Consensus America: U.S. History, 1945-1960

History/Political Science 390

May Term 2013

Dr. Chris Schutz

Phone: 746-5321


Professor's Website:

Course Website:

Required Books:

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism (Viking Critical Library). New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Schrecker, Ellen. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents. Second Edition. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.

Wilson, Sloan. Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Da Capo Press, 2002.

Course Themes:

In his best-selling book, Tom Brokaw has called them "The Greatest Generation": Americans who had conquered the brutal, racist Nazi regime, and now set about conquering the world with their juggernaut economy and unflagging commitment to contain the Communist threat. We built the world's premier economy while rebuilding war-torn Europe at the same time through unprecedented generosity. The journalist William Luce declared post-war times "The American Century." But 1945-1960 was full of undeniable contradictions. While wholesome entertainment such as "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" prevailed on the airwaves, many Americans feared a dreadful national moral decay: from the emergence of Marilyn Monroe and Playboy magazine to the Kinsey report on sexual habits to the rising concerns over juvenile delinquency. While most Americans celebrated the massive growth of the suburbs and middle class life, others saw a crushing conformity imposed on themselves and rebelled: from Beatniks to Rock and Roll artists. While we emerged from WWII as the undeniable dominant military power in the world, a sinking dread also prevailed that Communists were in our midst and at our heels. That fear led to one of the most controversial episodes in American history as Sen. Joe McCarthy and others emerged to root out Communism from within. We will also examine the apparently dramatic shift from the conformist, more conservative 1950s to the explosion of the liberal reform in the next decade.

Course Requirements:

Reading: In addition to your required books, I will assign reserve and/or internet readings to round out the course content. You should read carefully not just for factual information, but for the authors' arguments as well, and come to class fully prepared to discuss them intelligently. In the Course Schedule, you will find reading dates assigned to the days where those readings will be discussed in class. It may be necessary to add additional reading assignments as the course progresses.

Internet Readings: When "Internet Readings" is listed in the course schedule you should go my web page at "," and click on "History Web Links." Unless otherwise noted, all your internet readings will be found on the "Consensus America: 1945-60" Weblinks page. Once on the appropriate Weblinks page, follow the directions listed in the Course Schedule by looking for the subsection listed; then locate the reading listed and click on that reading.

Exams: There will be two written exams in the class. The first will be a midterm exam held in class on Monday, May 13. The other, your final exam, will take place in the same room as classes are held on Thursday, May 30 during regular class time. Any makeups for those exams will require valid medical documentation or my approval prior to the date of the exam.

Quizzes: All reading and film assignments will be subject to an unannounced "pop quiz" to take place at the beginning of class. Those quizzes, taken together at the semester's end, will form 25% of your final grade.

General rule on turning in written assignments: Because the subject of the papers will be discussed the day they are turned in, harsh penalties will accrue to papers not turned in during class time on the date due (since benefitting from the discussion would unfairly advantage authors of late papers).

Student Scholarly Integrity: Any student cheating on exams, plagiarizing on papers, or copying other students' work on assigned papers will be subject to failure in the entire course.

Viewing films: You will watch three feature films in this class: On the Waterfront, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Rebel Without a Cause. The third of those films will be shown during class time on the assigned dates listed below in your syllabus schedule. The first two will simply be held on reserve in the library for you to see on your time and schedule. Should you be forced to miss the scheduled screenings for Rebel Without a Cause, the film will also be held on reserve during the term for viewing inside the Library. It may also be available at video rental stores or subscription websites. Should you be forced to miss class for the classtime viewings, it becomes your responsibility to see the film using one of the two above options. I urge you to attend the scheduled viewing if at all possible, however; the other two options should be exercised only as a backup since an explanation that the film was not available when you wanted it (at the Library or otherwise) will be unacceptable as an excuse for not seeing the film. Also, should you miss the class screening of a film, be sure you have both the accurate title and date of the film (listed in the descriptive course schedule) when you seek it elsewhere. Seeing an alternate version of a film will not be acceptable.

Attendance: I will take roll daily. In a short mini-session course, I do not recommend you miss any classes because of the rapid nature of the term's progress. Each day of class represents almost a week's worth of material in a regular semester. Missing one class may adversely affect your participation grade. Missing more than one class will certainly do so. Roll will be taken at the beginning of class. It is the responsibility of any late students to inform me of your presence in class immediately after class is completed. After that time has passed, you will remain marked as "absent." While I will make an effort to repeat any announcements of upcoming assignments or exams, it remains the responsibility of anyone who misses class for catching up on any missed material-- including the announcement of any dates (or date changes) in upcoming assignments. Be aware also that, since discussion is a critical part of your grade, missing class may also gradually damage your grade in that area as well (even without exceeding the allotted unexcused absences).

Course Grade Distribution: Course Grade Scale:

Midterm Exam: 15% A: 92-100/ A- : 90-91

Final Exam: 20% B+: 88-89/ B: 82-87/ B- : 80-81

Class Participation: 20% C+: 78-79/ C: 72-77/ C-: 70-71

Pop Quizzes: 25% D+: 68-69/ D: 62-67/ D-: 60-61

Paper on On the Waterfront: 20% (due 5/15) F: 0-59

Descriptive Course Schedule

NOTE: Dates listed below for readings are the days you should arrive in class having already completed the assignments (i.e., the dates do not indicate that you should do the reading that night) All dates are subject to change as course needs dictate, and will be announced in class.

Important Note: Should inclement weather or other problems force the cancellation of class on a scheduled exam (or mandatory discussion) date, you should presume that that exam (or discussion) will be held on the next available class meeting.

Monday, May 6

Course Introduction

World War II & its immediate aftermath

Planning for the Postwar World

Atom Bomb and its Implications

Tuesday, May 7

Berlin Airlift

the Marshall Plan

Kenan and Containment Ideology

1948 Election and Its Implications

Internet Reading: "Secretary of State George C. Marshall's 1947 speech outlining the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe" [in "Emergence of the Cold War: International Developments" subsection]

Reserve Reading: "President Harry S Truman and His Advisers Debate U.S. Policy "; "Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace Urges a Conciliatory Approach, 1946"

Wednesday, May 8

The Hardening Cold War

Communism in East Asia

Internet Reading: "Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous April 1951 speech to Congress after his dismissal by President Truman" & "Pres. Harry Truman's announcement of the announcement of the dismissal." [under "Korean War" subsection]

Reserve Reading: Kenneth R. Hey, "Ambivalence in 'On the Waterfront'"

Thursday, May 9

Economic Boom

Suburban Growth

Social Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Reserve Reading: Kenneth Jackson, "The Baby Boom and the Age of the Subdivision"

Friday, May 10

American Leisure & Consumerism

Changing Role of Women

Reading: Schrecker: pp.1-106, 107-133

Monday, May 13

Midterm Exam #1

Tuesday, May 14

The Second Red Scare

Reading: Schrecker: pp.134-190, 226-242, 250-274

Wednesday, May 15

Consensus Era Art and Literature

Paper Due: "On the Waterfront"

Thursday, May 16

Reserve Reading: C. Wright Mills, "White Collar: the American Middle Classes"

Mandatory Discussion Day: Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (read pp.11-139, 143-150, 212-216)

Friday, May 17

Mainstream Critique of "Consensus" America

Social Change and Sexual Morality

Crime and Youth Culture

Reserve Reading: J.D. Salinger, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," in Nine Stories (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1948)

Monday, May 20

The Quiz Show Scandal

The Beat Generation

Reserve Reading: Jack Kerouac, "The Greatest Ride in My Life"

Internet Readings: "Gregory Corso 1958 poem, 'BOMB'"; "Gregory Corso poem, 'Marriage'"; "Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Poem No. 20 from 'A Coney Island of the Mind'" [in "Beat Movement" subsection]

Tuesday, May 21

Film Viewing: "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955)

Wednesday, May 22

Mandatory Discussion Day: Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Rebel Without a Cause

Thursday, May 23

The Emergence of Rock and Roll

Racial Change

Reserve Reading: "I Tried Not to Think About What Might Happen"; "Don't Let Them See You Cry"; "Was Rock and Roll Responsible for Dismantling America's Traditional Family, Sexual and Racial Customs?"; "Life Magazine Identifies the New Teen-age Market, 1959"

Tuesday, May 28

Dwight David Eisenhower: An Iconic Figure of the Consensus Era

Internet Reading: "Pres. Eisenhower's famous "Farewell Address," January 1961" [in "Eisenhower Administration" subsection]

Wednesday, May 29


National Goals Commission & Eisenhower's Last Hurrah

1960 Presidential Election

Reserve Reading: "Were the 1950s America's 'Happy Days'?"

Internet Reading: "JFK Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961" [in "1960s Politics" subsection of U.S. History: 1960-1980 History Weblinks Page]

Thursday, May 30

Final Exam