Twentieth-Century America and Your Family

Sarah McNair Vosmeier            (email: )

Spring 2015


Course Description

How do individuals make their life choices in the context of national events, cultural trends, and their loved ones’ expectations?  This course will explore the intersection of national history and personal history in the twentieth century.  Lectures will supply the national perspective and larger context.  Interviewing your own family members will give you insight into how ordinary people remember the past and how they shaped their lives.  Discussions and other assignments help you compare your family’s experiences with those of other Americans living through the same events.
Throughout, we will be identifying, critiquing, and making historical arguments.   The course will culminate with a final paper that makes an argument about the connection between your family and a major theme or event in American history.

Texts and Other Requirements
America Firsthand by Robert D. Marcus et al. and Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers are available at the bookstore.  Other readings are online or on reserve at the library.
Our discussions will be based on close readings of texts, and you will need notes on the texts in the form of marginalia.  Thus, you should  budget appropriately for printing and photocopying in addition to the books you purchase. 
Finally, there are several movies and television programs you will  need to view.  There will be one scheduled showing of each; they are also available on reserve at the library for you to watch there at your convenience.

Calculating the Final Grade

Portfolio 30%

Midterm exam 15%

Final exam 20%

Final paper 25%
Participation 10%

Our class time provides an opportunity, rare in modern life, to focus for an extended time on a single task and conversation. Please do not multitask (with laptops, cell phones, etc.) while we are together.

Late papers will be penalized, and in-class assignments cannot be made up. Students with emergencies who wish to request an exception to this rule should contact me before the due date.

About Preparation, Participation, Exams, and Written Assignments:

Preparation and participation  Good discussion depends on everyone’s preparing and participating fully.  Occasional brief assignments – such as marginalia checks or study guide contributions – allow you to demonstrate careful preparation for class.    People who excel in participation make useful comments in class or ask helpful questions, and they facilitate others’ participation as well.  

The midterm and final exams will include identifications and essay questions.

Portfolio:  Students will compile a portfolio of material giving individual perspectives on events and issues of the twentieth century.  On each day for which a portfolio item is due, students will submit (in duplicate) one of the following for that day’s topic: their own interview essay, a copy of an interview essay from the archives, or an excerpt from an oral history transcript (found online or in print).  One copy of the portfolio item will be placed on reserve for classmates to use, and one will be returned to the student.  Each student’s completed portfolio will include at least six of their own interview essays.  
    Interview essays:  These essays make historical arguments in response to questions about some aspect of the student’s family history.  Before submitting their finished portfolio, students will have received detailed feedback on at least three of their interview essays.

The final paper (3000-5000 words) will make a historical argument connecting your family and a major theme or event in the American experience.

Assignments and Topics of Discussion

Monday, April 27:  Introductions and Definitions; Archives Visit

    Note that we will adjourn to the Duggan Library for part of our class time.

Tuesday, April 28:  The 1940 Census (Internal Migration and Education); Use of Sources

    Vosmeier, "On Marginalia," 2014 (online); McCarty, oral history of the 1910s-1990s, 1996 (online). 
    Scott, “Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918" (Marcus et al., 123-25).
    For reference:, “Follow Your Family Using Census Records,” c. 2012 (online); “Chicago Manual Footnote Style” (online).
    Note that we will adjourn to the Duggan Library for part of our class time.

Wednesday, April 29:  Research Strategies; America before 1929

    Truesdell, "Oral History Techniques," c.2005 (online); Fisher, "Memoir: Indianapolis in the 1920s," 2006 (online); Klan newsletter, 1923 (online); Wickersham Commission Report, 1931 (online).
    Newman, memories of 1900s Triangle Shirtwaist factory, c. 1986; Langston Hughes, “Parties” [of the 1920s], 1963 (Marcus et al., 105-6, 168-69).

    For reference: Vosmeier, “Oral History Online,” 2015 (online).
    Portfolio item due. (Interview questions here.) Optional additional interview essay questions here.

Thursday, April 30:  Immigration and Identity

    Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, 1905; Cahan, letters to the Jewish Daily Forward, c.1910; Marcias and El Mexico, oral histories, 1990;  Alwujude, memoir, 2000 (Marcus et al., 84-88; 116-20, 294-97, 334-40). 
    Gerard, speeches, 1917-1918 (online); Kroll, oral history of twentieth-century Cleveland, 1986 (online); Lewis, “Musings,” c. 2003 (online).
Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Friday, May 1: The Great Depression

Skaret, memoir of the 1930s, 2001; Dollinger, memoir of 1936 strike, 1995 (Marcus et al., 177-84).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, 1933 (online).

    Portfolio item due. (Interview questions here.) Optional additional interview essay questions here.

Monday, May 4: Commemorating the Kent State Shootings (May 4, 1970):  The Student Movement and the Vietnam War
    Memoirs, testimony and documents on 1968 My Lai massacre, 1968-1978 (Marcus et al., 243-60); Rodgers, interview on 1970 Kent State shootings, 2014 (online); Triangle articles, 1970 (online).
    Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Tuesday, May 5:   World War II

Hill, Yorita, and Hayasaka, recollections of the 1940s, 1981-1987; Robinett et al, recollections of the 1942 Bataan Death March, 1982 (Marcus et al., 208-27).

Hillis, letter, 1945 (online).

    Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Wednesday, May 6:  Saving Private Ryan; Review

Saving Private Ryan, 1998.

Thursday, May 7:  MIDTERM EXAM; 1950s Television
    Honeymooners, 1955-1956; The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, 1952-1966.

Friday, May 8:  Postwar Culture

Triangle article, 1945 (online); "Women and Advertisements in the 1950s" (online).
Lardner, oral history of the postwar Red Scare, 1988; Levittown brochures, c. 1957 (Marcus et al., 228-29, 232-41).  

Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Monday, May 11:  The Civil Rights Movement

Robinson, memoir of 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1987 (on reserve: Marcus & Burner, 5th ed., 267-75).

Letters from the Mississippi Summer Freedom Project, 1964 (Marcus et al., 269-76).

Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Tuesday, May 12:  Women's Liberation; Nine to Five

Friedan, memoir, 1976; letters to Betty Friedan, 1963-1964 (Marcus and Burner, 5th edition, 261-66).

Sarachild, "Consciousness-Raising, 1973 (Marcus et al. 261-68).

Nine to Five, 1980.

Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Wednesday, May 13:  The Counter Culture; All in the Family
Visual portfolio of 1960s and 1970s (Marcus et al., 299-307).

Digger Papers, c.1968 (online).

    All in the Family, 1971-1979; Roots, 1977.
Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)

Thursday, May 14: The 1980s; Family Ties

Reagan commercial (1984) and soundbite (from 1984 presidential debate); White testimony, 1988 (online); additional assignment t.b.a.

Family Ties, 1982-1989.

Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)  Optional additional interview essay questions here.

Friday, May 15: The 1990s; Seinfeld
    Ashbrook, The Leap excerpt, 2000; Shepard, victim impact statement, 1999  (Marcus et al., 341-52).
    Yahoo! homepage, 1996 (online); “History and the World-Wide Web of the 1990s,” 2015 online-- be sure to look at the 1996 homepage and the current one mentioned in the article).
    Seinfeld, 1989-1998.
    Follow-up Interview Essay due.

Monday, May 18:  History in Your Lifetime; Review

Cucullu, Ashcroft, Saar, Begg, and Yee, on Guantanamo Bay, 2005-2008 (Marcus et al., 309-29, 341-46).

Barbour, "Long Distance," 2004 (handout).

Portfolio item due.  (Interview questions here.)  Optional additional interview essay questions here.

Complete Portfolio due.

Tuesday, May 19:  FINAL EXAM; Writing as a Historian

Paper draft due.

Wednesday, May 20:  Everyday Life
    For some seniors: Final Paper due.

Thursday, May 21:  Student Presentations

Friday, May 22: Housing and Everyday Life
    Final Paper Due.