The Making of Modern America

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HIST6314: Session 2006-7

The Making of Modern America:

The United States since 1920


Course organiser: DR ADAM SMITH



This course offers students an introduction to the key themes and events in twentieth century American history and suggests a framework within which this history can be understood. Topics covered will include the New Deal, the impact of World War Two, US foreign policy, the Civil Rights movement, the emergence of the “New Left” of the 1960s and the domestic impact of the war in Vietnam. The lectures will focus on the competing visions of America that have shaped culture, society and politics since the 1920s.


By the end of the course you should have:

  • gained a good general knowledge and understanding of key themes in the history of the United States since 1920

  • critically engaged with a varied scholarly literature

  • developed a range of critical skills relevant to the successful completion of a history degree such as the ability to sift and synthesize large quantities of evidence; the skill of constructing an argument in written and oral form and the careful analysis of primary and secondary sources


1. Background: the United States and the New Century [no seminar]
2. Prosperity and Discontent: the 1920s
3. The Great Depression and the rise of FDR, 1929-1935
4. The New Deal, 1935-1945: Climax and Decline
5. The domestic impact of World War Two
6. The culture of Jim Crow
7. Red Scare: Anticommunism and its consequences
8. The 1950s: Culture and Society in the Cold War
9. The Cold War and the Liberal Consensus
10. JFK and the new dawn of the 60s [no seminar]
11. Martin Luther King and black civil rights
12. LBJ and the Great Society
13. The Vietnam War and American Society
14. Counter-culture, the New Left and the crisis of 1968
15. Nixon and the "Silent Majority"
16. The Unravelling of the Liberal dream: the 1970s [no seminar]
17. The Reagan Revolution
18. Bil Clinton and the "Culture Wars"
19. The United States in the 21st century[no seminar]
20. Overview: Making Sense of Modern America [no seminar]



The course is assessed (like all Group 1 courses in this Department) on the basis of two essays (which count for 25% of your final mark) and one three hour exam (worth 75%). [Affiliate students are assessed in a different way. Click here to read more.]

It is vital that you are aware of the penalties for late submission of essays and for plagiarism. Please also read the UCL History Department guidelines for writing history essays.

Questions for your assessed coursework essays are listed here. You may suggest a question of your own, but you must agree this with your teacher before starting work on the essay.

Two copies of each essay must be handed in to the History Department office, with a completed 3-part coversheet, which will be date stamped. The pink copy of the cover sheet will be returned to you as a receipt/proof of submission. Please keep this in case of any query. Essays that are not stamped will receive a mark of 0.


For students who attend the whole year: the first essay must be handed in by Monday 20th November in order to receive tutorial feedback; essays that are not received by 5 pm on Monday 11th December will be penalised. The second essay must be handed in by Monday 5th March in order to receive tutorial feedback; essays that are not received by 5 pm on Monday 19 March will be penalised. Together these two essays should total about 5,000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography). You must achieve a pass in both your coursework and your examination in order to pass the course.

For affiliate students leaving in December only (course codes ending in ‘A’): choose two essay questions from the list here; these are equally weighted, and should be submitted to the history department office by 5 pm on 15th December. Together these two essays should total about 5,000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography).

For affiliate students who start the course in January only (course codes ending in ‘B’): choose one essay question from the list below; this essay, which counts for 40% of the final mark, must be submitted by 5pm on 19th March. The second essay, which counts for the remaining 60% of the final mark, will be a summative essay. Options for this essay will be posted on the departmental noticeboard on 23rd April, and it should be submitted by 5 pm on 21st May and no earlier than 14th May. Together these two essays should total about 5,000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography).

For second year History students taking the Group 1A additional half unit: an essay of 5,000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography) should be submitted by 5 pm on Monday 23rd April. The title for the 1A essay must be agreed with the course teacher by 19th January at the latest.

You should aim to get your essays in well before the deadlines, not least because of delays caused by faults with computers, printers, photocopiers etc. Do not expect everything to work smoothly. You are expected to plan accordingly. If printing at home, make sure you have a spare toner cartridge for your printer. Computer problems are not accepted as grounds for an extension.

Any essay submitted after these dates will be penalised by 5 MARKS PER DAY LATE, up to a maximum of FOUR days, after which it will receive a mark of 0. This will be included in the calculation of the overall mark.

Extensions to these deadlines can only be granted by the Chair of the Board of Examiners on the recommendation of the Departmental Tutor. She is only likely to do so in cases of serious illness, which must be evidenced by a doctor's certificate, or bereavement. In particular, it is normal to expect up to two weeks’ illness in the course of the two teaching semesters and applications for extensions on medical grounds received in the last two weeks of the second term, where the illness was clearly of less than two weeks’ duration, will not be granted. Students wishing to apply for an extension should complete a form (available from the Departmental Office) and make an appointment to see the Departmental Tutor. Please note that applications for extensions will not be accepted on the deadline day itself, or subsequently, except in cases of severe illness or bereavement.
All essays must be well presented and clear. Please leave wide margins and use double-spacing to allow teachers to write comments. Proof-read word-processsed work carefully, and do not rely entirely on spell-checkers - they can introduce mistakes, particularly with proper names.

Essays, while based upon what you have read, heard and discussed, must be entirely your own work. It is very important that you avoid plagiarism, that is the presentation of another person’s thoughts or words as though they were your own. Plagiarism is a form of cheating, and is regarded by the College as a serious offence, which can lead to a student failing a course or courses, or even deregistration. Please see the departmental student handbook for further guidance on avoiding plagiarism. (Students not registered in the History Department should ask at the Departmental Office for a copy of the Department’s guidelines).
Any quotation from the published or unpublished works of other persons must be clearly identified as such by being placed inside quotation marks and students should identify their sources as accurately and fully as possible in footnotes.
Recourse to the services of “ghost-writing” agencies (for example in the preparation of essays or reports) or of outside word-processing agencies which offer correction/improvement of English is strictly forbidden and students who make use of the services of such agencies render themselves liable for an academic penalty.

You should note that UCL has now signed up to use a sophisticated detection system (Turn-It-In) to scan work for evidence of plagiarism, and the Department intends to use this for assessed coursework. This system gives access to billions of sources worldwide, including websites and journals, as well as work previously submitted to the Department, UCL and other universities.


Your essays should be based on the lists below, but you may write on a different topic instead so long as you come and talk about it with your class teacher in advance and have formulated a sufficiently rigorous question.

First essay [due Monday, November 20, 2006]

Answer one of the following questions:

  1. What were the consequences of the black migration to the cities in the 1920s and 30s?

  2. How and with what consequences did the position of women in society change during the 1920s and 30s?

  3. What was the significance of the Scopes Trial of 1925?

  4. Account for the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

  5. Did Herbert Hoover's administration accentuate or ameliorate the economic crisis that began in 1929?

  6. "The New Deal was driven by pragmatism rather than ideology". Discuss.

  7. What was the attitude of the New Deal to business and how did it change over time?

  8. In what ways did the Depression and the New Deal affect the lives of African Americans?

  9. Did World War II mark the fulfilment of the New Deal or its abandonment?

  10. How did American women react to the changes they experienced durign the Second World War?

Second essay [due Monday, March 5, 2007]

Answer one of the following questions:

  1. How important was Senator McCarthy to rise of McCarthyism?

  2. "Black protest between the late 1930s and the mid-1950s constituted more than a mere prelude to the drama proper: it was the first act of a two-act play." Discuss.

  3. What were the cultural consequences of the threat of atomic war in the 1950s?

  4. Why did the social conformity of the immediate post-war era face social and cultural challenges in the 1960s?

  5. "Martin didn't make the movement. The movement made Martin". Assess this judgement on Martin Luther King Jr.'s relationship with the civil rights movement.

  6. What were the implications of the black civil rights and the women's movement for the ways in which Americans imagined their own nation?

  7. "The Great Society did not fail. It was abandoned." Discuss.

  8. What is meant by the phrase "rights revolution" with regard to the period since 1965?

  9. Why is the United States so religious?

  10. Assess the relative importance of racial, moral and gender conservatism in Republican success in presidential elections since 1968.

  11. Why has abortion been such a salient issue since 1973?

  12. "American writing the history of their own country are always consciously participating in contemporary political debate". Discuss.

Attendance is obligatory. Persistent lateness or failure to attend classes will result in your de-registration from the course.


Lecture & class times:

Teaching will be through weekly lectures and seminars. In addition we will arrange a half-hour tutorial to discuss your essay during the final two weeks of each term.


Wednesday 10 -11


Tuesday 10-11

Thursday 11-12

Thursday 12-1

*PLEASE NOTE THAT THE TUESDAY CLASSES WILL BE A WEEK BEHIND THE THURSDAY CLASSES i.e. The first Tuesday classes will meet in week 3 to discuss the topic introduced in the lecture the previous Wednesday.

The weekly lecture will introduce each topic and provide an overview of the principal areas of debate. The seminars will then focus on a particular aspect of the topic, sometimes through primary sources. You may be asked to contribute a short presentation for classes. You will certainly be expected to have done some reading. The following lists of key texts provide a good detailed introduction to most of the issues we will be addressing but this short list must be supplemented by the more detailed bibliography at the end of this booklet.


The following books, which will provide you with a good overall grounding in the period, are available at Waterstone’s:

David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (1999)

Anthony J. Badger, The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940 (1989)

Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (1995)

Pete Daniel, Standing at the Crossroads, (1986)

William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II (1999)

Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (2001)

Robert Cook, Sweet Land of Liberty? (1998)


Recommended reading over the christmas vacation:

James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974, chapters 15-25

Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1988)

Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (1985)

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001)

John Morton Blum, Years of Discord: American Politics and Society, 1961-1974 (1991)

Jonathan Schell, The Time of Illusion (1975)

E. J. Dionne, Why Americans Hate Politics (1991)

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