Honors | "Trust No One": Conspiracy and Alternate History in Cold War America
H204 | 0013 | Cullather


11:15A-12:30P    TR    BH 214
Honors 204 fulfills COAS topics requirement.
This section meets with Honors H229

Most Americans believe that a government conspiracy killed
President Kennedy, and many believe in conspiracies behind the Gulf War
syndrome, the abandonment of POWs in Vietnam, the crack epidemic, satanic
cults, and UFOs. Television programs like The X-Files have taken ideas
from the fringe and put them at the center of popular culture, making
names like Roswell and Area 51 household words. This course will look at
the way conspiracy theories serve as an alternate history in the public
mind.  Our purpose is not to examine the truth or falsehood of conspiracy
stories, but to view them as a special language for expressing the hidden
politics beneath the calm surface of American life.
Historians have long been interested in the "paranoid style" of
American politics, and we will examine some of the theories they use to
explain it.  Is this a type of mass hysteria induced by the approach of
the millennium and aided by the internet? Does official secrecy make the
public's suspicion only natural?  Is imagining a vast conspiracy a way of
coping with the modern world's assaults on our bodies, our relationships,
and the truth?  We will also ask whether the "real" history we study
serves any different purpose than the alternate histories people construct
themselves.  Starting with the Pearl Harbor conspiracy, will look at
McCarthy-era paranoia, Eisenhower's fear of the military industrial
complex, the potency of rumor and hysteria in race and gender relations,
and acknowledged conspiracies like the Tuskeegee experiment and Operation
Bluebook.