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History 458
America Since 1945
Spring 2015

"National-Security Blanket"



Instructor: Steve Estes
Office: Stevenson 2070D
Office Hours: M/W 9:30-10:00, 1-2:00

Cartoons by Herb Block in the
Washington Post (1973 & '78)
Library of Congress

"It Comes Out Fuzzy."

It has been said that journalism is the first draft of history. Though historians can learn much from journalists’ succinct and powerful writing style, it behooves journalists to understand the importance of conducting in-depth research and providing context for the events they cover. This course on the United States since 1945 will use the methods of historical scholarship to investigate the recent American past and it will also engage students in an analysis of the relationship between journalism and history. We begin with the emergence of America as a super power at the end of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War in the mid-1940s. Then the course will shift from foreign policy to the home front with coverage of the great domestic revolutions of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s: suburbanization, civil rights, feminism, and gay liberation. In the wake of these social revolutions, we return to the realm of politics and foreign policy to discuss Vietnam, Watergate, the end of the Cold War, and finally the “war on terrorism.” Along the way, we’ll think about the role of historians in revising and re-writing the “first draft of history” penned by journalists.

Philip Caputo, Rumor of War
John Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History
Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums
George Packer, The Unwinding
Ellen Schrecker, The Age of McCarthyism
Bruce Schulman, The Seventies
+ Additional Readings

This course meets on Mondays and Wednesdays. Attendance is mandatory. You may miss up to four classes with no excuse necessary. After the fourth absence, your class participation grade will suffer. The midterm test and the final exam will be based on information covered in course lectures, discussions, and outside readings. There will also be five short quizzes on the outside readings factored in with the classroom participation grade. Students will write a four-page book review on one of six outside readings for the course. Finally, students will write an eight-page paper utilizing historical research and media analysis.

All assignments will be graded on a 100-point scale. The grading breakdown will be:
Book Review 10%
Media Analysis Paper 20%
Midterm 20%
Final Exam 20%
Quizzes/Participation 30%

Assignments & Exams:
Media Analysis Paper: Over the course of the semester students will choose one of three paper topics involving research into the media coverage of a seminal event or events in recent American history. Your research will result in an eight-page paper that addresses the questions below using both primary and secondary sources. Be prepared to give a brief (5-10 minute) presentation on your research.

Topic One: If It Bleeds… Students who pick this topic will read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood along with two scholarly books on the historical relationship between the media and crime.  You will compare coverage of the murders discussed in Capote’s book to the Manson Family murders in 1969. You should use articles and editorials from periodicals such as Time, Life, Newsweek, The New Yorker, New York Times, LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle to discuss media reactions to the violence in Capote’s book and the violence perpetrated by the Manson Family. What does Capote’s book teach us about American society and culture in the late-1950s? What does coverage of the Manson murders teach us about American society and culture in the late-1960s? How did the locations and eras of these crimes affect media coverage? 

Topic Two: The Post vs. the President in Watergate.  Students who pick this topic will read Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men along with two scholarly books and compare the story they tell about Watergate to coverage of the scandal as it unfolded in the Washington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Magazine, Newsweek, or the New Republic.  What ethical dilemmas did Woodward and Bernstein face as journalists reporting on such a sensitive and secretive topic?  How did newspaper editors, the White House, and Congress react to the scandal? How did public views of politicians and the media change over the course of the scandal?

Topic Three: Patriotism and the Press.  Students who pick this topic will read the 9/11 Commission Report along with two scholarly books. They will then compare media coverage of the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath (1941-42) to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (2001). Periodicals such as Time, Newsweek,, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, or Washington Post will serve as the primary source material for this paper. What economic, diplomatic, and military forces led to these attacks? How prepared was the United States for these attacks and how did the country respond? What roles did race and religion play in the American media’s responses to these attacks? What lessons can American leaders learn from these attacks to help guide future American policies at home and abroad?  

Book Review: Each student will do a four-page paper on one of the outside readings assigned to the class. You will choose which book to review on the first day of class. Papers must be typed double-spaced with 12-point font and normal margins. Essays must answer a broad question that will be given out in class two weeks before papers are due. Students will turn in papers before class on the day we discuss the outside readings.

Quizzes/Discussions: There will be several in-class discussions of the outside readings over the course of the semester. Students should have completed the assigned sections of each book before the discussion and should be prepared to contribute to a conversation about the major themes covered by the author. At the beginning of each in-class discussion, there will be a short quiz of multiple-choice questions about the book. Each quiz is worth about five percent of your final grade. The quality of discussion participation can boost students’ grades for this portion of the class by as much as an additional five percent.

Midterm and Final Exam: These exams are broken into two parts. The first section requires students to answer five out of seven short answer questions describing historical figures, organizations, and events covered in lectures, videos, or outside readings. The midterm covers material in the first half of the course, while the final exam focuses on the second half.

Course Schedule

Section I: From Conformity to Confrontation





Course Introduction
Video Clip: Why We Fight;Song: “The House I Live In”


Pearl Harbor to Potsdam:
World War II & Origins of the Cold War


By the Bomb’s Early Light: Truman, Korea & the Military Industrial Complex  


Cold War& Red Scare: (Discussion)
Video Clip: Atomic Café
Gaddis, The Cold War, 1-75; Schrecker, Age of McCarthy iii-106, 126-189, and 226-243.
(Quiz & Book Review)


Cool, Conformity & Crabgrass Frontiers:
Jazz & the Suburbanization of America


John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier:
Politics and the Cult of Personality


A Different Drummer: (Discussion)
The Art and Life of the Beat Generation
Kerouac, Dharma Bums
(Quiz & Book Review)


The Civil Rights Movement:
Video Clip: Eyes on the Prize


Research Day No Class


The Movement Grows Militant:
Black Power, Feminism, Gay Liberation


“If It Bleeds, It Leads”: Crime and the American Media
Video Clips: In Cold Blood & The Manson Family
Media Paper 1


A “Cracker” in the White House:
The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson


War in Southeast Asia:
From the Geneva Accords to Tet


At Home and Abroad: (Discussion)
War and the Anti-War Protests & Midterm Review
Caputo, Rumor of War
(Quiz & Book Review)


Midterm Study Notes & Books


Spring Break No Class


Spring Break No Class

Section II: From Confrontation to Conformity?





Richard Nixon: Détente & Dirty Tricks  


The Media v. Richard Nixon: (Discussion)
Video Clip: All the President’s Men
Media Paper 2


Disco Dandies & Born Again Believers:
Society, Culture and Politics in the “Me Decade”


The Brown Decade: (Discussion)
Decades, Divisions and Historical Periodization 
Schulman, The Seventies
(Quiz & Book Review)


Reagan’s America:
Politics in the Age of Pac-man


The “Evil Empire”:
The Arms Race & End of the Cold War


The Cold War Reconsidered Gaddis, The Cold War, 75-266 (Quiz & Book Review)


Hip Hop America & the Clintonian Consensus: Race, Class & Culture (1980s-90s)  


Networks & Nostalgia:
From “Friends” to “Frenemies”


Civil Liberties and the Press (Post 9/11)
Video Clip: Fahrenheit 9-11
Media Paper 3


Everything to Fear:
Politics and Culture in an Age of Anxiety (2001-2010)


Make-Up Day  


When the Center Doesn’t Hold: (Discussion) The Crisis of National Identity in Postmodern America Packer, The Unwinding
(Quiz & Book Review)


Review Study Notes & Books


Final Exam (2-3:50 a.m.) Study Notes & Books