Honors | "Trust No One": Conspiracy and Alternate History in Cold War America
H204 | 0012 | Cullather, N


11:15A-12:30P TR    WH 202

HON H204 Topics course is the same as
COAS Topics Social and Historical credit (S&H)

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.