This course is focused upon the most important period in modern American history. From World War I through World War II, the nation became an urban industrial power and had to come to terms with the costs as well as the benefits of that fact. We fought in the two largest wars in human history, and suffered the deepest depression in our history. In short, we moved from a powerful nation on the margins of world affairs to become the most powerful nation the world has ever known.
We will look at a range of themes in this course -- the nation at war, the many conflicted themes in the 1920s, and, particularly what some historians call the "crucial era": 1929-45. In less than a generation, the nation went on a roller-coaster ride, in the process transforming the nature of the United States.
Much more than in lower-level courses, this one will be focused on themes and discussion. I will lecture some, but our work will be more collaborative -- identifying key moments and themes and developments and discussing the range of their implications.
Below are some of the readings, and an idea about what the written work is for the class. At the end are some very interesting websites I've found relevant to this course and its themes. Contact me if you have any questions!
|If you find the reading challenging and are having a hard time keeping up or getting what you need out of the texts, see if any of my advice on solving the book blues helps.|
Books (available at Buffalo Street Books (formerly the Bookery II, in Dewitt Mall) -- a copy of each will also be on reserve in the IC library):
Anthony J. Badger, FDR: The First Hundred Days (2008). A slender and approachable evaluation of one of the most important three months in the history of American politics.
Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (1990). An award-winning book on the working class, community, and the Great Depression. It gives a radically different perspective upon the experience -- I'm really looking forward to this one!
Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (1925). A collection of stories about America around and in World War I, it will teach us both about the nation's response to that war and about the "lost generation" of intellectuals and their experiments with modernism.
David Kennedy, The American People in World War II (1999). Another Pulitzer Prize winning book on the war. It is the best synthesis I've ever seen, and one the chapters -- War of Machines -- may just change your idea of what is important in wartime. A great book.
William Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 (1958, 1993). This is a classic, first issued in the late 1950s. Despite its age, it is so well written and nicely captures so many themes of the 1920s that I think you will both enjoy the read and get a tremendous amount from it.
Studs Terkel, "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II (1984). A Pulitzer Prize winning book. These 122 oral history interviews (mostly of Americans) are full of gems, and will give you an amazingly complex, multivalent view of this most important of modern wars.
Recommended Reading for all my classes:
History is understood through the written word. It is not simply facts, but interpretations and arguments. You will be asked to write several essays in this course to hone your skill in fashioning historical arguments.
In the first weeks of the course, I will ask you to write a short paper on World War I. You will also have a midterm and final exam asking you to write about the themes we pursue in each half of the course. Brief informal responses -- ventures -- are described below; there will be two due in this course. Several times a semester, I will ask you to respond to the day's readings in writing.
You will also write a 15-page research paper on a specific side of American history in this period. Below is a list of potential topics, and together you and I will define a topic of interest to you.
We will discuss each assignment as the course progresses.
I have developed two webpages giving:
Please look into them (and/or come see me) if you need/want any further help.
Venture (ven´-cher), n. - 1. an undertaking involving uncertainty as to the outcome, esp. a risky or dangerous one. 2. a business enterprise or speculation in which something is risked in the hope of profit. v. - to take the risk of, brave the dangers of, dare [late ME var. of adventure]
Twice in this course, I will ask you to venture into particular situations, texts, or sources in an attempt to broaden your understanding of the experiences of various sides of this historical moment. These assignments will not be as analytical as our other written work - the goal here is not so much to test your critical thinking skills as to get you to connect with and working in primary materials.
(when underlined, you can connect here to the webpage for the venture)
In this venture, you will pursue the sorts of transitions Americans made as World War I descended upon Europe through a brief response to the New York Times coverage on three dates in 1914.
II (when underlined, you can connect here to the webpage for the venture)
In this venture, you will choose a 1920s political milestone -- women's suffrage, Harding's death, or the election of 1928 -- and peruse the coverage of the New York Times, responding informally to what you find.
Research topics for this class can be found on the
Ithaca College and Cornell offer a tremendous number of opportunities for researching U.S history. Here follow some sources that will be of help to you in your projects.
there are a number of helpful Journals, particularly the Journal of American History, the American Historical Review, Journal of Social History, Journal of Southern History, and American Quarterly. They are searchable through the web database "America: History and Life" mentioned below.
a few in the reference collection and hundreds in the stacks. For U.S. history, they are generally in the "E" and "F" sections. Find the right section for the topic you are researching, then browse all around in that area -- you might find just the thing you need but that somehow did not come up in your catalog search.
Several very helpful resources are connected to the IC Library webpage. "America: History and Life" offers a terrific way to get to scholarly works by historians. It is searchable by subject and will connect you to the full-text articles in JSTOR and Project Muse and others. This is a wonderful asset, allowing you direct access to a wealth of scholarship which you can then simply print out or read on your screen. Other options for similar sources: "ProQuest" or Infotrac's"Expanded Academic Index". All of these web sources are databases for articles -- this is one of the two ways the web is useful for historical research
The other way the web is useful for research is when primary sources are put on the web. In particular, the IC library has the New York Times going all the way back to the 1850s. Get to it via the list of databases -- it is under "Proquest Historical Newspapers: the New York Times". We also have the Wall Street Journal. Searchable and nearly complete (some copywritten photos and such are not included), it is very very convenient and wonderfully valuable. Everyone should see if this source will help you.
There are thousands of sites out there with "stuff" having historical content. But because no one is checking them for accuracy, they cannot be depended upon and are not acceptable for this course.
Our library is actually much bigger than you might think. We have books and journals, but through "JSTOR" in particular, the web offers us much more. We are also able to use the holdings of all sorts of libraries across the country. If there is a book or journal article that you want and we don't have it, go to the Interlibrary Loan Form on the IC Library's Catalog page, and ask our library to get it for you. They are very good about getting things, although it takes time to do so. From an "America: History and Life" entry (if the article is not available in full text) you can actualy link to an interlibrary loan form, and it completes the portions about the article you want to order! Convenient. Ask early in the semester, and you could get all sorts of material that our own library does not offer. Ask late, and you won't.
Cornell's Research Libraries:
IC is a college focused on undergraduate education, and our library reflects that orientation. Cornell is a university with a number of graduate-level programs, and therefore it has accumulated library collections many times the size of ours. It has, in fact, 19 separate libraries, although most everything of interest to you would be in the Uris and Olin libraries. I do not require you to research at Cornell, but research libraries offer so many opportunities to expand your understanding of both the potentials of research and what is "out there" on a particular topic, that I highly recommend it. As you research at IC, flip over to the Cornell Library catalog and see what is available there as well.
Much that is on the web is garbage -- anyone can erect a website and no one is policing content to be sure that it is accurate. Just as problematic is the fact that this form and shape for information tends toward abbreviation and illustration: visual stimulation is of the essence, whereas deep analysis and context are to often considered boring and expendable. As in journalism, the key is to keep the surfer's attention and to be brief -- a central tenet to successful web development is to make all pages short.
That means that for substantial historical analysis, we need to look to sources in print. But the web does offer some very good exhibits, and some intriguing primary materials as well. Here are a few sites that I have found interesting and helpful. Let me know if you find others.
Late-19th century to 1920:
World War I and 1920s:
World War II:
Also of Interest:
This website is occasionally maintained by Michael