Some readers may be wondering what a college course is like. I can’t safely generalize, but in upcoming weeks I’ll talk about what my current course would have been like (UMA face-to-face enrollments remain down). Experienced students know that catalog descriptions of courses are often out-of-date, written by now-retired faculty. They ask the instructor. Here’s my answer:

“United States History: 1877-2021

It’s been a busy century and a half: six generations of America. Textbook history tends to be about politics, economics, regions, eras, trends, etc. We’ll cover those sorts of things, briefly. What we’ll really work at, though, is people’s lives. What did people think of corruption in the late Nineteenth Century “Gilded Age”? Anything like what we feel today? What was it like to be an immigrant, experiencing and shaping Twentieth Century America on the Great Plains, or in a city? Why so late to enter World War I? How did people roar in the Twenties, then survive the Great Depression? Was World War II “the good war” for Americans?

Communism frightened lots of people. The “space race” impressed many of them. But if you were concerned about civil rights, race meant something else. The Vietnam War divided America as well as Vietnam; the latter at least was reunited. The little wars that followed
continued to beg the question: can Americans be isolationist and imperial? Have women achieved equality? Has America become middle class? Can our own times be history?”

Our first class talks about requirements, submission dates, and formats, buying textbooks, using libraries and online resources, etc. Students and instructor introduce themselves and say something about why they chose the course and what they expect. Getting to know each other is important; we’ll be discussing questions, presenting our essays, and critiquing each other’s, sometimes arguing (politely). The first assignment is a textbook chapter on the 1870s. Which leads to Essay One: “The past is a foreign country.” “The past isn’t past.” What is there about the 1870s that seems very foreign, very past? What seems almost modern, almost contemporary? The essay is a preliminary test of the three skills that will be exercised throughout the course: reading, writing, thinking.

David R Jones has been teaching various histories in various places for a long time.

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