This inquiry took place in the following course, which I taught in the Spring 2013 semester:
HIST 453: America in the Cold War Era, 1945-1992
This is an upper-division course that fulfills upper-division elective credit requirements for History majors. Students taking this course are have sophomore or higher standing (most are juniors and seniors). The prerequisites for this course are HIST 132 and either ENGL A111 or ENG A211. Completion of GER Tier I (Basic college level skills) courses is also required for students to enroll.
In 1941, Time magazine publisher Henry Luce famously dubbed the 20th century “the American Century.” Although Luce intended for his concept to convince Americans to enter World War II, his notion of the “American Century” has come to signify U.S. global hegemony following 1945. This course examines this “American Century,” a.k.a., 1945-1992, as the United States developed into a global superpower that vied for international influence with the communist Soviet Union. This competition between the U.S. and USSR became the defining phenomenon of the age, affecting not only U.S. foreign policy but also American culture, society, economics, and politics. As the country took on an increasingly international role during the Cold War, Americans at home worked to redefine citizenship rights, the role of the federal government, and U.S. culture. This reading-, writing-, and discussion-intensive upper-division course will examine exactly how Americans grappled with their growing international power and the domestic changes that accompanied it. We will examine, among other topics, how the Cold War began and what that meant for domestic rights and freedoms; how previously disenfranchised groups – from African Americans to women to homosexuals to Native peoples – fought for civil rights and a change in U.S. culture that had privileged white males; how young people sought to claim a voice by resisting the Vietnam War and adult culture; how Americans became disillusioned with government and began to face economic and international limits in the 1970s; the U.S. experience of globalization; how the Reagan Revolution reshaped American politics and culture; and how and why the Cold War ended. We won’t simply be learning about what happened. We will also discuss and analyze key scholarly debates about these events: why they happened, why they matter, and what’s at stake in studying each topic. In exploring how Americans and historians have wrestled with important domestic and international questions from 1945-1992, we will deploy and sharpen our historical research, writing, and critical thinking skills to help uncover how the United States we know today took shape over the course of the “American Century.
History Department Student Learning Outcomes
The desired student learning outcomes for the Department of History, posted on the Department website and in the UAA catalogue, are:
- Demonstrate the ability to write clear and precise English
- Demonstrate advanced level historical research skills (proper use of historical citation style, critical use of primary and secondary sources, adequate research base, ability to frame a good historical question)
- Demonstrate advanced historical skills (recognition of significance, cause and effect, continuity v. discontinuity, historiographical conversancy and perspective, critical and integrative thinking)
Department goals for 400-level classes are for such courses to foster learning for each one of these SLOs, and most 400-level courses include a research paper as the culminating assignment.
My goals for students in this particular course conform to the department SLOs, especially:
- to hone critical thinking, writing, and public speaking skills
- to sharpen acquisition of the skills that historians use to evaluate and interpret the past
- to analyze and evaluate the ways in which historians interpret the history of Cold War America
- to put primary sources and past events into historical context
- to acquire the ability to marshal relevant evidence to make their own arguments about U.S. history and to communicate those arguments verbally and in writing in a clear and effective manner
- to recognize key themes of Cold War U.S. history and to gain familiarity with the relevant narrative, key people, concepts, and events
- to deploy their knowledge of Cold War U.S. history and historical skills in a research paper
- to understand the viewpoints and motivations of a variety of historical actors