HIST153: The United States Since 1877

Instructor: Doug Sackman 
E-mail: dsackman@pugetsound.edu
Phone: 253.879.3913
Office: Wyatt 130
Office Hours: MW 3-4:30 p.m., F 10-10:45 p.m. (and by appointment)

As Patricia Limerick suggests in the article we will read entitled "Haunted America," the United States is inhabited by ghosts. Though Americans have often viewed their nation as being free from tradition and on the cutting edge of progress, the past nonetheless shadows our nation and its peoples. In part, this course is designed as an investigation of what might be called the specters of the past–the legacies of events and actions that walk with us today.

I do not mean to suggest that this is a journey into darkness–far from it. Understanding the past may enlighten our place in the present, and many of the legacies of our history contain elements we may wish to embrace. Consider the nation’s promise of liberty, equality and opportunity for all, or the country’s role as a haven for immigrants from other lands. But to appreciate the nation’s achievements and ideals, we also must grapple with how that great promise has fared amidst challenges great and small. To do so, we will have to explore parts of the past many people would just as soon forget–for example, how the winning of the west involved violent and often treacherous conquest; the fact that America’s influence abroad has been characterized as much by imperial domination as economic or political uplift; the way that racial or gender divisions have barred opportunities and justified exploitation; the yawning gap between rich and poor in the world’s most prosperous nation; and the suppression of civil liberties in a nation that cherishes its identification with freedom. Fulfilling the American promise might just require that we identify, and excorcise, what haunts the nation.

Approach, Format, Objectives
One of the goals of this course is to provide you with a basic knowledge of important events and developments of the United States and its peoples from 1877 to the present. But the course is not designed as a machine to drill into your heads a disembodied set of names, dates, and events. Learning facts is important, but only if they can be understood in their historical context. Instead of lecturing you on the important facts of American history and then testing you on them, we will explore together how history has been made in America and wrestle with the facts in various ways. Though I will lecture on some topics and themes, much of our class time will be devoted to discussing the readings. Thus, your active participation is vital.

In class, we will have a chance to grapple with the complexity of the past–both as it happened and as we come to understand it. A variety of different kinds of readings have been selected: a textbook, a set of short "primary documents" (i.e. things written by participants in the events we are studying or at the same time as those events occurred), two novels, and three historical monographs. We will be looking for the ways that different kinds of sources open up different windows on the past, and at what those windows allow us to see of the messy process through which history has been made.

At the core of this course is an extensive set of readings; the readings are not merely supplemental. The amount of reading averages about 120 pages per week, though it varies considerably in any given week. It will be challenging to keep up. But doing these readings is the only way that you can engage with American history in depth and discover the tools and information to develop your own ideas about such vital historical issues such as imperialism and westward expansion, immigration and racism, industrialization and class relations, civil rights and the student movement, gender and opportunity, the causes and impacts of major wars, and the role of the media in shaping American politics and identity. Your reactions to the content, ideas and evidence presented in the reading will be crucial to what we do in class. Doing the reading in time for class is thus critical to the success of the course.

In reading selections, you may find it useful to take notes and write down particular questions you might have or topics you would like to discuss. As a student, I found that underlining or highlighting passages, while helpful, was not the best way to prepare me to participate in class discussions. I started to take notes on a separate sheet of paper (or on my computer), listing the relevant page number on the left and then some idea or quote that I found interesting next to it. In class, then, I could use this as an index of my ideas, and then point to a particular passage as a basis for a question or to present my perspective on a particular issue. You may find that developing a note-taking system will work for you. Please bring the readings to class on the day for which they are assigned. If you do not do the readings, you will get little out of the class. If you do the readings, but have nothing to say about them, then the class as a whole will suffer. The more you get involved, the more you will get out of the class, and the more successful the class will be as whole.

Ideally, students in this course:

  • Will gain a sense of how to ask questions about the past and the ability to propose and evaluate different interpretations of events and documents
  • Will develop their skills of oral and written expression, including formulating a position on an open-ended topic and making effective use evidence to support that position
  • Will gain an understanding of how a cultural artifact, like a novel or a painting or a building, can reflect social and political issues of its day
  • Will gain practice working cooperatively in groups
  • Will gain a basic understanding of key developments in American history since 1877, and will be able to distinguish as well as see interrelationships among economic, political, social, and cultural change
  • Will deepen their understanding of how American identity has been forged
  • Will deepen their understanding of how the promise of liberty, equality, and democracy has fared in the course of the nation’s history, especially with respect to such factors as race, class, and gender

The following texts are available in the bookstore. 

  • Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century 
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
  • John Dower, War Without Mercy
  • Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
  • Neal Gabler, Life: The Movie; How Entertainment Conquered Reality
  • James A. Henretta, David Brody, & Lynn Dumenil, America: A Concise History, v. 2, packaged with Reading America's History: Selected Historical Documents, v. 2.
  • 153 Reader

1. Reading, Attendance, Discussion Participation, and 5 prep papers [15%]
Your prep papers, class participation, and attendance will all be taken into account to determine a grade for this category.

To do well in this category, you will need to regularly attend the class as well as participate actively. To help get you started, I will formally require that you raise an issue or make an observation about the reading during class discussion at least once in the term. In making your contribution, please make reference to a particular passage in the text. For example, you might say "On page 37, author X writes Y. He almost implies that all government officials were racist and trying to destroy the constitution, but I think they were just responding to the conditions of the day. After all, we were at war." On the day that you make your first contribution, please send me an email reminder.

Of course, I don’t want you to limit yourself to just one contribution. You can continue to participate in class can come in many ways, including volunteering to read a passage out-loud, responding to questions of issues raised by the instructor, asking questions about a lecture or reading, expressing your own perspectives on a topic, responding to other students’ ideas, actively engaging in small group discussions, and pointing to particular passages in the reading that are relevant to the discussion. If you are having trouble finding an appropriate time to speak up in class, please let me know and I’ll provide some guidance.

2. Quizzes [15%] 
Eight quizzes will be given on the days indicated in the course schedule below. Only your top six quizzes will be counted but normally no make-ups will be allowed. Each quiz will be worth 17 points; thus there are 102 points possible, but your grade will be determined on a 100-point scale. In other words, there are two bonus points possible.

3. First Paper [10%]
A short paper due on September 10. A guideline will be distributed in Week 1.

4. Second Paper [15%]
A four-to-six page paper due in Week 7. A guideline and set of possible topics will be distributed by Week 5.

5. Third Paper [15%]
A four-to-six page paper due in Week 11. A guideline and set of possible topics will be distributed by Week 9.

6. Take-Home Final Exam [30%]
An open-book, take-home exam involving two three-to-five page essays and several short answers. The short answers may ask you to identify a passage that appeared in one of the readings in the course and explain its significance. (Thus, having kept up with the readings over the course of the term will make the task of identifying the passages easier). The exam and guidelines will be distributed by Week 14.

Grading Policies
The work in all of the above categories will be taken into account to determine your final grade. In general, the writing asks you to go far beyond the recitation of facts and information. You will be formulating your own ideas and arguments, gathering and organizing evidence to support your positions, and putting it all together in finished essays that are at their best polished, engaging, original, creative, and/or provocative. I will distribute more specific criteria that I use in evaluating your longer papers. The prep papers are more informal in orientation, and one of their purposes is to allow you to pursue your ideas and hone your writing talents without the pressure of grades. The following statements will give you some idea what level of work and participation constitutes what kind of grade in this course:

C-level work is considered both average and respectable in this course. Work that merits a C represents a serious engagement with the class and the course materials by the student. For papers, this means that the paper deals with its topic, makes use of the proper number and type of sources, shows that the student has grappled with the readings and issues, and advances a central idea or thesis. Yet, the thesis may be vague and there may be problems with the mechanics, organization or clarity of the paper. In terms of participation, the C-level student regularly attends, is attentive to what is going on in the classroom, occasionally offers ideas and perspectives in class, completes the prep papers in satisfactory fashion, and willingly contributes to small group discussions.

B-level work is very good. It represents both serious engagement with and reasonable mastery of the course material. The B-level student maintains their degree of engagement throughout the course, and usually their work shows improvement. Papers that merit a B are well-crafted and organized, advance a central thesis that addresses the paper’s topic in an interesting or illuminating fashion, are mostly free from mechanical and grammatical errors, draw effectively on a range of materials, and are generally persuasive and cogent in their argument. B-level participation involves regular attendance and participation in class discussions. Comments and contributions are often based on a careful consideration of the readings. For example, such a student may sometimes point to a specific passage in the text to back up or develop their comment or question.

A-level work is exceptional. Not only do A-level papers display all of the good qualities of a B-paper, their central argument is advanced with an exceptionally impressive degree of sophistication, originality or insight. The paper’s organization, craft and use of evidence are all excellent. In terms of participation, contributions to class discussions are both frequent and particularly insightful.

Each graded assignment will receive either a letter grade or a point total. Grades and points are converted to a number on a one-hundred point scale (e.g. a B on a paper or a 170 out of 200 points on the final are both equivalent to "85").

Papers will receive a letter grade. The numerical equivalent for the letter grades, including in-between grades (e.g. a B/B-), is as follows unless otherwise noted:

  • A+=98
  • A+/A=96.5
  • A= 95
  • A/A-= 93
  • A-=91
  • A-/B+=89.5
  • B+=88
  • B+/B=86.5
  • B=85
  • B/B-=83
  • B-=81
  • B-/C+=79.5
  • C+=78
  • C+/C=76.5
  • C=75
  • C/C-=73
  • C-=71
  • C-/D+=69.5
  • D+=68
  • D+/D=66.5
  • D=65
  • D/D-=63
  • D-=61
  • F=0

To determine your final grade, your grade for each assignment is weighted according to the percentage value of that particular assignment, combined with all other assignments to come up with an overall number, and then converted to a letter grade using the following scale:

  • 94-100: A
  • 90-93: A-
  • 87-89: B+
  • 84-86: B
  • 80-83: B-
  • 77-79: C+
  • 74-76: C
  • 70-73: C-
  • 67-69: D+
  • 64-66: D
  • 60-63: D-
  • 0-59: F

Late Policy
Assignments that are up to 24 hours late will receive a 1/3 grade reduction (e.g. a B would become a B-); assignments turned in more than one but less than two days late will be lowered 2/3 of a grade; work turned in beyond two-days late will be lowered a full grade.

Academic Honesty
Faith in your academic integrity is vital to all we do at UPS. It should go without saying that the college expects that all work submitted for evaluation in courses will be the product of the student’s own labor and imagination. Of course, you are free to speak with others about your work and share ideas and perspectives. In writing your papers, though, you are developing your own ideas and arguments. You can incorporate the ideas or words of others in your own paper, but to do so you must properly cite your sources. Turning in a paper that attempts to pass off the words or ideas of others as your own constitutes plagiarism (see The Logger for more information). Like other forms of cheating, plagiarism is a contamination that pollutes our environment. Students who knowingly turn in work that involves plagiarism or is marred by other forms of cheating (e.g. copying on a quiz) will not pass the course, though more severe penalties may be recommended for egregious cases.

One can understand the temptation to turn in illegitimate work: students working under intense pressures may turn to cheating as an easy way out. But to do so, you not only steal the work of others, you cheat yourself and your fellow students as well. A real degree from UPS cannot be obtained through looting. If you are worried about your grade or completing an assignment, please come and talk to me. I can work with you to help you get over the hurdles and make it possible for you to get something positive out of the course.

Prep Paper Guidelines
As part of the participation component of this class, you are asked to write five short prep papers of one-to-two pages each that reflect on the f reading for the day and identify a topic suitable for class discussion. The purpose of these assignments is to deepen your engagement with the material, allow you to pursue and communicate your own perspectives in written form, improve your writing through practice, and give you and the class a launching pad of ideas going into the day’s discussion.

Each student will be assigned to a group. Prep papers for your group will be due on the days indicated in the course schedule (below). There are six days assigned for the prep papers for each group, but you only need to do five (the one that you skip is up to you, except that you must do the document gathering prep paper assigned in Week 14). Bring them with you to class, but they will be turned in at the end of class since you may need to refer to them during class time. Under no circumstances, including computer failure, may prep papers be turned in late. (In certain circumstances, I may allow you to switch the day for which you write a prep paper, but you must ask me about this at least 24-hours in advance).

Prep papers should be typed and between one and two pages long. These are meant to be somewhat informal assignments, giving you the opportunity to develop and express your ideas free from the pressure of grading. The papers will be carefully read, and though I will not be able to make extensive comments on the prep papers, they will be assigned a number from 0-4 that assesses their general quality. Prep Papers that receive a two are considered good. If you receive zeroes and ones, you should put more effort into future papers so that they merit twos. Papers that are particularly well crafted and present an exceptionally penetrating, creative, or sophisticated analysis, interpretation or reaction to the day’s reading merit threes or fours. The numbers are not meant to be codes for grades (you might think of them like stars in a film or hotel review: twos are perfectly acceptable, while ones are marginal and threes and fours represent superior quality).

The prep papers involve two components: a topic discussion and an issue identification (issue id):

Topic Discussion
For the topic discussion, I would like you to write two-to-three paragraphs or so about some aspect of the reading for that day that grabs your attention and you would like to discuss. I am not looking for you to summarize the reading. Instead, I would like you to identify some theme or issue raised in the reading and interpret its significance. You need not deal with the reading as a whole; in fact, you may want to focus on a small part of the larger reading (for example, one document in a set of four). You can also draw comparisons between different parts of the reading assignment (how, for example, a document might relate to something written in the textbook, or some other reading we have done earlier in the term).

Issue ID
The second component of the prep paper is the identification of some issue that can be suitable for class discussion. This can be one or two sentences long, and it can be as simple as identifying a quote from one of the readings that you find illuminating and interesting, or questionable. You might also raise a point of comparison (for example, "In what ways do Las Casas and Columbus have different views of Spanish colonization, and what explains this difference?"). Or you might note how some document contains evidence of social, political, cultural or economic change. The issue may be related to your topic discussion, though it need not be. Be prepared with these: I will on occasion ask you to present your issue id in class.

Course Outline
Reading should be completed for the day indicated in the schedule. Remember to take notes and come to class with questions or observations. The "recommended" readings will enhance your understanding of the topic under discussion, but they will not be the focus of discussion.

Part I: Forging Modern America, 1877-1929
We will explore the conquest of the West and the advent of America’s Empire in the Pacific; the development and power of corporations in the age of the Robber Barons; the struggles of workers and farmers in this brave new world; and the efforts of reform that go by the name of Progressivism, in which race, class and gender were hammered against the anvil of a new America.

A. National Expansion: The American Empire in the West and the Pacific
Week 1: "Westward the Course of Empire"
8.27: The View from the Centennial Exposition of 1876
8.29: Indians confront Manifest Destiny

(1) Patricia Limerick, "Haunted America" in 153 Reader
America, ch. 16, "The American West"
Recommended: Documents 16.2, Helen Hunt Jackson, "A Century of Dishonor" and Documents 16.4, Selwyn, "Interview of Kuwapi," (in America’s History Documents)

8.31: The Colonization of Hawai‘i [Groups A and B]

(2) Trask, "Introduction" and "From a Native Daughter," in 153 Reader
(3) Message from President Cleveland to Congress, from the Blount Report, in 153 Reader
America, most of Chapter 21, "An Emerging World Power," pp. 601-625

Week 2: National and Racial Destiny
9.3: Labor Day (no classes)
9.5: Teddy Roosevelt, Nationalism and Racial Identity [Group C]

Gary Gerstle, American Crucible, pp. 3-43
(4) Theodore Roosevelt, "The Strenuous Life," in 153 Reader
Documents 16.5, "On Chinese Immigration" 

9.7: Debating the "White Man’s Burden" [Group D]

(5) "The Debate over the Philippines" in 153 Reader
Documents 21.5, Mark Twain, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness"

B. The Jungle: Social and Cultural Change in the Age of the Corporation
Week 3: Labor, Immigration, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism

9.10: Industrialization and Labor [Group E]

America, ch. 17, "Capital and Labor in the Age of Enterprise."
Documents 17.1, Henry George, "Progress and Poverty"
Documents 17.2, Andrew Carnegie, "Triumphant Democracy" 

First paper due by 4 p.m. today

9.12: Unionization and Scientific Management [Group A]

Documents 17.5-17.8

9.14: Race and the Work of America [Group B]

Gary Gerstle, American Crucible, chapter 3, 44-65
Documents 18.14, Booker T. Washington, "Atlanta Exposition Address"
Documents 18.15, W.E.B. DuBois, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington" 

Quiz 2

Week 4: Chicago as Microcosm of the New America
9.17: Urbanization [Group C]

The Jungle, ch 1-5
America, ch. 19, "The Rise of the City"

9.19: "Nature’s Metropolis": Hogbutcher of the World [Group D]

The Jungle, ch. 6-11
America, 536-542

9.21: Immigration [Group E]

The Jungle, ch. 12-21

Week 5: Reforming The Jungle: The Politics of Progressivism
9.24: Muckraking and Utopia [Group A]

The Jungle, ch. 22-31

Quiz 3

9.26: Suffrage and Progressivism [Group B]

(6) "The Woman Suffrage Movement," in 153 Reader
Documents 20.5, Jane Addams, "Twenty Years at Hull House"
Recommended: America, ch. 20, "The Progressive Era"

9.28: Progressivism and Immigration [Group C]

Documents 20.9, Theodore Roosevelt, "The Struggle for Social Justice"
(7) George Sánchez, "Americanization and the Mexican Immigrant," in 153 Reader
Gerstle, American Crucible, 65-80

Week 6: WWI, Immigration Reform, and Evolution
10.1: The Crucible of World War 1 [Group D]

America, ch. 22, "War and the American State"
Gerstle, American Crucible, ch. 3, 81-127
(9) Smith, "Shut the Door," in 153 Reader

10.3: The Scope of Scopes [Group E]

Constance Clark, "Evolution for John Doe," in 153 Reader
Recommended: (8) Franz Boas, "The Instability of Human Types" in 153 Reader

10.5: No class (I will be away at the Western History Conference.)

Part II: America in the Crises of Depression and War, 1929-1945
Notions of progress and the American Dream are imperiled during the Depression, and symbolized by the Dust Bowl and the plight of John Steinbeck’s Joads; out of the fragmented dreams and myriad proposals for creating a radically different political, social and economic order, FDR builds a new and more powerful State which at once preserves and transforms the old order; America goes to war, and everything–race, class and gender relations, and America’s place in the world–is changed.

Week 7: Fracturing the American Dream and Building the State: The Great Depression and the New Deal 
10.8: The Crash of ’29

Recommended: America, ch. 24

Second paper due in class today

10.10: Radicalism and the New Deal [Group A]

Documents 25.1, Franklin Roosevelt, "First Inaugural Address"
Gerstle, American Crucible, ch. 4, pp. 128-160
(11) "Congress Investigates the 1934 San Francisco Strike," in 153 Reader 

Quiz 4

10.12: Migrant Mother’s America [Group B]

(12) John Steinbeck, Chapters 1 and 5 from The Grapes of Wrath, in 153 Reader
Documents 24.8 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Gerstle, American Crucible, 175-186
Recommended: America, ch. 25

Week 8: The End of the Depression and the Origins of World War II
10.15: Fall Break
10.17: America Goes to War

Recommended: America, ch. 26

10.19: The Ramifications of Pearl Harbor [Group C]

Documents 26.2, Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Four Freedoms Speech,"
(13) Monica Sone, "Pearl Harbor Echoes in Seattle," in 153 Reader
(14) Milton Eisenhower Justifies the Internment of Japanese Americans," in 153 Reader

Week 9: Good War or Race War?
10.22: The Pacific War [Group D]

Dower, War Without Mercy, ix-93
(15) E.B. Sledge, selection from With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, in 153 Reader

10.24: [Group E]

Dower, War Without Mercy, 144-180, 293-317 (Recommended: 203-233)
Documents 26.15. Henry Stimson, "Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb"
Recommended: Documents 26.14 "Remembering the Holocaust"

Part III: America’s Century: From the Cold War to the End of Manifest Destiny, 1945-1975
Henry Luce, publisher of Life and Time, proclaims that this will be "America’s Century." The United States emerges from WWII as a superpower, and becomes locked with the Soviet Union in a global struggle for power; the U.S. portrays the Cold War as a contest between freedom and totalitarianism, and the politics of anti-communism seep into domestic affairs, as dissidents of all stripes are Red Baited and America at home becomes aggressively conformist; but seeds of discontent are growing, and will soon break through the flat and placid surface; Rock’n’Roll, the Beats, the struggle for civil rights, and the counterculture will challenge America’s official sense of achievement and self-satisfaction; the drive for social change will accelerate in the 1960s, ultimately putting America’s ideals and self-image to the test; the war in Vietnam will fan the flames.

10.26: America’s Century

America, chapter 27, "Cold War America, 1945-1960"
Documents 27.1, George Kennan, "Containment Policy"
Documents 27.5, NSC-68

Week 10: Cold War Politics and Culture
10.29: Anti-communism [Group A]

Documents 27.9, Joseph McCarthy,"Communists in the US Government"
Gerstle, American Crucible, 238-256

Quiz 5

10.31: Cold War Culture and Gender [Group B]

(16) Elaine Tyler May, "Introduction," and "Containment at Home," in 153 Reader
(17) Barbara Ehrenreich, "Playboy Joins the Battle of the Sexes" in 153 Reader
Begin Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Recommended: America, 809-820

11.2: Rejecting the Gray Flannel Suit [Group C]

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums, chapters 1-16, 3-120

Week 11: The Civil Rights Era
11.5: The Beats and the King [Group D]

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums, chapters 17-34, 120-244

11.7: Eyes on the Prize 
Third paper due in class

11.9: King and the Civil Rights Movement

America, 823-838
Documents 27.10, 28.14
Gerstle, American Crucible, 268-310
Recommended: Documents 28.16 

Quiz 6

Week 12: Fire! America’s Reckoning with Race & Vietnam
11.12: "What Happens to a Dream Deferred"

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, entire [Group E]

11.14: Berkeley in the 60s

America: ch. 29, "War Abroad and at Home: The Vietnam Era"
Documents 29.4, "The Port Huron Statement"

Thursday evening film: Apocalypse Now! (screening at 7 p.m.)

11.16: "The Smell of Napalm in the Morning"

Gerstle, American Crucible, ch. 8
Documents 29.2, 29.3, 29.11
America, 874-880

Part IV: America in Your Time, 1976-2000
We will examine how the legacy of the 1960s shaped politics and culture in the last quarter century. Ronald Reagan, an actor who became Governor of California in the 1960s promising to clean up the "mess at Berkeley" (the unrest sponsored by student activists), wins the presidency in 1980 and ushers in a conservative agenda. Reagan, dubbed the great communicator, embraces a proud nationalism, invoking the idea, born with the Puritans, that the United States has always been and will continue to be a "city on a hill." Others worry that if America shines like a beacon, it is only lighting up the globe with neon advertisements, and that the media and the entertainment industry have colonized all aspects of American life, including its politics.

Week 13: The Reagan Revolution
11.19: Reagan’s America and beating the "Vietnam Syndrome"

Documents 30.8, Jimmy Carter, "The National Crisis of Confidence"
Documents 30.9, Ronald Reagan, "Acceptance Speech"
America, chapter 30, "The Lean Years"

Quiz 7

11.21: Reagan vs. the 60s Legacy: the Case of Environmentalism

Recommended: America, ch. 31, "A New Domestic and World Order"

11.23: Thanksgiving

Week 14: Reality Programming
11.26: Inventing the Culture of Consumption
Document Gathering Assignment: Ads from the 1920s [Groups A and B]

Gabler, Life: The Movie, 3-52

11.28: The "Global Village"?: Media and Politics in the Postwar World
Document Gathering Assignment: Ads from the 1950s [Groups C and D]

Gabler, Life: The Movie, 53-117
Documents 28.10, "The Television Debates"

Quiz 8

11.30: Identity and Entertainment
Document Gathering Assignment: Ads from the 1980s [Groups E] 

Gabler, Life: The Movie, 192-244
Documents 31.2, Donald Regan, "For the Record"

Week 15: Multiculturalism and Millennial America
12.3: Diversity and/or Union

Gerstle, American Crucible, Epilogue, 347-374
Documents 31.7, "Proposition 187"

12.5: Wars of History and Memory
Final essay exams due by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, December 12