HIST 605: Seminar in U.S. History (Modern America)
Spring 2015: Thursdays, 6:30-9:20 
Jackson 107


Professor Evan Friss
Email: frissej@jmu.edu
Telephone: 540-568-6168
Office Location and Hours: Jackson 220, TuTh 1:00-2:00, 2:55-3:25

Course Description

We will spend the semester exploring the historiography of American History from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth.  To do so, we will read recent books covering an array of themes.  In order to broaden our conception of historical narratives and reconsider how we think about, teach, and understand American History we will also examine a set of sources from filmmakers, novelists, social critics, and playwrights.  Upon completing the course, you should be familiar with the critical themes and (a slice of the) recent historiography of modern American History.  The course is designed to provide you with an overview of the literature of the field and, I hope, make you a better reader, writer, and teacher of history.

Grading and Assignments:

This is a reading intensive course and the bulk of your time should be spent reading carefully and preparing for class discussions.  In the spirit of the class, please do not read any book reviews of the assigned readings until after we have had a chance to discuss the text.  The assignments are as follows:   

Discussion Leading (15%): Each of you will lead a discussion for one class period.  On your assigned week, you can and should familiarize yourself with the review literature, but only after reading the material yourself first.

Book Reviews (20%): Over the course of the semester you will write four book reviews, each one should be approximately 850 words.

Take Home Final (25%)

Participation (40%)


Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic “F” grade for this course.  For information on other polices, visit: http://www.jmu.edu/history/syllabus.shtml


Jan. 15: Trains
Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of America 

Jan. 22: Murder
Eric Rauchway, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America

Jan. 29: Modernity
Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920

Feb. 5: Culture
Bill Bryson, One Summer: America, 1927
(Novel) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Feb. 12: Biography
David Nasaw, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

Feb. 19: Normalcy
Sarah Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public
(Film) King Vidor, The Crowd

Feb. 26: Sexuality
Margot Canady, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America

Mar. 5: Architecture
Elihu Rubin, Insuring the City: The Prudential Center and Postwar Urban Landscape
(Polemic) Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Mar. 12: Break (No Class)

Mar. 19: Crisis
Sheldon Stern, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality

Mar. 26: Vietnam
Frederik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam

Apr. 2: Race
Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland
(Play) Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park

Apr. 9: Suburbs
Matthew Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South

Apr. 16: The End
Daniel Rodgers, Age of Fracture

Apr. 23: P.S.
A book TBA

Apr. 30: Retrospective

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