The Great American Experiment

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
10 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA T700 American Studies (United States),
BA T702 American Studies (United States) (UK Study),
BA T708 American Studies (United States) (Including Year Abroad),
BA T710 American Studies (United States) (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA T712 American Studies (United States) (UK Study) (Including Placement Year),
BA T770 American Studies (United States) (including Placement Year),
BA T7P3 American Studies (United States) with Film,
BA T7P4 American Studies (United States) with Film (Including Placement Year),
BA T7W6 American Studies (United States) with Film (Including Year Abroad),
BA T7W8 American Studies (United States) with Film (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

Module description

This module offers a survey overview of key developments in United States history from 1900 to the early 1980s. At the heart of this module is the emergence of industrial capitalism in the United States. We will examine not only the various political responses, such as Progressivism and the New Deal, but also its effects on Americans of all backgrounds.

Topics will include the rise of corporate America; the labour movement; the rise of Jim Crow; gender, sexuality, and morality; the Cold War as waged at home and abroad; postwar consumerism; the Civil Rights Movement and other 'rights revolutions'; and the post-1980 triumph of conservative politics.

Like other modules that adopt a 'survey' study of a nation's history, this one cannot encompass every event in US history; rather, on a weekly basis, it offers dedicated attention to crucial transformative events and ideas that helped constitute views of the US as a progressive, prosperous, and democratic republic, but also ones that challenged that view.

Module aims

The purpose of this module is to provoke novel and exciting debate about the history of the United States. The module covers a large range of topics including a number of key historical events as well as important social movements. The topics studied range from the rise of corporate America, the origins of the Jim Crow order, the New Deal and WWII, the 1950s and 60s civil rights, women's and youth movements. It is hoped that every student will find something that he or she wishes to study in depth.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will:

1. Obtain a groundwork understanding of the history of US from ca. 1900 to ca. 1980.

2. Gain knowledge of US history through learning about major events and shifting ideologies to help understand how and why the US rose to its prominent global position.

3. Learn how to read primary and secondary sources, and critically evaluate different historical approaches, in US history.

Module information

For introductory reading, see:

Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era (2008).

Edward Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction (1993).

Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1988).

David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (1999).

Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer's Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2004).

Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America (2007).

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001).

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures and seminars. Besides gaining a basic grasp of US history, students will also participate in group discussions, improve their skills in writing essays, and explore the historical resources available in the Albert Sloman Library and online.


  • Genovese, Michael A.; Morgan, Iwan W. (2012) Watergate remembered: the legacy for American politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Russell Barnes. (2010) Nixon in the Den, London: BBC4.
  • Brinkley, Alan. (1998) Liberalism and its discontents, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • (2018) 1945-1953: From World War to Cold War: Yesterday.
  • Lloyd C. Gardner. (1998) 'The American 'Cause' in Vietnam, 1941-1965', in Itinerario - International Journal on the History of European Expansion and Global Interaction. vol. 22 (3) , pp.59-78
  • Schulman, Bruce J.; Zelizer, Julian E. (2008) Rightward bound: making America conservative in the 1970s, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • Lizabeth Cohen. (1996) 'From Town Center to Shopping Center: The Reconfiguration of Community Marketplaces in Postwar America', in The American Historical Review. vol. 101 (4) , pp.1050-1081
  • Nell Irvin Painter. (1987) Standing at Armageddon: the United States, 1877-1919: W. W. Norton.
  • Richard White. (2017) The Republic for which it stands: the United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rhonda Y. Williams. (2006) 'Black Women, Urban Politics, and Engendering Black Power', in The Black power movement: rethinking the civil rights-Black power era, New York, NY: Routledge., pp.79-104
  • Glen Gendzel. (2011) 'What the Progressives Had in Common', in The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Society for Historians of the Gilded Age & Progressive Era. vol. 10, pp.331-339
  • Paula S. Fass. (1979, c1977) The damned and the beautiful: American youth in the 1920's, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • David M. Kennedy. (1999) 'What the New Deal Did', in Freedom from fear: the American people in depression and war, 1929-1945, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.363-380
  • Michael Perman. (no date) Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Primary source analysis (1000 words)    40% 
Coursework   Take home exam (2000 words)    55% 
Practical   Seminar participation    5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Sean Kelley, email:
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

Dr Simon Rofe
University of London
Reader in Diplomatic and International Studies
Available via Moodle
Of 50 hours, 50 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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