Us history, 1865 to Present Instructor: Ryan Poe Course Description

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Students may notice that attendance does not factor into the above grading scale save for the discussion quizzes. Only on discussion days is attendance required. Because the course structure is weighted toward lecture the first part of the week, textbook readings may supplement an absence or two. Note, however, that I can tell by reading your essays, quizzes, and test answers whether or not you have attended lectures and will couch my grade evaluations appropriately.
(This section must be altered to take into account any institutional attendance requirements.)

Readings and Course Structure

It goes without saying that any class period with an assigned reading, students are expected to have fully read the material in question. The only exception to this are textbook readings, which are listed for the benefit of unavoidable absences, review purposes, or as a primer before lectures. For this reason, you are not required to purchase the textbook, but be forewarned: having the textbook makes preparing for your exams and writing essays infinitely easier.
Every week will generally follow the same schedule. Monday and Wednesday will be mostly lectures, with sporadic close readings of documents and short articles. Discussion will be light on these days, but students are encouraged to ask questions and spark impromptu discussions should any interesting or complicated subject matter come up. Fridays will be devoted to discussion of a handful of extremely light readings. I have sacrificed volume—and at times secondary sources entirely—for the sake of terse secondary sources and those primary sources I find the most compelling. Participation is required on discussion days to demonstrate that students have read and understand the material. The goal of discussion is to spark critical engagement in both secondary and primary sources, to both understand and question every aspect of an argument or historical document one can manage.
Above all, keep in mind: do not be afraid to ask what you think is a dumb question! There is no more basic of a course in history than this one, and we are all here to learn.

Code of Conduct

(This section must be altered to take into account any institutional attendance requirements.)


  • Required

    • Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, Edward J. Blum, and Jon Gjerde, eds. Major Problems in American History, Volume II: Since 1865. Third Edition.

  • Recommended

    • George Tindall and David E. Shi, America: A Narrative History, Volume 2 (to the Present). The Sixth Edition or newer.

Course Calendar

Readings Key:

* Required Reading

- Suggested Reading

Week 1
Introductions and Emancipation


Course Overview and Introductions



This lecture sets the basic progression for this course by beginning with Emancipation as an international phenomenon (affecting world markets, drawing from a transnational dialog), being the product of a national system of slavery in which both North and South benefited, and affecting regions differently (that is, troubling the geography and the “who freed the slaves” aspect of Emancipation).

* Ira Berlin, et al., “The Destruction of Slavery, 1861-1865,” in Slaves No More (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), chapter 1.

- Sven Beckert, "Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the World Wide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the American Civil War," American Historical Review 109 (2004): 1405-1438.

- Eric Foner, Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and its Legacy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983), particularly Chapter 1.

- Steven Hahn, "Class and State in Postemancipation Societies: Southern Planters in Comparative Perspective," The American Historical Review 95, no. 1 (1990): pp. 75-98.

Week 2


Wartime and Presidential Reconstruction

This lecture will focus on wartime and presidential Reconstruction, which I will pair with a section on the expectations of both freedpeople and Congresional Radical Republicans for Reconstruction.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 18.

- W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (New York: S.A. Russel Company, 1935), Chapters 1-6.

- Armstead L. Robinson, “The Politics of Reconstruction,” The Wilson Quarterly 2.2 (Spring, 1978): 106-123.


Congressional Reconstruction

Here I want to talk about changes in the state during congressional Reconstruction as well as what was going on on the ground level at the time, including thinking about the Freedmen's Bureau, what was going on in the North, and how freedpeople met the challenges of southern intransigence.

* Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), selections from Chapters 6-9 (supplied).

* Risa Goluboff, “Reconstruction Amendments,” PBS Theme Gallery, Slavery by Another Name: tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/reconstruction-amendments/

* All of the (total of six) short videos about on the page, “Reconstruction,” PBS Theme Gallery, Slavery by Another Name,

- Mary Farmer-Kaiser, “'Are they not in some sorts vagrants?': Gender and the Efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau to Combat Vagrancy in the Reconstruction South,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 88.1 (Spring, 2004): 25-49.

- James McPherson, “The Dimensions of Change: The First and Second Reconstructions,” The Wilsom Quarterly 2.2 (Spring, 1978): 135-144.

- Eric Foner, “Blacks and the US Constitution,” New Left Review 183 (September-October, 1990): 63-74, esp. pp 68-72.


Discussion: Race and the West

Here I want to really hammer on the West, immigrants and immigrant labor, Northern ethnic minorities (white or otherwise), and bring in a bit of Shwalm to discuss the impact of slavery's demise on the nation as a whole in order to visualize Reconstruction as a truly national phenomenon with radical implications.

* Moon-Ho Jung, "Outlawing "Coolies": Race, Nation, and Empire in the Age of Emancipation," American Quarterly 57 (2005): 677-701.

* Elliott West, "Reconstructing Race," The Western Historical Quarterly 34, no. 1 (2003): pp. 6-26.

- Leon Litwack, “Trouble in Mind: The Bicentennial and the Afro-American Experience,” The Journal of American History 74.2 (September, 1987): 315-337.

Week 3
Urbanization and Industrialization


Railroads, Transportation, and the Nation

The section is all about the development of railroads via investment by both states and the federal government in railroad building; also can incorporate canal building, road improvement, and the proliferation of telegraphs in a bit of a longer history (as review). I want to talk specifically about Southern Reconstruction-era railroads as well as roads into the West and the affect they had on domestic extractive industry (including logging). I also want to briefly discuss the rise of modern American cities, including a bit on planning, taxation, and internal improvements.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 19.

- Mark V. Wetherington, The New South Comes to Wiregrass Georgia, 1860-1910 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994).

- Sean Dennis Cashman, “Industrial Spring: America in the Gilded Age,” in Fink, ed., Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, second edition, pp 2-7.

- Maury Klein and Harvey Kantor, “Technology and the Treadmill of Urban Progress,” in Fink, ed., Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, second edition, pp. 132-141.


Transformations in the American Economy

This is all about the consequences of the above lecture and in the change from slave labor to sharecropping and renting in the post-emancipation South. I'll incorporate the international economic portrait to show how America's place in coal extraction, logging, and cotton production changed over these years and why that mattered for laborers, owners, managers, and renters.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 20.

- Thomas G. Andrews, “'Made by Toile'? Tourism, Labor, and the Construction of the Colorado Landscape, 1858-1917,” The Journal of American History 92.3 (December, 2005): 837-863.

- James L. Roark, “From Lords to Landlords,” The Wilson Quarterly 2.2 (Spring, 1978): 124-134.

- Gavin Wright, “The Origins of American Industrial Success, 1879-1940,” The American Economic Review 80.4 (September, 1990): 651-668.


Discussion: Living the Transformations

With this section I want to discuss how changes in society affected people in urban environments, in rural farming locations (probably the South with an emphasis on sharecropping), and in Western localities (mining?). I want to tease out the similarities and differences within each to have students come to terms with the affects of things like Reconstruction-era railroad investment, national economic crises, and so on.

* Major Problems Chapter 1, Document 1; Chapter 2, Documents 1 and 8; Chapter 3, Documents 1, 6, 7, 8.

* Bobby Clayton, “Company Towns,” PBS Theme Gallery, Slavery by Another Name: slavery-by-another-name/themes/company-towns/

* “Reflections on a Company Town,” ibid.: themes/company-towns/video-reflections-company-town/

* “Native Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad,” The Transcontinental Railroad, part of PBS's American Experience series: americanexperience/features/general-article/tcrr-tribes/

Week 4
The Gilded Age:

Corporate Power and Organized Labor


The Panic of 1873 and the Gilded Age

With this lecture I want to discuss the Panic of 1873 as one of the things that began leading national political discourse away from the race- and reconciliation- consciousness of the previous decade. Still, I never want to declare an end to Reconstruction due to how dramatic the transformations I document here and above were on the American landscape. I do want to argue with this section, though, that something changed in these years that led to an increase in corporate power and a focus on political corruption, huge money, and concentrations of both wealth and power.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 22.


Workers' Democracy: Labor Fights Back

But here I want to emphasize the sheer amount of labor strife in this era—labor unions, moreover, that advanced a radically different vision of society from that of corporate giants and their political allies. The conclusion, then, is that although national rhetoric changed, organizations like the Knights of Labor were keeping alive a vision of workplace democracy—and although I don't want to argue that they were egalitarians or anything, they were bi-racial and at their peak, they were very much connected to national and even international developments.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 20.

- Eric Arnesen, “'Like Banquo's Ghost, It Will Not Down': The Race Question and the American Railroad Brotherhoods, 1880-1920,” The American Historical Review 99.5 (December, 1994): 1601-1633.

- Tera Hunter, “'Washing Amazons' and Organized Protest,” in Hunter, The 'Joy My Freedom':Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 74-97.

- David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

- Robert E. Weir, “A Fragile Alliance: Henry George and the Knights of Labor,” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 56.4 (October, 1997): 421-439.


Discussion: Hierarchies of Power, Workplace Democracies

With this discussion I want to compare the various visions advanced above: one of communal rights versus one of individual rights by showing different developments in law, texts from the Knights and Henry George, various prescriptions from business organizations on how to manage the labor force, and so on. The goal is to get students thinking of the more abstract difference between democracy-conscious unions and individualist-minded management, an abstract difference that continues to this day.

* Major Problems, Chapter 3, Documents 2, 3, 4, 5.

Week 5
The Gilded Age:

Modernization, Technology, and Agrarian Rebels


Labor Strife, Robber Barons, and Rural Producers

Here I want to incorporate rural producers, particularly those in the South, with the picture of labor and capitalist development above. I particularly want to focus on things like the Knights' various railroad strikes, which were supported by (or at least witnessed by) many rural folks who are traditionally seen as having few opportunities to organize. This will be the section that steps into rural lives in a big way, but also begins connecting them to national developments (in preparation for the Populist discussions).

* Leon Fink, ed., Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Second Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company), Chapter 2, Documents 1,2, and 5; Chapter 4, Documents 2 and 4 (supplied).


Agrarian Protest and the Populist Revolt

One of my favoritist subjects in history. Here, I'll breakdown the difference between seeing the Populists as a regional (largely Southern) phenomenon, and seeing it as a national one. Then I'll give a brief narrative of the movement while keeping in mind the various things Populists themselves prescribed for society so that I can remind students of these when I talk about the Progressives.


Discussion: Populists: Agrarian Rebels or Business-Savvy, Bohemian Technophiles?

Here I want to use a few key sources in Populism's history (keeping in mind the person/place that produced these sources) in order to raise the question of “who” were the Populists, which includes and implicit “where.” I want students to get the sense that the who and where matters when we envision them, and get a debate going about just how radical were the Populist visions.

* Leon Fink, ed., Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Second Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company), Chapter 2, Documents 1,2, and 5; Chapter 4, Documents 2 and 4 (supplied).

Week 6
American Empire


The West

This discussion will be a bit remedial in that it will begin with the argument that the US was never not an imperial nation, and briefly detail how Western expansion was always conquest and colonialism. It will also, however, bring us into the late nineteenth century, discussing further Indian wars, resettlement, homesteading, annexation, Chinese and Mexican labor, and so on.

* Gale Bederman, “Gendering Imperialism: Theodore Roosevelt's Quest for Manhood and Empire,” in Major Problems, Chapter 4.

* Major Problems, Chapter 2, Document 10.

- PBS, “New Perspectives on The West,” (1996)

- Edward Countryman, “Indians, the Colonial Order, and the Social Significance of the American Revolution,” The William and Mary Quarterly, third series, 53.2 (April, 1996): 342-362.

- Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1921).

- Elliot West, The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).


Overseas Empires

Detailing (very briefly) American interest overseas before the 1880s and 1890s, then getting into the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and the conquest of Hawaii. I want to focus here on the various racial and gender discourses funneled into contemporary understandings of imperial conquest.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 23.

* Emily S. Rosenberg, “Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion,” in Major Problems, Chapter 4.

- PBS, “Crucible of Empire: The Spanish-American War” (1999),

- Barry Rigby, “The Origins of American Expansion in Hawaii and Soma, 1865-1900,” The International History Review 10.2 (May, 1988): 221-237.

- Walter L. Williams, "United States Indian Policy and the Debate over Philippine Annexation: Implications for the Origins of American Imperialism," The Journal of American History Vol. 66, No. 4 (Mar., 1980), pp. 810-831.


Discussion: Civilization and Gender

Here I want to compare a few of the documents discussed in Bederman and Hoganson to get students thinking about the commonalities in civilization discourse (mainly the racial and gender hierarchies involved in each), but also the regional circumstances that affected each person's understanding and interpretation of civilization discourse.

* “Chapter 2: The Language of Empire,” in Leon Fink, ed., Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, supplied.

- Gale Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

- Kristin Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

- ibid., “Cosmopolitan Domesticity: Importing the American Dream,” The American Historical Review 107.1 (February, 2002): 55-83.

Week 7
The Progressive Era:

Jim Crow and Disfranchisement


Black Alienation in America

This is the big lecture on the narrative of Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement. I want to sort of gloss over regionalism for the time being and give an almost traditional narrative here, focusing on southern developments in anticipation for the Wednesday lecture. The pairing of them I think will be a cool way to show both how traditional narratives obscure national angles of seemingly regionally-isolated phenomena, as well as how some historical elements are much more connected than we think.

* Leon F. Litwack, “Jim Crow Blues,” OAH Magazine of History 18.2 (January, 2004): 7-11.

* Read the following excerpts and watch the following short films on post-Reconstruction race and labor:
* “Black Codes and Pig Laws”
* “Convict Leasing”
* “Jim Crow and
Plessy v. Fergusson
* “White Supremacy and Terrorism”
* “Voices of Protest”
All of these are located on the PBS website,
Slavery by Another Name,

- Elsa Barkley Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transformation from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture 7 (1994): 107-146.

- Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).


American Racism, American Freedom

This lecture will be a bit of a reminder of past lectures on things like Indian removal, citizenship expansion and contraction, voting, imperial conquest, Reconstruction-era violence in the North (and during the Civil War) to begin a large-scale demonstration of the affects of southern Jim Crow on the nation: lowered national election turnouts, established precedent for voting restrictions and segregation, increasingly marginalized the country's minority populations, and affected the course of national development via the strong southern voting block.

* Matthew Lassiter, “De Jure/De Facto Segregation: The Long Shadow of a National Myth,” in Lassiter, ed., The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism (New York:Oxford University Press, 2010), Chapter 1 (supplied).

* Elizabeth James, “'Hardly a Family is Free From the Disease': Tuberculosis, Health Care, and Assimilation Policy on the Nez Perce Reservation, 1908-1942,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 112.2 (Summer, 2011): 142-169.

- Stephen Kantrowitz, “Ben Tillman and Hendrix McLane, Agrarian Rebels” White Manhood, “The Farmers,” and the Limits of Southern Populism,” Journal of Southern History 66 (2000): 497-524

- Mark Wahlgren Summers, Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

- Elliot West, The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).


Discussion: Regressive and Progressive Voices

I want to do something similar with Progressivism here as I did for Bederman's subjects above, pitting various interpretations of Progressives against each other. In this, I want to include different things like urban reformers, southern progressives, temperance advocates, and the whole cast of characters (along with a bit on their background and history) to get a sense of the diversity of Progressivism. Who, in other words, were the Progressives, and is it fair to lump them together with Jim Crow and disfranchisement?

* “Teddy Roosevelt and Progressivism” and “The Rise of Progressivism,” PBS Themes Gallery, Slavery by Another Name:

* Mark Lawrence Kornbluh, Why America Stopped Voting: The Decline of Participatory Democracy and the Emergence of Modern American Politics (New York: New York University Press, 2000), Chapter 4 (supplied).

* Glenda Gilmore, ed., Who Were the Progressives? (Palgrave: New York, 2002), introduction (supplied).

- Gale Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

- Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

Week 8
The Progressive Era:

Trust Busting and the Populist Legacy


Industrialization and its Discontents

With this section I want to begin to connect the aims and goals of Progressives to those of the Populists by dropping hints that they were both striving to correct inequities spawned by similar problems (industrialization, urbanization, mechanization). I want to focus mainly the early twentieth century, before the big victories in the later eras.

* Tindall & Shi, Chapter 21.

* “Debs Attacks 'the Monstrous System' of Capitalism,” History Matters,

- Major Problems, Chapter 3.

- Brian Gratton and Jon Moen, “Immigration, Culture, and Child Labor in the United States, 1880-1920,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 34.3 (Winter, 2004): 355-391.

- Jason D. Martinek, “'The Workingman's Bible': Robert Batchford's 'Merrie England,' Radical Literacy, and the Making of Debsian Socialism, 1895-1900,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2.3 (July, 2003): 326-346.

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