Saturday, April 12, 2014

US History 1973 - 2014 Commonplace Book: Introduction

This semester I've been teaching an upper-level history course (called "Contemporary History") which covers the history of this country from 1973 through the present.  (If I decide to get all meta, I'll make the last fact I mention the fact that they are listening to the last fact I mention.)  The course is primarily a lecture course: I'm assigning eight books, and for each book we're having a class discussion, but otherwise I'm narrating a story.

To help them follow, I've been giving out outlines of my lectures, including key names, dates, etc: the idea is that way they aren't scrambling to get down those facts, but can listen to the ideas and narrative around them.  Who knows how much it helps.

At any rate, on the very first sheet (for the introductory lecture, laying out course themes, the problematics of contemporary history, and stuff like that) I put down a few quotes at the end of the outline and labeled them "commonplace book".  (This is the reference; see also here and here)  I didn't discuss them, but just threw them in.

Well, the practice quickly expanded. I started throwing in quotes I actually wanted to discuss, so they had them in front of them (for the same reasons that I was giving them the outline).  I also continued to throw in some quotes I didn't discuss (either ones that I didn't intend to discuss, or simply ones I didn't have time to discuss).  Most quotes were directly from or about the period or topic of the lecture, but some were thematic or associatal.

Anyway, I've decided, both because I think they're interesting and because this blog has been far too quiescent lately, to start posting them.  For the most part, I intend to post one per day, which mean that some lectures' quotes will go on for more than a week.  (The only case in which I intend to deviate from this is when I deliberately paired two quotes to work against each other, as I did sometimes; then I'll put up both in the same post.)

In the interest of both honesty and not going completely bugfuck insane, I'm going to strictly post only those I handed out to my students on the day of the lecture: I won't add or subtract to them.  No new finds or second thoughts.  The one exception to this: in some cases I would repeat quotes on the next handout, either if I hadn't gotten to it in the first lecture on whose handout it appeared,* or, more rarely, if I wanted to remind students of it.  In these cases, I won't repeat the quote, but will include it with the lecture where (to the best of my recollection) I actually discussed it — usually the second set, but occasionally the first.**

Finally, since these quotes will reflect the course's lectures, which are a key part, but only a part, of the class, I want to list the eight books I assigned here.  They include books on key topics I didn't lecture on (or didn't lecture sufficiently on).  I wouldn't choose the exact same books if I taught the course again, but I do think that most of them worked well, and that they, collectively, provided a very good introduction to the history of the period.  Anyway, enough apologetics: here they are:

  1. Jefferson Cowie, Stayin' Alive: the 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
  2. Sara M. Evans, Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century's End
  3. Daniel T. Rodgers, The Age of Fracture
  4. Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise
  5. Thomas Streeter, The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet
  6. Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
  7. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
  8. Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
The first quote will go up tomorrow morning — or, actually, the first quotes, since the first are a pair meant to work against each other.

I hope you enjoy them.

Update: to see all quote thus far posted, read this tag.

 * Sadly common: I always hoped to cover more than I actually could.

** Except that, even here, in a few cases I considered the beginning of the next lecture to be "really" part of the next one... I guess all I can say is: if I repeated a quote, I'll only post it once, in the lecture that makes the most sense to me.  There won't be any revisionism about what quotes I included, but there might be a tiny bit regarding when they got talked about.

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