History | 1950s America: Happy Days or Path to Protest?
A379 | 10774 | K. Dunak


Above class open to undergraduates and EDUC MAs only.

When asked to imagine the 1950s, Americans often call to mind
idealized images from popular 50s television sitcoms like Leave It
to Beaver.  Two children happily travel around their suburban
neighborhood on their bicycles as their father heads off to the
office and their mother remains at home, cooking, cleaning, and
coming up with ways to better serve her family.  Problems are few,
and those problems that do exist are relatively small and easily
solved.  Affluence, abundance, and contentment are the assumed
characteristics of the 1950s.  Especially when compared to the
social and political upheaval of the 1960s, the 1950s – or at least
our imagined 1950s – appear dull and unremarkable.  But the
historical 1950s was far more complicated than the 1950s that exist
in popular memory.  This class will introduce students to an
alternative view of 1950s America, beginning in the years
immediately following World War II (1945) and extending into the
early 1960s (1963), before protest came to characterize “the
sixties.”

In this class, students will learn to think like a historian.  Using
secondary sources (books and articles written by historians) along
with primary sources (documents, music, and film from the time
period under study), we will work to determine how historians craft
the arguments they do.  What evidence do they use?  What makes an
argument convincing?  What biases to historians bring to their
subject, and how does that affect the vision of the past?  Students
will evaluate the past in much the same way historians do, taking
into account varied interpretations and sometimes conflicting
perspectives.  Students will write several in-class responses and
three papers.  These papers ask the student to put the historian’s
skills into practice.  Paper 1 (3-5 pages) will require the student
to engage with the ideal 1950s and consider the purpose of its
creation.  Paper 2 (5-7 pages) will require the student to consider
the ideal in contrast to critiques and alternative experiences of
the decade.  Finally, Paper 3 (7-10 pages) will require the student
to consider the ideal, the alternative, and the memory of the 1950s
in relation to one another.

This course will help you to: Understand post-World War II American
social, political, and economic life; examine of a variety of
perspectives and experiences in American history; write clearly and
analytically; analyze secondary historical texts; identify and
interpret primary documents; evaluate uses of history in the
contemporary world.