think of memorials concerning slavery and the Confederacy, or the celebration of Columbus Day.
This gets to the critical issue of historiography. Suppose for instance that historical attitudes to topic X have changed enormously over time. Why has that happened? Is it a consequence of new evidence, of shifting ideologies, or what? Does the history of a past era largely reflect the concerns and preoccupations of the present in which the historian is writing? Do historians simply trend to ignore certain evidence if it does not fit in with their preconceptions? Just how do historians argue, how do they handle evidence, how do they come to the conclusions they do? Throughout, the key question is, how do we know what we think we know? In that case, you would be writing not an exhaustive history of the particular topic, but rather tracing the major themes and issues in the historiography.
Those are the sort of criteria I want you to be thinking about.
One suggestion: take a moment to look at one of the major journals, and see the sort of things that people have been publishing on in the past few years. That gives you a asense of how wide or narrow such publishable topics turn out to be. In the case of very recent (Late Modern) material, you might be enouraged to find how relatively little has been written, and what vast areas remain to be studied.
As they always say: there is indeed an app for that. It’s called Browzine. If you don’t know Browzine as a resource for studying academic journals, do please get to know it. It is easily accessible through the Baylor library system:
A Note on Presentations
Each participant will make a presentation based on the paper to the whole group towards the end of term, in either the meeting on April 16 or 23. Unless you have VERY strong reasons for preferring one date rather than the other, I will be assigning you to a particular time slot on one of those days.
Each of the presentations will take 30 minutes, which corresponds nicely to the kind of time allocation you can expect presenting in a major academic conference. I expect you to speak for about 20-25 minutes, leaving a few minutes for questions. That time-length will be strictly enforced. Please let me know in advance if you will need any audio-visual resources.
We can talk in detail about how exactly such a presentation should proceed, but a couple of basic guidelines include:
*Begin by saying what the presentation is about, and give the title.
*Tell us up front why you chose the subject, what you expected to find from the research, and (maybe here, maybe later) tell us how that corresponded to your actual findings. Tell us how and why that topic fits in with the announced goals of the course.
*Be sure to address the “so what” question, about why other people should care about this area.
*That gets to the critical matter of audience. Who exactly are you speaking to, and what background knowledge of this area can you assume? How much do you need to tell people? The other members of the seminar are all educated people with a strong interest in history, and specifically the history of religion. But even they may not know the minutiae required to follow or understand your topic. As always, think exactly who you are speaking (or writing) to.
*If you need maps, handouts, visuals or supplementary materials, use them.
*Tell us how you went about finding sources and resources.
*Develop your argument.
*Summarize your conclusions.
I’m certainly not operating a checklist as to whether you hit most or all of these issues, leave alone cover them in any particular order, but experience has shown that this is a good general model.
Deadlines matter, and I intend to enforce them. If you miss a deadline without getting an extension in advance, you get a grade of F on that particular paper or project. Do not get in touch with me after the fact to explain why you missed a deadline, unless you produce a proper medical note or other documentation. Valid reasons include medical problems and the like.
“Attendance and participation" carry a substantial 20 percent of the grade. I expect you to do the readings for every class, and I reserve the right to call on people individually through the term to comment or respond on particular texts, or issues arising from them. If you do the readings, and take a full and regular part in class discussions, then that will have a major positive impact on your grade. On the other hand, consistently not participating, not doing the readings - or repeatedly being absent from discussions - is equivalent to failing to do the term paper.
I don’t necessarily expect a 100 percent attendance rate, but repeated absences or consistent non-participation will have serious consequences. It does not just mean that you will receive a slightly lower grade: just like refusing to do a paper or an exam, it means that you would simply have not completed the class, and would therefore receive a grade of F for the entire course. It's important to spell out that expectation from the outset. If you are not prepared to do the readings and participate fully, then please drop the class now.
UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATIVE AND LEGAL POLICY DOCUMENT:
Important Comments and Advice
We as faculty members have high academic expectations of you and believe every student who has been admitted to Baylor can be successful. I am a vigilant professor and will notice if you are struggling in my course. If your academic performance in this class is substandard, I will submit an Academic Progress Report to the Success Center during the sixth week of the semester. I will work to help you get the help you need to learn more fully, and I can assist you in finding the resources you need beyond my course. Familiarize yourself with the culture of success we have at Baylor by stopping by the Paul L. Foster Success Center in Sid Richardson or by going to: http://www.baylor.edu/successcenter/. Even if you don’t need help, you can get involved by tutoring other students in the future or by telling a hall mate how and where to get help.
One of the best ways to take full advantage of learning in my course is by coming to my office hours. I look forward to guiding you in your academic pursuits. Take advantage of the hours listed above or email me for an appointment.
Plagiarism or any form of cheating involves a breach of student-teacher trust. This means that any work submitted under your name is expected to be your own, neither composed by anyone else as a whole or in part, nor handed over to another person for complete or partial revision. Be sure to document all ideas that are not your own. Instances of plagiarism or any other act of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Honor Council and may result in failure of the course. Not understanding plagiarism is not an excuse. As a Baylor student, I expect you to be intimately familiar with the Honor Code at: http://www.baylor.edu/honorcode/
Any student who needs academic accommodations related to a documented disability should inform me immediately at the beginning of the semester. You are required to obtain appropriate documentation and information regarding accommodations from the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA). Contact Information: (254) 710-3605 - Paul L. Foster Success Center, 1st floor on the East Wing of Sid Richardson.
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The Title IX office understands the sensitive nature of these situations and can provide information about available on- and off-campus resources, such as counseling and psychological services, medical treatment, academic support, university housing, and other forms of assistance that may be available. Staff members at the office can also explain your rights and procedural options if you contact the Title IX Office. You will not be required to share your experience. If you or someone you know feels unsafe or may be in imminent danger, please call the Baylor Police Department (254-710-2222) or Waco Police Department (9-1-1) immediately. For more information on the Title IX Office, the Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Interpersonal Violence policy, reporting, and resources available, please visit the website provided above.
Military Student Advisory
Veterans and active duty military personnel are welcomed and encouraged to communicate, in advance if possible, any special circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployment, drill requirements, disability accommodations). You are also encouraged to visit the VETS Program Office with any questions at (254) 710-7264.