History 772 Readings in Modern America: 1890 – 1945 Spring 2005

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History 772  Readings in Modern America:  1890 – 1945 Spring 2005 Assoc. Prof. Childs


Wednesday Dulles 344 1:30 – 4:18

Office:  Dulles 204; 292-7014; childs.1@osu.edu; Hours:  For grads, by appointment/drop-in


Description and Objectives

This is a readings course designed for graduate students preparing for General Examinations in Modern U.S. history in the Department of History and for graduate students from other programs interested in gaining knowledge about Modern America.  It will focus on domestic U.S. history, c. 1890 through World War II.


We will read a mixture of “classics” and recent works by professional historians.  I am especially interested in the student understanding the evolution of Modern American historiography over the last 50 years or so.  Thus, we will begin with a 20-year-old article that surveys what the field was like before the 1980s and where the field should be going.  One question we will ask and answer:  Has the field followed the prescriptions in this article?


The emerging industrial society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged fundamental American assumptions about political power, wealth distribution, and cultural values.  The early weeks of the colloquium will focus on the various “reform” movements:  agrarian discontent and populism, labor organization, economic regulation, suffrage, black civil rights, and “progressivism.”  These reform movements represented American attempts to defend their eighteenth and nineteenth century values (individualism, small-scale competition, democracy, non-concentration of wealth, small government) before the emerging modern world of large-scale businesses and urban areas, numerous ethnic immigrant groups, consumerism, and the ever-growing size of government (local, state, and national).  The remaining weeks of the colloquium will focus on the continuities and discontinuities of reform through World War I, the 1920s, the Depression decade, and World War II.


Several themes will focus our enquiries.  First, many reformers adopted large-scale organizations staffed by experts as a means to control the changes and to shape modern society within their value systems; some reforms were more successful than others in using large-scale organization and experts to achieve these aims.  Historians have employed the “organizational synthesis” paradigm and the theme of “professionalization” to place these efforts in context.  Second, paradoxes and contradictions between ideas, policies, and outcomes mark this period of continuous reform.  Nonetheless, those ideas, policies, and outcomes created the basis for even more attempts at reform following World War II (the Fair Deal; Great Society; New Federalism, etc.).  Why do Americans persist in attempting reform?  Third, following from the first two themes, there is a sense of “inevitability” that pervades much of the work by historians of organizational reform.  Some of the readings will challenge this assumption, and we will test it during our discussions and in the written assignments.  Fourth, how did the women’s and civil rights movements fit into this evolution of American-style reform?  How did the emergence of these reform movements draw from and alter the parameters established at the beginning of the 20th century?



Required Books:  (all available in paperback at SBX)

            Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform:  From Bryan to FDR (1955).

            Warren I. Susman, Culture as History:  The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (1984).

            Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform:  New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (1995).


Assigned articles:  Those not available on J-STOR will be made available in an envelope outside my office door.  Please do not keep an article more than an hour or so.


Assignments and Course Grade

In addition to reading the required books and the assigned essays and contributing to discussion, each member of the colloquium will complete the following assignments.


1.  Participation in class discussion.  [10%]

2.  Prepare one 2-book oral/written review (the written portion will conform to a ‘model’ report handed-out during the first class meeting).  Some students will be assigned one long book.(25%)*

3.  Prepare another two-book oral/written review following the format in 1).  (25%)*

4.  Write a final essay (15-to-20 pages, double-spaced and typed).  Potential essay topics may include:


  1. An essay surveying the notion of reform (its continuities and discontinuities) in the United States from 1890 to 1945. 

  2. An essay analyzing the state of Modern American historiography in 2005.

  3. An extended review of Brinkley’s End of Reform.

  4. Another essay topic generated by the student and agreed to by the instructor.

  5. A practice written general exam.  The instructor will prepare two or three essay topics and hand them to the student, who will have 4 hours to write on two essays (no notes or books allowed!).


This assignment is due Friday June 10.  During the final meeting of the quarter, the regularly scheduled Final Exam period, on Monday, June 6 1:30-3:18, each student will offer a brief oral review of his/her essay.  (40%)


Class participation beyond the facilitation assignment noted above is assumed; extraordinary contributions to the colloquium will be considered when determining the course grade.


*The book reports will be made available to members of the colloquium by noon the Monday before the meeting at which the report will be presented.  Those writing the reports will place copies in the mailboxes of colloquium participants who have mailboxes in Dulles Hall and the remaining copies in the envelope outside my office, Dulles 204, for those who do not have mailboxes.  You may use the Department’s copy machine to copy, collate, and staple your reports.  Please ask a member of the Department’s staff for the user number for graduate courses.  See the handout on the book reports for further instructions.


NOTE:  Papers not delivered by noon on the Monday before the meeting at which the report will be presented will lose one full letter grade (e.g., a B+ will become a C+).


NOTE on absences:  Unless you have a communicable illness, your absence from any meeting will result in a reduction of your course grade by one-third (e.g., an A- would become a B+).


Schedule of Meetings


Note:  Copies of the essays listed below that are not available on J-STOR may be found in the envelope outside my office.


Week              Readings and Topics


1          Introduction


            Themes, assignments, expectations, and responsibilities.

            Historiographical overview.


2          Historiography


            Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform; Alan Brinkley, “Writing the History of Contemporary America:  Dilemmas and Challenges,” Daedalus, (Summer 1984); Thomas Bender, “Wholes and Parts:  The Need for Synthesis in American History,” JAH (1986) and follow-up “A Round Table:  Synthesis in American History,” Journal of American History, (1987).


3          The Organizational Synthesis; Populism


            Louis Galambos, “The Emerging Organizational Synthesis in Modern American History,” Business History Review, (1970) and “Technology, Political Economy, and Professionalism:  Central Themes in the Organizational Synthesis,” BHR. (1983); Brian Balogh, “Reorganizing the Organizational Synthesis:  Federal-Professional Relations in Modern America, Studies in American Political Development, 5(Summer 1991).




4          Progressivism


            Susman, Culture as History, Chapter 6, “The Persistence of Reform.”



5          Progressivism and World War I




6          The 1920s:  Decade of Transition


            Susman, Culture as History, Chapter 7 “Culture and Civilization:  The Nineteen Twenties,” Chapter 8, “Culture Heroes:  Ford, Barton, Ruth,” and Chapter 14, “’Personality’ and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture.”



8          Crash and Depression and the New Deal




9          The New Deal  continued


            Stuart Kidd, “Redefining the New Deal:  Some Thoughts on the Political and Cultural Perspectives of Revisionism,” Journal of American Studies, 22(1988); Susman, Culture as History, Chapter 9, “The Culture of the Thirties.”



10.       World War II and Beyond


            Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform:  New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (1995).



Final Meeting:  Monday, June 6 1:30-3:18


            Students will turn in and summarize their final papers.  Student evaluations of teaching.


Final Papers due in my office, Dulles 204, by 5pm Friday of Final Exam week.


All students must be officially enrolled in the course by the end of the second full week of the quarter.  No requests to add the course will be approved by the Chair of the Department after that time.  Enrolling officially and on time is solely the responsibility of the student.


Academic Misconduct
It is the responsibility of the Committee on Academic Misconduct to investigate or establish
procedures for the investigation of all reported cases of student academic misconduct. The term
academic misconduct includes all forms of student academic misconduct wherever committed;
illustrated by, but not limited to, cases of plagiarism and dishonest practices in connection with
examinations. Instructors shall report all instances of alleged academic misconduct to the
committee (Faculty Rule 3335-5-487). For additional information, see the Code of Student
Conduct (http://studentaffairs.osu.edu/info_for_students/csc.asp).

Here is a direct link for discussion of plagiarism:  http://cstw.osu.edu/writing_center/handouts/research_plagiarism.htm

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