History | After Vietnam: The United States Since 1973
A300 | 2812 | McGerr


Above section open to undergraduates only

This class tries to solve the puzzle of recent American history.  In
the 1970s, the United States was a nation in decline.  Its economic
future seemed bleak as factories closed, prices rose out of control,
and oil imports soared.  Its political future seemed equally bleak
as the hope of creating a liberal Great Society collapsed in failed
government programs, social conflict, and political scandal.  Forced
to withdraw from Vietnam and accommodate the power of the Soviet
Union, the United States was an aging, vulnerable super power that
could not win the Cold War or compete with the flourishing economies
of Asia and Europe.  Yet a generation later, the nation entered the
twenty-first century once again the preeminent economic and military
power in the world.  At home, Americans had enjoyed a sustained
period of economic transformation and prosperity.  A new
conservatism had reconfigured politics and government.  With the
collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United
States stood alone as a super-power in changing world.  How could
such a turnabout have occurred in so short a time?

In lectures and discussions, the class will answer that question by
using the analytical tools of historians.  We will assess
conflicting explanations for the dramatic changes in American
society over the last thirty years.  And we will explore a broad
range of topics including: the end of the Cold War and the war on
terrorism; de-industrialization and the emergence of an information
economy; the rise of fundamentalism, the Sun Belt, and the new
conservatism; the Reagan “Revolution”; struggles for gender and
racial equality; and battles to define and control American
culture.

Throughout, the class emphasizes the development of critical
analytical skills through the close examination of different kinds
of historical evidence.  Assignments average 50 pages of reading a
week and are drawn from primary source materials including speeches,
congressional debates, court rulings, newspaper and magazine
articles, and advertisements.  Students will also analyze films and
television programs, including "Die Hard", "Avalon", "The Mary Tyler
Moore Show", and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".  There will be three
short papers, two in-class tests, and a final exam.