DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
This course surveys American history from the Civil War to the present day. Through a combination of lectures, readings, and in-class discussions and activities, students will learn about some of the significant intellectual, political, social, cultural, and economic aspects of America’s recent past. Prominent themes include the fight for civil rights and the United States’ expanding role in international affairs. By the end of the semester, you’ll have a deeper understanding of racial ideology, gender, LGBTQ rights, and U.S. foreign policy.
Daily readings come in the form of primary sources and academic articles. Assignments include primary source analyses, evaluations of academic articles, attendance/participation, and a final paper. At various points in class, we will focus on refining the skills necessary for you to do well on each of these assignments.
This class won’t stress the memorization of names and dates. Instead, our goal is for you to think critically about why or how people and events influenced the past. Over the course of the semester, students will ask the question historians ask themselves: so what? Why must we know about a certain person, place, or event? What makes something historically significant? And can we foster the lessons of the past to create a better future?
The American Historical Association (AHA) has recently engaged in a project to re-envision history pedagogy. Part of the “Tuning Project,” as they’ve called it, has been to outline clear goals and objectives for history courses.
The Tuning Project’s core competencies highlight what you come away from a class knowing. These learning goals focus on how the discipline of history can broaden your understanding of not only the past but also the present. In this course, we’ll emphasize the following core competencies:
Building historical knowledge
- Gather and contextualize information in order to convey both the particularity of past lives and the scale of human experience.
- Recognize how humans in the past shaped their own unique historical moments and were shaped by those moments.
Developing historical methods
- Recognize history as an interpretive account of the human past—one that historians create in the present from surviving evidence.
- Collect, sift, organize, question, synthesize, and interpret complex material.
- Develop empathy toward people in the context of their distinctive historical moments.
Recognizing the changing nature of knowledge and the ambiguity of the past
- Describe past events from multiple perspectives.
- Explain and justify multiple causes of complex events and phenomena using conflicting sources.
- Identify, summarize, appraise, and synthesize other scholars’ historical arguments.
Decoding the historical record
- Consider a variety of historical sources for credibility, perspective, and relevance.
- Evaluate historical arguments, explaining how they were constructed and might be improved.
Creating historical arguments
- Craft well-supported historical narratives, arguments, and reports of research findings in a variety of media for a variety of audiences.
Use historical knowledge to create an active, informed, and engaged citizenry
- Apply historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues.
- Develop positions that reflect deliberation, cooperation, and diverse perspectives.
You can learn more about the AHA’s Tuning Project at the following address: https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/tuning-the-history-discipline/2016-history-discipline-core.
The course has been built around four questions key for understanding the modern American past. They are:
- Economics and labor: Evaluate the way the American economy has changed over the past 150 years. How did “big business” alter the landscape of U.S. industry? Why did Progressive Era and New Deal reformers pass the reforms they did? Have Americans found a way to balance economic growth and workers’ rights in the post-World War II period?
- Women and gender: Analyze the political and economic fight for women’s equality. To what extent has the role and status of women changed over the past 150 years? What have been landmark victories for women’s rights? Why have various political factions opposed women’s and feminist groups? Is there work left to be done?
- America’s role in the world. Determine how the United States’ foreign policy changed and/or remained consistent from the Spanish American War through the Cold War. How did the U.S. confront the challenges it faced around the globe? Are there core tenets (or beliefs) that have guided American foreign policy? If so, what are they? If not, how do different foreign policy conflicts differ from each other?
- Comparative civil rights. The continued fight for equality has, in many ways, defined the American experience. Compare and contrast the struggle for civil rights that two of the following segments of the population experienced: 1) African Americans; 2) women; 3) Mexican Americans; 4) Asian Americans; and/or 5) LGBTQ individuals. Are there commonalities that you see in the political rhetoric and tactics of these two groups? How would you describe the unique challenges these two segments of the population faced? What are the arguments, agendas, challenges, etc. that have made coalitions difficult to form, both within and between different rights movements?