Syllabus—Modern America

us since the civil war. fall 2023 @ suny brockport.

What are we up to?

How did we get here? This is the core question at stake in historical study. Figuring out answers to that question, however, demands more than simply developing a personal opinion. It means wielding evidence to make compelling interpretations in dialogue with what other historians have to say. Modern America allows you to gain better knowledge of one place over the course of one period of time: the United States of America since the Civil War ended in 1865 to the present. As we study the United States since the Civil War, the course also helps you expand your skills of empirical analysis, debate and dialogue, listening and responding thoughtfully to others, writing and communication, and understanding at least some of the complex dynamics of human interaction. Interactive lectures, primary and secondary source readings, in-class discussion and debate, and critical analysis assignments allow you to explore how a wide range of Americans shaped systems of power, patterns of resistance, socio-political identities, and cultural and intellectual life. To be sure, your goal is to acquire what every citizen of the world needs: a basic outline of what happened when and by whom; but you will also hone skills beyond merely history as the memorization of dates, names, and facts. These include improving your abilities to frame effective historical questions of inquiry, assess and interpret arguments about the past, evaluate and compare evidence for persuasiveness, research and write effectively, and use the Chicago Manual of Style for citation.

Things you are expected to do this term

  • Do the readings and wield sources to study the past
    • “Primary sources” are the selected historical documents in Foner’s Voices of Freedom, Volume II, Seventh Edition and additional materials provided by instructor
    • The “secondary source” in this class is Eric Foner’s book, Give Me Liberty! Volume II, Brief Seventh Edition and any additional interpretive readings about the past
  • Watch the interactive lectures on Voicethread, complete the response assignments
  • Come to class prepared, attendance will affect your grade
  • Participate in discussions in class
  • Meet with a research librarian at Drake Memorial Library
  • Complete the critical analysis and research assignments
  • Learn how to cite evidence and sources effectively using Chicago Manual of Style
  • Shift from “this is my opinion” to “this evidence, compared to other evidence, is (or is not) persuasive”—this is a core aspect of what the discipline of history is about

Required Books

  • Eric Foner, Kathleen Duval, and Lisa McGirr, Give Me Liberty! Volume II BRIEF 7th Edition (New York: WW Norton, 2023)
  • Eric Foner, Kathleen Duval, and Lisa McGirr,Voices of Freedom Volume II (New York: WW Norton, 2023)
    • Available at Brockport Bookstore or online in both print and digital formats. *NOTE: Be sure to purchase the correct editions of the books.*
  • Additional documents
    • PDFs or hyperlinks on Brightspace


The instructor may adjust the schedule as needed during the term, but will give clear instructions about any changes.

Week 01 — Reconstruction


  • M 08/28 A Visit to Edisto, South Carolina (Discussion)
  • W 08/30 Course Overview, Reconstructing History (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 09/02 Reconstruction (Voicethread and Class Meeting)

Readings due this week:

Week 02 — Industrialization


  • M 09/04 Labor Day, NO CLASS MEETING
  • W 09/06 The “Hog Squeal of the Universe” and the “Incorporation” of America (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 09/08 Who Built America? Class Conflict (Discussion)

Readings due this week:

Week 03 — Expansion


  • M 09/11 Settler Colonialism to Formal Empire (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 09/13 Do Native Americans Have Sovereignty? (Discussion)
  • F 09/15 Should America Have Colonies? (Discussion)

Readings due this week:


  • DUE M 09/11 ASSIGNMENT 01: Student info = 2%

Week 04 — Progressivism


  • M 09/18 Did the Progressive Era Make Progress? (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 09/20 Jim Crow: The Nadir (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 09/22 Plessy v. Ferguson (Discussion)

Readings due this week:


  • DUE M 09/18 ASSIGNMENT 02: Reconstruction = 10%

Week 05 — WWI and Its Aftermath


  • M 09/25 War As Progress? (Interactive Lecture)
  • W 09/27 Making the Postwar World Safe for Democracy? (Interactive Lecture)
  • F 09/29 National Unity vs. Civil Liberties (Discussion)

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 19, Safe for Democracy: The United States and World War I, 1916-1920, 578-611
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 19, 107-135

Week 06 — The Roaring Twenties


  • M 10/02 Roars of Modernity (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 10/04 Roars of Antimodernity (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 10/06 Write a Hit Song About the Twenties (Discussion)

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 20, From Business Culture to Great Depression in the “Roaring” Twenties, 1920-1932, 612-642
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 20, 136-163


  • DUE M 10/02 ASSIGNMENT 03: Industrialization and Expansion = 10%

Week 07 — The New Deal


  • M 10/09 What Caused the Great Depression? (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 10/11 Watch Online: FDR’s New Deal and the Making of “Modern” Liberalism — Introduction to Drake Memorial Library Resources and Preparation for Final Assignment (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 10/13 NO CLASS MEETING — Watch Online: Planting a Flag at Iwo Jima (Voicethread)

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 21: The New Deal, 1932-1940, 643- 675
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 21, 164-190
  • Optional Brockport Faculty Reading: Anne S. Macpherson, “Birth of the U.S. Colonial Minimum Wage: The Struggle over the Fair Labor Standards Act in Puerto Rico, 1938– 1941,” Journal of American History 104, 3 (December 2017), 656-680, on Brightspace

Week 08 — WWII


  • M 10/16 NO CLASS MEETING — Fall Break
  • W 10/18 Watch Online: Was World War II the Actual New Deal? — Introduction to Drake Memorial Library Resources and Preparation for Final Assignment (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 10/20 The Rise of Modern Liberalism During the Great Depression and World War II (Discussion)

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 22, Fighting for the Four Freedoms: World War II, 1941-1945, 676-711
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 22, 191-212


  • DUE M 10/16 ASSIGNMENT 04: Progressivism = 10%

Week 09 — Cold War


  • M 10/23 Debating “Modern” Liberalism: The American Century or Century of the Common Man? (Discussion)
  • W 10/25 Cold War Containments (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 10/27 Cold War Rebellions (Voicethread and Class Meeting)

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 23, The United States and the Cold War, 1945-1953, 712-740
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 23, 213-245
  • Optional Brockport Faculty Reading: Bruce Leslie (and John Halsey), “A College Upon a Hill: Exceptionalism & American Higher Education,” in Marks of Distinction: American Exceptionalism Revisited, ed. Dale Carter (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2001), 197-228, on Brightspace

Week 10 — The Modern African American Civil Rights Movement


  • M 10/30 Reconstruction Redux? The Modern African American Civil Rights Movement (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 11/01 The Two Versions of John Lewis’s 1962 March on Washington Speech (Discussion)
  • F 11/03 Beyond the “Martin vs. Malcolm” Binary (Discussion)

Readings due this week:


  • DUE M 10/30 ASSIGNMENT 05: Midterm essay. Roaring Twenties to World War II document comparison and analysis = 15%

Week 11 — The Sixties


  • M 11/06 A Great Society? A New Frontier, a New Left, a New Right (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 11/08 Vietnam: The Quagmire (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 11/10 Should the US Withdraw from Vietnam? (Discussion)

Readings due this week:

Week 12 — The Seventies and Eighties


  • M 11/13 Disco Demolition: The Loss of Trust from Watergate to the Malaise Speech (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 11/15 Was the Volcker Shock the Right Move? (Discussion)
  • F 11/17 Revolting Conservatives: The Reagan Revolution and the Rise of the New Right (Voicethread and Class Meeting)

Readings due this week:

Week 13 — Thanksgiving Break


  • M 11/20, W 11/22, F 11/24 Thanksgiving break, NO CLASS MEETING



  • DUE M 11/20 ASSIGNMENT 06: Cold War Final Book Review Essay Research Librarian Visit = 8%

Week 14 — The Rise of Neoliberalism: The Nineties


  • M 11/27 The Rise of Neoliberalism in the 1990s (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 11/29 Debating NAFTA, the “Personal Responsibility Act,” and the Telecommunications Act (Discussion)
  • F 12/01 Open

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 27, A New World Order, 1989-2004, 846-886
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 27, 332-345

Week 15 — Is American Modern Yet?


  • M 12/04 Challenges of a New Century: The 2000 Election, 9/11, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession of 2008 (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • W 12/06 Making America Great Again? The Obama and Trump Eras (Voicethread and Class Meeting)
  • F 12/08 Is America Modern Yet? Closing Discussion (Discussion)

Readings due this week:

  • Give Me Liberty!, Ch. 28, A Divided Nation, 887-933
  • Voices of Freedom, Ch. 28
  • Adam Serwer, “The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts,” The Atlantic, 23 December 2019, on Brightspace


  • DUE M 12/04 ASSIGNMENT 07: Cold War Final Book Review Essay Proposal = 10%
  • DUE M 12/11 ASSIGNMENT 08: US Since 1989 = 10%


Assignment: DUE M 12/18 ASSIGNMENT 09: Final essay. Cold War Book Review Essay = 15%

Assignments Overview

  • DUE M 09/11 ASSIGNMENT 01: Student info = 2%
  • DUE M 09/18 ASSIGNMENT 02: Reconstruction = 10%
  • DUE M 10/02 ASSIGNMENT 03: Industrialization and Expansion = 10%
  • DUE M 10/16 ASSIGNMENT 04: Progressivism = 10%
  • DUE M 10/30 ASSIGNMENT 05: Midterm essay. Roaring Twenties to World War II document comparison and analysis = 15%
  • DUE M 11/20 ASSIGNMENT 06: Cold War Final Book Review Essay Research Librarian Visit = 8%
  • DUE M 12/04 ASSIGNMENT 07: Cold War Final Book Review Essay Proposal = 10%
  • DUE M 12/11 ASSIGNMENT 08: US Since 1989 = 10%
  • DUE M 12/18 ASSIGNMENT 09: Final essay. Cold War Book Review Essay = 15%
  • DUE F 10/13 Attendance and Participation (Midterm) = 5%
  • DUE F 12/08 Attendance and Participation (Since Midterm) = 5%


This course uses a simple evaluation process to help you improve your understanding of both US history since the Civil War and history as a method. Note that evaluations are never a judgment of you as a person; rather, they are meant to help you assess how you are processing material in the course and how you can keep improving college-level and lifelong skills of historical knowledge and skills. Remember that history is a craft and it takes practice and iteration to improve, as with any knowledge and skill you wish to develop; but, if you keep at it, thinking historically can help you understand the complexities of the world more powerfully.

There are four evaluations given for assignments—(1) Yeah; (2) OK; (3) Needs Work; (4) Nah—plus comments, when relevant, based on the rubric below.

Remember to honor the Academic Honesty Policy at SUNY Brockport, including no plagiarism. In this course there is no need to use sources outside of the required ones for the class. The instructor recommends not using algorithmic software such as ChatGPT for your assignments, but rather working on your own writing skills. If you do use algorithmic software, you must cite it as you would any other secondary source that is not your own.

Overall course rubric

Yeah = A-level work. These show evidence of:

  • clear, compelling assignments that include
  • a credible argument with some originality
  • argument supported by relevant, accurate and complete evidence
  • integration of argument and evidence in an insightful analysis
  • excellent organization: introduction, coherent paragraphs, smooth transitions, conclusion
  • sophisticated prose free of spelling and grammatical errors
  • correct page formatting when relevant
  • accurate formatting of footnotes and bibliography with required citation and documentation
  • on-time submission of assignments
  • for class meetings, regular attendance and timely preparation
  • overall, insightful, constructive, respectful and regular participation in class discussions
  • overall, a thorough understanding of required course material

OK = B-level work, It is good, but with minor problems in one or more areas that need improvement.

Needs work = C-level work is acceptable, but with major problems in several areas or a major problem in one area.

Nah = D-level work. It shows major problems in multiple areas, including missing or late assignments, missed class meetings, and other shortcomings.

E-level work is unacceptable. It fails to meet basic course requirements and/or standards of academic integrity/honesty.

Assignments rubric

Successful assignments demonstrate:

  1. Argument – presence of an articulated, precise, compelling argument in response to assignment prompt; makes an evidence-based claim and expresses the significance of that claim; places argument in framework of existing interpretations and shows distinctive, nuanced perspective of argument
  2. Evidence – presence of specific evidence from primary sources to support the argument
  3. Argumentation – presence of convincing, compelling connections between evidence and argument; effective explanation of the evidence that links specific details to larger argument and its sub-arguments with logic and precision
  4. Contextualization – presence of contextualization, which is to say an accurate portrayal of historical contexts in which evidence appeared and argument is being made
  5. Citation – wields Chicago Manual of Style citation standards effectively to document use of primary and secondary sources
  6. Style – presence of logical flow of reasoning and grace of prose, including:
    a. an effective introduction that hooks the reader with originality and states the argument of the assignment and its significance
    b. clear topic sentences that provide sub-arguments and their significance in relation to the overall argument
    c. effective transitions between paragraphs
    d. a compelling conclusion that restates argument and adds a final point
    e. accurate phrasing and word choice
    f. use of active rather than passive voice sentence constructions

Citation: Using Chicago Manual of Style

  1. There is a nice, quick overview of citation from the Chicago Manual of Style Shop Talk website. It includes lots of information, including:
    a. Formatting endnotes
    b. Tipsheet (PDF)
  2. For additional, helpful guidelines, visit the Drake Memorial Library’s Chicago Manual of Style page
  3. You can always go right to the source: the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is available for reference at the Drake Memorial Library Reserve Desk

Writing consultation

Writing Tutoring is available through the Academic Success Center. It will help at any stage of writing. Be sure to show your tutor the assignment prompt and syllabus guidelines to help them help you.

Research consultation

The librarians at Drake Memorial Library are an incredible resource. You can consult with them remotely or in person. To schedule a meeting, go to the front desk at Drake Library or visit the library website’s Consultation page.

Attendance Policy

You will certainly do better with evaluation in the course, learn more, and get more out of the class the more you attend meetings, participate in discussions, complete readings, and finish assignments. That said, lives get complicated. Therefore, you may miss up to four class meetings, with or without a justified reason (this includes sports team travel, illness, or other reasons). If you are ill, please stay home and take precautions if you have any covid or flu symptoms. Moreover, masks are welcome in class if you are still recovering from illness or feel sick. You do not need to notify the instructor of your absences. After five absences, subsequent absences will result in reduction of final grade at the discretion of the instructor. Generally, more than four absences results in the loss of one letter grade from final evaluation.

Disabilities and accommodations

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Brockport Faculty Senate legislation, students with documented disabilities may be entitled to specific accommodations. SUNY Brockport is committed to fostering an optimal learning environment by applying current principles and practices of equity, diversity, and inclusion. If you are a student with a disability and want to utilize academic accommodations, you must register with Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to obtain an official accommodation letter which must be submitted to faculty for accommodation implementation. If you think you have a disability, you may want to meet with SAS to learn about related resources. You can find out more about Student Accessibility Services at their website or by contacting SAS via the email address or phone number (585) 395-5409. Students, faculty, staff, and SAS work together to create an inclusive learning environment. Feel free to contact the instructor with any questions.

Discrimination and harassment policies

Sex and Gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, are prohibited in educational programs and activities, including classes. Title IX legislation and College policy require the College to provide sex and gender equity in all areas of campus life. If you or someone you know has experienced sex or gender discrimination (including gender identity or non-conformity), discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or pregnancy, sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking, we encourage you to seek assistance and to report the incident through these resources. Confidential assistance is available on campus at Hazen Center for Integrated Care. Another resource is RESTORE. Note that by law faculty are mandatory reporters and cannot maintain confidentiality under Title IX; they will need to share information with the Title IX & College Compliance Officer.

Statement of equity and open communication

We recognize that each class we teach is composed of diverse populations and are aware of and attentive to inequities of experience based on social identities including but not limited to race, class, assigned gender, gender identity, sexuality, geographical background, language background, religion, disability, age, and nationality. This classroom operates on a model of equity and partnership, in which we expect and appreciate diverse perspectives and ideas and encourage spirited but respectful debate and dialogue. If anyone is experiencing exclusion, intentional or unintentional aggression, silencing, or any other form of oppression, please communicate with me and we will work with each other and with SUNY Brockport resources to address these serious problems.

Disruptive student behaviors

Please see SUNY Brockport’s procedures for dealing with students who are disruptive in class.

Emergency alert system

In case of emergency, the Emergency Alert System at The College at Brockport will be activated. Students are encouraged to maintain updated contact information using the link on the College’s Emergency Information website.

History Department learning goals

The study of history is essential. By exploring how our world came to be, the study of history fosters the critical knowledge, breadth of perspective, intellectual growth, and communication and problem-solving skills that will help you lead purposeful lives, exercise responsible citizenship, and achieve career success. History Department learning goals include:

  • Articulate a thesis (a response to a historical problem)
  • Advance in logical sequence principal arguments in defense of a historical thesis
  • Provide relevant evidence drawn from the evaluation of primary and/or secondary sources that supports the primary arguments in defense of a historical thesis
  • Evaluate the significance of a historical thesis by relating it to a broader field of historical knowledge
  • Express themselves clearly in writing that forwards a historical analysis.
  • Use disciplinary standards (Chicago Manual of Style) of documentation and citation when referencing historical sources
  • Identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments as they appear in their own and others’ work
  • Write and reflect on the writing conventions of the disciplinary area, with multiple opportunities for feedback and revision or multiple opportunities for feedback
  • Demonstrate understanding of the methods historians use to explore social phenomena, including observation, hypothesis development, measurement and data collection, experimentation, evaluation of evidence, and employment of interpretive analysis
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major concepts, models and issues of history
  • Develop proficiency in oral discourse and evaluate an oral presentation according to established criteria

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