A Thematic U.S. Survey (Second Half) Model

For quite some time I have been tinkering with my ways of teaching the survey (the second half, AKA USII). I’ve flipped, I’ve themed, I’ve occasionally flopped, I’ve blended, digitized, and problematized in the some thirty-odd sections that I’ve taught in the past seven years. (I have not yet backwarded or role-played, but I’m sure both of those are forthcoming). Some might say it results from boredom, or that I’m finicky—maybe I’ll just call it creative destruction and adaptability.

In any case, one approach I have not yet tried is teaching with an edited collection (or two) as my main text. I offer a model for this approach below, organized thematically rather than chronologically, another organizational scheme that I have yet to fully implement. I’ve selected a discrete theme for a class (using a student vote), but that theme (economic development and deindustrialization) was organized chronologically and around skills and historical thinking (the 5 C’s, as a matter of fact). This class, by the way, featured my favorite final exam question OF ALL TIME. Read it (and their final presentation guidelines) here: 2013fall-hist1500-pres-and-final.

What follows is a somewhat imperfect model for a thematically organized course that is also flipped. I suggest two edited collections about the twentieth century (acknowledging that this does not take us back to the beginning of the survey, which at my institution is 1877). The biggest problem, which will be readily apparent, is the relative dearth of primary source analysis in this model. I envision rectifying that problem with the papers for each unit, which would focus on analyzing a source, or set of sources, with the larger historical arguments analyzed in mind.

The edited collections I’ve selected are:

Harvard Sitkoff, ed., Perspectives on Modern America: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century (OUP, 2000)

Bruce Schulman, ed., Making the American Century: Essays on the Political Culture of Twentieth Century America (OUP, 2014)

(I didn’t intentionally choose two Oxford collections on a similar topic…)

Both are works of political history, primarily, and both address core themes that are usually a key part of any survey that I teach. Sitkoff’s collection offers a wider array of foci, including:

  • Mass consumer society
  • United States as major power on the international scene
  • increasing power flowing to Washington and to the presidency
  • rights-based liberalism and regenerative conservatism
  • inequality and the resistance of oppression
  • growth and decline of organized labor
  • enduring ethnic, racial, and religious forces
  • limitations of the American welfare state, when it existed.

Schulman’s collection reexamine several “settled verities” (p. 1) and reimagine popular binaries in American life, including:

  • The Local vs. the National
  • the Public Sphere vs. the Private Sector
  • Domestic Affairs vs. International Relations
  • Liberal vs. Conservative

In the model that I envision, students would read a textbook, the open-source American Yawp, not in chronological order, but by the sections I’ve selected to go along with each theme. This would likely take two sessions because of the amount of reading involved, but I’m choosing to gloss over this particular challenge for the purposes of re-envisioning this course.

In the first session or two for each offering, the students would construct a timeline of events, ideas, people, and turning points related to that theme, and construct a thesis describing change over time.

In following sessions, they would read the assigned essays and explore how these arguments add to, relate to, or alter their thesis of change over time. The number of sessions could be modified for both a hybrid and traditional offerings (I have in mind a hybrid/blended format). Thus, the number of sessions could be adjusted for each of the four parts, as well as for differing lengths of semesters (at my institution our fall semesters are often quite a bit shorter than the spring semesters).  The course could be offered with both or either of the edited collections, depending on the kinds of conversations and arguments one would want to confront in their survey.

At the end of each unit, students could write a paper, revise their thesis; alternatively, such assessments could be made in a midterm/final format, or with shorter writing assignments.

(Please excuse any variations and problems with formatting)

Part I — Politics, the Presidency, and Political Ideology

American Yawp selections:

Ch. 16: V. The Populist Movement VI. William Jennings Bryan and the Politics of Gold

Ch. 20: II. Mobilizing for Reform  IV. Targeting the Trusts

Ch. 22:  II. Republican White House, 1921-1933

Ch. 23: III. Herbert Hoover and the Politics of the Depression VII. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the “First” New Deal VIII. The New Deal in the South  XIII. The End of the New Deal (1937-1939)XI V. The Legacy of the New Deal

Ch. 24: VII. The Wartime Economy

Ch. 26: II. Political, Economic, and Military Dimensions

Ch. 27: V. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society

Ch. 28: V. The Rise and Fall of Richard Nixon

Ch. 29: II. Conservative Ascendance III. The Conservatism of the Carter Years IV. The Election of 1980 V. The New Right in Power

Ch. 30: II. American Politics before September 11, 2001 IV. The End of the Bush Years VI. The Obama Years


William Leuchtenberg, The Twentieth-Century Presidency

Lisa McGirr, Piety and Property: Conservatism and Right-Wing Movements in the Twentieth Century

Cheryl Greenberg, Twentieth-Century Liberalisms: Transformations of an Ideology


(Part IV essays)

Eric Rauchway, Reflation and Recovery in the 1930s and Their Implications for the 2000s

Mark Brilliant, Reimagining Racial Liberalism

John T. McGreevy, Freedom, Faith, Fear: A South Dakota Story

James T. Kloppenberg, Barack Obama and Progressive Democracy

Part II — Creating and Questioning the American Century

American Yawp selections:

Ch. 17: II. Post-Civil War Westward Migration III. The Indian Wars and Federal Peace PoliciesI V. Beyond the Plains V. Western Economic Expansion: Railroads and Cattle VI. The Allotment Era and Resistance in the Native West VII. Rodeos, Wild West Shows, and the Mythic American West VIII. The West as History: the Turner Thesis

Ch. 19: II. Patterns of American InterventionsIII. 1898I V. Theodore Roosevelt and American Imperialism V. Women and ImperialismVI. Immigration

Ch. 21: II. Prelude to War III. War Spreads through Europe IV. America Enters the War V. On the Homefront VI. Before the Armistice  VIII. The Fourteen Points and the League of Nations IX. Aftermath of World War IX. Conclusion

Ch. 24: I. Introduction II. The Origins of the Pacific War III. The Origins of the European War IV. The United States and the European War V. The United States and the Japanese War VI. Soldiers’ Experiences IIX. Toward a Postwar World XI. Conclusion

Ch. 25: III. The Arms Buildup, the Space Race, and Technological Advancement IV. The Cold War Red Scare, McCarthyism, and Liberal Anti-Communism V. Decolonization and the Global Reach of the ‘American Century’ VI. Conclusion

Ch. 27: V. The Origins of the Vietnam War

Ch. 28:  II. The Strain of Vietnam

Ch. 29: X. The New Right Abroad

Ch. 30 III. September 11 and the War on Terror


Robert J. McMahon, The Republic as Empire: American Foreign Policy in the American Century


(Part II essays)

James T. Campbell, ‘A Last Great Crusade for Humanity’: W.E.B. DuBois and the Pan-African Congress

Elizabeth Borgwardt, Commerce and Complicity: Human Rights and the Legacy of Nuremberg

Sean L. Malloy, Liberal Democracy and the Lure of Bombing in the Interwar United States

Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, The Sincerest form of Flattery: The Peace Corps, the Helsinki Accords, and the Internationalization of Social Values

Part III — Inequality, Labor, and Mass Consumption

American Yawp selections:

Ch. 16: I. Introduction II. The March of Capital III. The Rise of Inequality I V. The Labor Movement VII. The Socialists

Ch. 18:  II. Industrialization & Technological Innovation III. Immigration and Urbanization

(Repeat) Ch. 20: II. Mobilizing for Reform  IV. Targeting the Trusts

Ch. 22: III. Culture of Consumption

Ch. 23: II. The Origins of the Great Depression V. The Bonus Army V. The Lived Experience of the Great Depression VI. Migration and Immigration during the Great Depression

Ch. 26: II. The Rise of the Suburbs III. Race and Education IV. Civil Rights in an Affluent Society V. Gender and Culture in the Affluent Society VI. Politics and Ideology in the Affluent Society VII. Conclusion

Ch. 28: VI. Deindustrialization and the Rise of the Sunbelt  VIII. The Misery Index

Ch. 29: VI. Morning in America

Ch. 30: V. The Great Recession VII. Stagnation


Kevin Boyle, Work Places: The Economy and the Changing Landscape of Labor, 1900-2000

Jacqueline Jones, The History and Politics of Poverty in the Twentieth Century

Lizabeth Cohen, Citizens and Consumers in the Century of Mass Consumption


(Part I essays)

Schulman, Brand Name America: Remaking American Nationhood at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

David B. Danbom, National Ideas and Local Power in Fargo, North Dakota during the Great Depression

Joseph Crespino, Party Hopping: Strom Thurmond and the Origins of the Modern GOP

Part IV — Equality and Diversity of America in Historical Perspective

American Yawp selections:

Ch. 23: IX. The New Deal in Appalachia X. Voices of Protest XI. The “Second” New Deal (1935-1936) XII. Equal Rights and the New Deal

Ch. 24: VIII. Women and World War II IX. Race and World War

Ch. 27: III. The Civil Rights Movement Continues VI. Culture and Activism VII. Beyond Civil Rights

Ch. 28: VII. The Politics of Love, Sex, and Gender

Ch. 29:  VII. African American Life in Reagan’s America VIII. Bad Times and Good Times IX. Culture Wars of the 1980s

Ch. 30: VIII. New Horizons


Sara Evans, American Women in the Twentieth Century

Charles Payne, ‘You duh Man!’ African Americans in the Twentieth Century

Nancy MacLean, From the Benighted South to the Sunbelt: The South in the Twentieth Century


(Part III essays)

Mel Piehl, Perspectives on Religion in Twentieth-Century American History

Leslie Berlin, The First Venture Capital Firm in Silicon Valley: Draper, Gaither & Anderson

Wendy Wall, Symbol of Unity, Symbol of Pluralism: The ‘Interfaith’ Idea in Wartime and Cold War America

Julie A. Reuben, Consorting with the Barbarians at the Gate: McGeorge Bundy, the Ford Foundation, and Student Activism in the Late 1960s

One thought on “A Thematic U.S. Survey (Second Half) Model

  1. Pingback: History PhD Kate Jewell Innovates the U.S. History Survey » History | Blog Archive | Boston University

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