The American Presidency
The course looks at the American Presidency in historical perspective. It examines the powers of the office, its place in the American imagination, and the achievements of the most significant presidents. Structured chronologically, it emphasizes the growth and transformation of the office and how it has come to assume its dominant place in the political landscape. Individual presidents are studied to understand not only their own times but also salient issues with which they are associated (Jefferson and Adams with the rise of parties; Andrew Johnson with impeachment; etc.) Intermittent lectures break from the chronological thrust of the course to explore aspects of the presidency in greater depth across time.
Cold War Culture
The years just after World War II did much to define American politics and culture in the half century that followed. Although the 1950’s seem more than a lifetime away, many of the concerns of those years—from the prediction of a war without end against a ruthless global enemy to domestic fears of repression and conformity—are pertinent to own day. Other issues—the mixed blessing of material abundance, the efforts by women and blacks to shatter constraining cultural bonds, a new aesthetic of spontaneity and informality in art—have scarcely disappeared since. In examining American culture from roughly 1946 to 1960, the course seeks to show the interconnectedness of politics, ideas, and culture; to complicate conventionally accepted clichés about the period; to locate the origins or cultural patterns that persist in our own time; and to appreciate as well the important differences of this era from our own.
The Holocaust in American Culture
When the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened in 1993, people asked why a “European” catastrophe was being memorialized alongside shrines to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. One answer is that in the years since World War II, the experience and memory of the Holocaust have deeply affected American culture. This course looks at a few of the ways the Holocaust and Nazism changed America: by fostering a distrust of the masses among intellectuals; by promoting civil liberties and religious toleration; by encouraging a view of the Soviet Union as equivalent to Nazi Germany; by making the imperatives of protecting human rights and stopping genocide central to foreign policy; and by providing a new focus for American Jewish identity. Through these and other topics students will analyze the role that the Holocaust still plays in American life.
Journalism, Democracy, and the Public Sphere
The course explores the ways that the news media have figured in conceptions of American democracy and in constituting a public realm in American society. The first third of the course will include classic readings in political philosophy, including Rousseau, Tocqueville, Mill and Habermas. The next third will look at a series moments in American history and ask how people living at those times experienced democracy, again with special attention to the role of the press and public debate. The final weeks will take up more recent considerations of contemporary American democracy and the role the news media play in it.
Most newspaper and internet journalism is composed on deadline to meet demands of the moment. But there’s another tradition of journalism that values deep research and reporting, care in composition, personal voice, and literary style. In this course, we will read and analyze great examples non-fiction writing from the last century to appreciate what makes for enduring non-fiction writing—journalism that rises to the level of literature. The course explores, too, not just the form but the content of these books, on the assumption that the best journalism conveys ideas and thus represents a contribution to intellectual and cultural history. Accordingly, we will seek to put these works in their historical and cultural contexts.
Media and Government
The course traces the changes in American political culture in the 20th century, focusing on the way that mass media, along with advertising and public relations, have affected both the practice and the public understanding of politics and democracy. The readings and lectures are designed to integrate political and cultural history; political science work on campaigns, elections, and the presidency; and work in journalism and communications.
The Presidential Election
The course examines the current election in its historical context. Studying the history of the campaign and its practices and institutions should encourage students to think in a more rigorous, scholarly way about a topic that many of us will be talking about anyway this fall. As a class, we’ll follow the ups and downs and twists and turns of the election season. But we’ll also try to understand how campaigns have come to take the form that they do. We’ll use the insights of political scientists to challenge conventional wisdom and journalistic clichés, and we’ll study media and communications research to understand how the election is portrayed to voters.
Readings in 20th-Century U.S. History
The course aims to acquaint students with important recent work in U.S. history. We will read one book each week, moving through the postwar period. We also try to identify what makes works of history distinctive and important as historiographical contributions.
Research Seminar in U.S. History
This course is designed to introduce graduate students to the practice of conducting research in U.S. history and turning that research into written work. Students may choose a topic in any area they wish, although the focus of the reading will be on post-World War II American political history, and my own ability to give advice on subjects far afield from my own expertise may be limited. The course emphasizes the development of skills that students will need as professional scholars, including oral and written presentation, critiquing the work of others, and engaging in spontaneous debate about historical matters.
Seminar in the History of the News Media
The course looks historically at the role that the news media have played in American politics and culture. Although the course proceeds chronologically, a series of different subjects within media history are explored, including politics, law, and technology. Underpinning the class is the assumption that the media have fundamentally shaped how Americans experienced their political and cultural life. As a graduate seminar, the course is somewhat historiographical in its intent. It aims to acquaint students with important books on a range of topics and help them situate those books in the contexts of their scholarly literature.
Seminar in Media and Politics
The course examines relationship between the news media and presidential politics. This year, because of the presidential campaign, we will focus in particular on media and the election. We’ll follow the ups and downs and twists and turns of the election season. But we’ll also try to understand how campaigns have come to take the form that they do by looking at these issues historically. Topics include the rise of mass-media politics; presidential debates; TV advertising; journalistic objectivity; and the role of the internet in today’s campaigns.