HIST204 - The Fight to Define American Values: 1965-2015

Conflict over the fundamental values that guide American society has existed throughout history. One can locate this conflict in numerous historical events ranging from the decades long (and temporarily successful) temperance movement, to the quest to use government power to impose one’s moral vision that dates back to colonial times, to the fear of political leaders (like John F. Kennedy) who some Americans perceived to have values that differed from their own. Yet, the 1960s marked a demarcation point after which the fight for the soul of America intensified. Movements that had long been marginalized or disorganized found new strength and fed from one another as they asserted a new conception of American values. Their vision involved more tolerance for sexual minorities, the dislocation of traditional gender norms, less government interference in Americans’ sexual choices, and a far more secular culture that privileged freedom and individual choice over morality. Adherents to an older, more traditional set of norms and values vigorously resisted these changes. They resented the challenge to what they considered to be fundamental societal bedrocks. Evangelical Christians, who had largely refrained from organized political action for decades, formed new groups to advance and defend their vision of American morality. Intensity of religious beliefs overtook identity politics to a degree in shaping coalition lines. This broader conflict manifested itself in a diverse array of battles over specific issues and incidents in the political and cultural realms. This course will examine the fight to define American values at both the macro and micro levels. We will explore why such different conceptions of American values exist, what underlies them, and how they have changed over the last half century. In addition, we will analyze how fundamentally different values manifested themselves in specific political and cultural fights between 1965-2015. Finally, we will assess which side has won and lost these individual battles and why, as well as examining the broader trend—have American values and culture liberalized? Topics covered will include: gay rights, abortion, gun control, sex education, school prayer, religion, the Equal Rights Amendment, the battle over violence, sex and vulgarity in popular culture, laws governing sexual behavior, and the debate over fundamental authority in America. This course offers students an opportunity to interact with all of tools in a historian’s toolbox. We will use primary sources, including video clips, polling data, music, movies, and television shows from the period that we’re studying, as well as a variety of scholarly secondary sources, including biographies, journalistic narratives, and works by historically minded political scientists. We will evaluate claims made by scholars and attempt to make sense of some of their conflicting conclusions. Students will also have an opportunity to conduct historical research on a topic of their choosing. **RESEARCH OPTIONAL**
Day and Time: 
W 0430PM-0730PM
Cross Listings: 
    This is an LPS course. Registration may be limited to LPS students.