Thursday, May 9, 2013

Marty McFly meets Abraham Lincoln

Doc Brown and Marty McFly, Back to the Future. Photo from The Huffington Post.
Over the course of the semester, we've seen the United States go from a nation recovering from a bloody Civil War to an imposing superpower embroiled in a Cold War with the potential to destroy all nations and all people, to an empire with new enemies at home and abroad. Imagine you closed your eyes one day in 1865 and opened them again in 1990 (or vice versa). What is different about the world now around you? What is the same?

Monday, May 6, 2013

FDR and Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan became a conservative icon and was associated with the reduction of many federal social-welfare programs which originated with the New Deal. However, Reagan was an ardent supporter of FDR and the New Deal. Despite his anti-union role in the PATCO strike in 1981, he was an active member of the Screen Actors' Guild (a union representing film actors) and served as its president for six years. Reagan officially switched his party affiliation in 1952, and became a Republican governor of California in 1967 before his election as US President in 1980.

Read and/or watch both FDR's first inaugural address from March 4, 1933 and Reagan's first inaugural address from January 21, 1981. Consider the very different historical contexts of both speeches. What similarities and/or differences are there between the speeches?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Photo from

When Maya Lin, a 21-year old Chinese-American architecture student, won the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the war had been over for only six years. How does the controversy over Lin's design reflect the both the conflicts of the Vietnam War and the conflicts of the period in which the memorial was created?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monterey Pop Festival

ETA: I originally posted a YouTube link to the Monterey Pop Festival documentary by D. A. Pennebaker that has since been taken down. Here are some alternatives for a similar viewing experience. Enjoy!

This clip is the introduction from the documentary. You can find other clips from the film on YouTube.

This website provides more details about the Monterey International Pop Festival, and includes excerpts from the documentary with a commentary track.

During the same summer of 1967 when riots broke out in Newark, Cleveland, and Detroit over racial tensions, urban renewal and police violence, the Monterey Pop Festival brought together some of the most recognized musicians of the day as well as yet-unknown artists for a three-day music festival in Monterey, California.

The Monterey Pop Festival took place three years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam. "Monterey" was two years before Woodstock and one year before the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It was two years after the assassination of Malcolm X. As much as the 1960s are remembered as a decade of "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll," they are also a decade of tremendous conflict and transformation for Americans.

What insight does the D. A. Pennebaker documentary of the Monterey Pop Festival give you into this period? What does the documentary show you about the complexities and conflict of this time that you don't get from only reading documents?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Southern Poverty Law Center

Civil Rights Memorial, Library of Congress photo.

We've discusses the changes within the Civil Rights movement following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and we saw many different groups organize with different ideas about how to advance the fight for equality.

The Civil Rights Memorial is located in Montgomery, Alabama, across the street from the Southern Poverty Law Center offices, an organization founded in 1971 and committed to "seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society." Look through their website to see the kinds of cases they handle and how they approach their work.

What does the phrase "civil rights" mean today? How is that similar to or different from what it meant in 1954?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Levittown, Long Island

Architect's rendering of a 1947 Cape Cod house built in Levittown, NY. Photo from the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

We tend to concentrate on the Civil Rights movement taking place in the South and emphasize events in Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, but northern states also practiced de facto and de jure segregation. Read this article from The New York Times on the 50th anniversary of the construction of Levittown, Long Island.

Think about the changes in urban areas after World War II and the ongoing struggle for civil rights nationally, considering the examples discussed in class. How does the history of Levittown change your perception or understanding of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s?

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Photo credit: Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

As we discussed in class, highways created a link between declining urban areas and growing suburban areas. Read the "document info" for the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 (you may choose to read the transcript of the act if you like). What other changes or shifts in American life did a national highway system spark?

Monday, April 15, 2013

"You are the Un-Americans"

Biography of Paul Robeson, published by The New Press

Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to expose communists within the US reflected the broader national concern over Soviet infiltration of US government and social institutions. At the same time, African-Americans within the US were routinely denied their rights as citizens and faced a constant threat of violence. In his testimony before HUAC in 1956, Paul Robeson spoke against the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the US. Reflect again on the documents of the early Cold War, and consider in what ways did the anti-Communist ideology effect movements for equality within the US?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The World on the Brink

Robert Kennedy at an Executive Committee meeting during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Photo: The National Security Archive.

Visit the JFK Library's online exhibit of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Listen to meetings with President Kennedy and his advisors, read official documents and private correspondence. Considering the early Cold War documents discussed in class (the Truman Doctrine, the Kennan "Long Telegram" and NSC-68), as well as the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan and the Korean War, to what degree do the events of the thirteen day crisis reflect the ideology of the early Cold War?

Monday, April 8, 2013

World War II At Home

African-American soldiers on patrol in Europe, NAACP Collection, Library of Congress

Consider the experience of African-American soldiers during World War II, and read Justice Jackson's dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States. In what ways does the treatment of Japanese-Americans and African-American soldiers conflict with President Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Four Freedoms

Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings. Source: The Dayton Art Institute.

Read or listen (scroll to bottom of page) to President Roosevelt's State of the Union speech from January 6, 1941. According to President Roosevelt, how is this moment different from any other historical period? In what ways does President Roosevelt attempt to prepare the country for war?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Deal

Artist Alfred Castagne sketching WPA construction workers. Photo from FDR Presidential Library and Museum.
Find something created by one of the New Deal programs discussed in class or the textbook and provide a brief explanation of the thing and its New Deal origins in the comments. Consider buildings, public works of art, urban infrastructure or something else that you encounter between now and the end of Spring Break (April 4). Let us know how you discovered your object and why it is an important part of the New Deal.

Provide links and citations for any sources you consult in your research, and use only your own words. Keep an eye on the comments and avoid repeating an entry that someone else has already posted.

Have fun and enjoy the break!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fireside Chat

A family listening to the radio. Source: Michigan Historical Museum

Listen to President Roosevelt's first "Fireside Chat" (Fireside Chat on Banking, March 12, 1933). What is President Roosevelt asking Americans to do to stop the Great Depression? How does this demonstrate a change in the federal government's approach to the Depression?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"I Want You to Write to Me"

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Read a biography here.

Read First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's column in Women's Home Companion asking readers to write to her to tell her their problems. What does this request suggest about the kind of problems people faced during the Great Depression? How is the relationship between the federal government and American citizens changing during this period?

Monday, March 4, 2013


Warren G. Harding, recording a speech. Photo: The Miller Center, University of Virginia

Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio gave a speech in January, 1920 in which he discussed the idea of "Americanism."* According to Harding, what does "Americanism" mean? In what ways is this definition similar to or different from how you might define "Americanism" today?

* Go to the StudySpace section of the Give Me Liberty! website for a downloadable version of Harding's speech, as well as a transcript. The Harding speech is under the "Audio 2" tab.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

World War I Aftermath

Memorial to the 107th US Infantry, located at 67th Street and 5th Avenue, New York City

World War I permanently transformed the political, social and economic development of Europe as well as other parts of the world. The United States joined the war relatively late in 1917. In what ways did the war and the aftermath of the war permanently transform life within the United States?

Monday, February 25, 2013

World War I

Suffragist with "Kaiser Wilson" Poster. National Archives.
Painting of African-American soldiers fighting German soldiers during World War I. NEH. Click here for a larger image.

Members of the women's suffrage movement initially opposed President Wilson's decision to enter the war in Europe, citing the disenfranchisement of female citizens at home. African-American soldiers served in a segregated army and many returned home questioning the value of fighting for "freedom" in Europe while facing discrimination, disenfranchisement and lynching at home. How did President Wilson's plans to make the world "safe for democracy" contrast with conditions within the United States during World War I?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

1912 Presidential Election

The four candidates in the presidential election of 1912: William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Eugene V. Debs. Photo from CSPAN.

Look here for detailed information about the Election of 1912. Listen to and/or read both Theodore Roosevelt's speech "The Liberty of the People" and Woodrow Wilson's speech "On Labor." What are the differences between the two candidates for the presidency? How does each reflect the values of the Progressive Era?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Progressive Era Labor Struggles

"Bread line outside the Pressed Steel Car plant, McKees Rocks, 1909" Photo from Explore PA History.

Read John Ingham's article on the McKees Rocks strikes in 1909. The article citation is:

Ingham, John N. "A Strike in the Progressive Era: McKees Rocks, 1909." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 3 (1966): 353-77.

You can find the article through JSTOR, a database of scholarly journals.
1. Go to the Hunter Library website
2. Click on "Databases/Articles"
3. Find "JSTOR" in the alphabetical list
4. If you are not on campus, you must enter your Hunter netID and password to access JSTOR
5. Use the advanced search option to find the article with the citation information above.

Consider the following questions:

What is the author's argument?
What examples does he provide to prove his point?
What are the issues and/or conditions that led to the strikes?
How were the McKees Rocks strikes similar to or different from other strikes?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Plate Lunch Imperialism

Plate lunch from Rainbow Drive-In, photo from Go Visit Hawaii
In her book on the US conquest of Hawaii, Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell writes:

Sugar plantation workers used to share food at lunchtime, swapping tofu and Chinese noodles for Korean spareribs and Portuguese bread. That habit of hodgepodge got passed down, evolving into the plate lunch now served at diners, drive-ins and lunch trucks throughout the Hawaiian archipelago….Rainbow Drive-In's menu, offering teriyaki, hot dogs, mahimahi, and Portuguese sausage, reads like a list of what America is supposed to be like--a neighborly mishmash (8).

Considering the imperialism debate within the US at the end of the 19th century, the Filipino resistance and the acquisition of colonial territories, to what degree do you think that America's increasing involvement in world affairs led to a "plate lunch" culture at home?

Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Plessy v. Ferguson

Note: This week is complicated. Section 022 (M/Th) only meets once this week (on Monday) and Section 020 (Tu/F) meets twice on Thursday and Friday. The material we cover in class may vary between sections because of this. Don't panic. Use your textbook and we'll collect ourselves after next week (which is also complicated).

ETA: Because of the schedule changes this week and next week, this post will be available to comment on until approximately 8:30 am on Wednesday, February 20. You will be able to comment on the Massacre at Rock Springs until approximately 8:30 am on Thursday, February 14. I realize this is confusing, but we'll be back to our regular schedule soon.

Also, please remember to use your full name (no pseudonyms or anonymous posts) when you comment so that your classmates know to whom they are speaking and so you can receive credit for participating.

A cafe near the tobacco market, Durham, NC, Library of Congress
The decision in Plessy v. Ferguson established legal segregation of races in the United States. Despite being overturned in 1954 by the decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Plessy decision remains one of the most important cases in the history of the Supreme Court. Look here for a synopsis of the case and read the excerpts from Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissenting opinion. Identify Justice Harlan's main argument, and one example that he uses to support that argument. Why is his dissent significant?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Massacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming

The massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming, Library of Congress
First, read this primary account of the Massacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885. For further information about the experience of Chinese laborers in the US, read this article by William Wei.

Anti-immigration sentiment existed throughout the 19th century, but Chinese immigrants were the first group to be specifically excluded from immigrating solely on the basis of race. The Massacre at Rock Springs is a particularly brutal example of violence in the west and hostility to Chinese workers. Compare and contrast the different immigrant experiences discussed in class, the conditions of Native Americans in the west and the Rock Springs Massacre. In what ways did economic development change the meaning of "freedom" in the United States?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lower East Side

"How the other half lives" in a crowded Hebrew district, Lower East Side, NY City, Library of Congress
Take the virtual tour of 97 Orchard Street, site of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. What is one example of what the apartments tell you about life in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, Library of Congress

First, familiarize yourself with the "Reconstruction Amendments"- amendments 13, 14, and 15. Look here for more detailed information about the introduction and ratification of the amendments. Finally, read Eric Foner's short essay on the controversies relating to the amendments.

Some historians consider the period of Reconstruction a failure for not providing equal rights to all citizens. In fact, Foner's landmark book on the subject is called Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. Considering the documents you just read and the material discussed in class, do you think that the Reconstruction period brought about significant change to both the former Confederate States as well as the nation as a whole? Why or why not? Be sure to provide specific examples to support your position.

ETA: I understand that there is a problem with the link to the Foner essay above. The essay is accessible through Google, but not by link, so please search "eric foner reconstruction essay gilder lehrman." The first result should be the above essay, at, titled "The Reconstruction Amendments: Official Documents as Social History."