Twentieth Century American History

Instructor: Nicholas Wirth
Phone: (505) 982-1829 X1292
Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really
to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big.
Teddy Roosevelt
This course is an introduction to modern American history. It examines the rise of the
American power after World War Two and the challenges it faced in the early 21 st century.
The course will focus on the roots of the Cold War, 1950s conformity and collusion,
the revolutions of the 1960s, political and economic chaos of the 70’s, the Reagan
Revolution/conservative backlash, the promise and prosperity of the 1990s and the
stormy waters of the 2000s. However, time constraints make it impossible to cover
everything that happened during this time frame. Instead, this course will focus on important
themes, vital issues, and social movements that made modern America. While politics,
politicians and public figures will remain an important part of what is covered, the main
focus will be on the daily lives and struggles of ordinary people and the actions of small
groups of activists. These topics will be introduced through a mixture of lectures, discussions,
primary and secondary source readings, film and music. Overall, it will emphasize that
history is not simply a collections of names and dates confined to the past. History is what
makes us who we are and what society is today.
By the end of this course students should have a clear understanding of how America
transformed into a modern and complex nation. This class builds reading, writing, critical
thinking, public speaking, test taking and discussion skills, through examination of historical
events. Students are expected to read and interpret historical documents, synthesize
information into a coherent response, analyze details to create a story and pull together
diverse sources of information to communicate a unique understanding of the subject. A
critical component of this course is the development and mastery of discussion skills.
Texts and materials
Boren, David. A Letter to America. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 2008. Print.
Chafe, William Henry, Harvard Sitkoff, and Beth L. Bailey. A History of Our Time:
Readings on Post War America. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Cobbs-Hoffman, Elizabeth, and Jon Gjerde. Major Problems in American History, Volume 2:
Since 1865. New York: Cengage, 2007. Print.
Tindall, George Brown., and David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W.
Norton &, 2010. Print.
Requirements and Responsibilities
The nightly reading will include many political perspectives and emphasize the myriad of
voices that encompass the American experience. In addition, students will write a 1000
word essay on A Letter to America, compose an in-class essay on the Civil Right Movement
and construct a substantial research paper. Weekly reading quizzes and a final examination
will assess knowledge of specific historic details. These will cover all the reading
assignments, lectures and class discussions. It is important to keep track of the essential
questions that are posted in class. There will be various group and individual
presentations. Finally, class discussion and participation are cornerstones of this course. It is
imperative that students complete the nightly assignment and participate actively in class.
Attendance is mandatory for this and all classes at Prep. Let me know at least twenty
four hours ahead of time if you will be missing class for a sports
commitment. Unexcused absences will result in a zero for the day. More than one
unexcused absence will constitute a note home to your parents. You must produce a
note from the office to readmitted to class. Your advisor will sent a note home if you
have more than four excused or unexcused absences.
Please come to this class on time. For example, first period starts at 8:00 not
8:05. Tardies will constitute a reduction of one full letter grade on daily class
participation. Any student who is late more than three times will be referred to the
All assignments are to be turned in on time at the beginning of the scheduled class
period. Extensions will only be granted for extreme cases. If you require one please
see me at least twenty four hours in advance. Late assignments will be reduced by
one full letter grade per day.
Class discussions must be conducted in a safe environment. Please refrain from any
type of behavior which could be deemed as disruptive or hurtful.
Academic honesty and integrity are cornerstones of this course.
It is imperative that you stay on top of your long-term assignments and manage your
Each assignment will be graded unless notified otherwise. Expect a one week turnaround for
most assignments except papers which will be handed back in two weeks. Students should
ask for clarification outside of class if they have questions or concerns about an
assignment. I reserve the right to raise or lower the grade in question. Your grade will be
broken down into the following categories.
Quizzes and homework 10%
Tests, Papers and Projects 60%
Daily class participation grade
A = Excellent, consistent participation and leadership; not just talking but listening,
collaborating and helping. Student is clearly prepared for class having done the previous
night’s homework.
B = Consistently offers opinions to discussions. S/he needs to work on developing listening
and questioning skills. Student is prepared for class discussion having done the previous
night’s homework.
C = Minimal participation, did not listen, question or contribute to the discussion.
D = Student is not listening or engaged during discussion. This grade will be assessed for
disruptive or offensive/threatening behavior.
F = Consistently distracting class with disruptive behavior.
0 = Unexcused absence
A final word on class participation:
You are expected to be engaged throughout every class session. An engaged student is
respectful, active, and attentive. Respectful means listening closely and openly to the ideas
of others, neither interrupting, intimidating nor dismissing their comments. Students should
be free to share their thoughts and views and are entitled to expect a courteous response from
others. Active does not mean dominating a discussion nor does attentive mean silently
withdrawing from it. Every student is an influential member of the class, responsible for
contributing to the learning environment. Failure to contribute will lower your grade.
Course Website
All important class documents will be posted on my website. These include but are not
limited to the course overview, syllabus, academic honesty statement, readings, and
important links. The web address is
The Instructor
I am happy to answer questions or set up meetings outside of class. I can be contacted via
school e-mail at If a situation arises and you need to talk to me at home
please feel free to call me. However, I have three small children and will not accept calls
after 8pm.