Trevor Scott Griffey
Intensive examination of a particular topic on American institutions, ideologies, movements, and social conditions.
The historian Leo Ribuffo asked in 1994, "Why is There so Much Conservatism in the United States and Why Do So Few Historians Know Anything about It?" Twenty years later, in the wake of recent Tea Party activism and the shutdown of the U.S. government, something similar could be said of academia's neglect of conservatism as a social movement and a political force in U.S. history. There has been an extraordinary growth in interdisciplinary academic studies of conservatism in the U.S. in the past two decades. But the study of conservative thought and right-wing organizations still tends to exist as a small sub-field at the margins of undergraduate history and social science courses.
This course is intended to address this problem by providing students of all political persuasions with an opportunity to critically examine the development and impact of conservatism in the U.S. from World War I to the present. It will approach the study of conservatism in an interdisciplinary way that can inform student learning on varied topics from communication to law, from ethnic and gender studies to political science.
Course learning will be organized through the following modules: left-wing and right-wing theories about conservatism as a distinct body of thought; historical debates about the origins of modern conservatism from the 1920s-70s; the conservative capture of the Republican Party and influence on the structure of U.S. government from 1981-2008; and the discourse of conservative media from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to right-wing blogs.
The class is not just about conservatism, but about recent U.S. history more broadly. The class will approach the study conservatism's relationship to liberalism and the left, and to civil rights, feminist, and gay and lesbian social movements. The emphasis on the course will be to provide students with the intellectual tools and historical information necessary for them to develop their own analysis of conservatism's role in shaping post-World War II U.S. political culture.
Student learning goals
Understanding of key issues in debates over the historical origins of conservatism in the U.S.
Ability to identify and distinguish between economic, social, and foreign policy conservatives
Basic grasp of the role of media frames in shaping political culture, in general and as it relates to modern conservative media in the U.S.
General method of instruction
Roughly speaking, half of class days will be lecture and/ or documentary film, the other half discussion of assigned readings. We are likely to host a couple guest speakers.
It is recommended but not required that students who enroll in this class have previously taken a class on post-Civil War, 20th century or post-World War II history or politics.
Class assignments and grading
Close readings of texts, short analytical papers, and one substantial final paper on conservative media.