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Sixties Project
Syllabus Collection

General Sixties Courses | Literature Film & Popular Culture | Viet Nam War

The Transformation of America 1960-1980

Professor:Paul Nagy
Institution:Indiana University
Listing:American Studies A304


William Chafe, Unifinished Journey: America Since World War II
Godfrey Hodgson, America in Our Time


The twenty years between the election of John Kennedy in 1960 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 mark one of the most turbulent periods in American history. Radical changes occurred during these two decades in the political, social, and cultural life of Americans, changes which we have inherited and accepted, changes which have shaped so much of our lives today and so many of the problems we face as a society. For the most part we take these changes for granted without giving much thought to their origins.

Through a variety of readings, lectures, discussions, and research papers,a nd through the screening of television documentaries, the course aims at evoking the '60s and '70s for the purpose of arriving at a deeper understanding of the major events of the period.

A complete understanding of the transformational nature of these events is not possible, however, without placing them within the context of political and social history, and most especially within the framework of the larger interpretive principles of the culture which American Studies offers.

The objectives of the course, then, are:

  1. A knowledge of the social, political and cultural history of the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s.
  2. An understanding of the meaning of the transformations which occurred during this period in light of some basic principles underlying American culture, most notably:
    a) America as a process culture
    b) America as a culture of experience
    c) America as a self-conscious society

These objectives are to be achieved through an examination of such topics as the myth of Camelot, the civil rights movement, the subsequent black uprising, the war in Vietnam and its aftermath, the rise of counterculture, campus unrest and the student movement, Watergate, the retreat into narcissism, the pervasive influence of television, and, at the close of the period, the rise of neo-conservatism. Integrated into these topics will be a consideration of the literature of the period: modernism and fabulism in fiction, and social and cultural criticism and the new journalism in nonfiction.

Assignments & Grading:

The final grade will be based upon a mid-term exam, a final exam, a ten-page research paper, and class participation. Attendance is mandatory. Each of the four requirements will constitute 25% of the grade. The topic of the paper should be related to one of the ten topics listed in this syllabus. Students enrolled in this course under Honors H300 are required to submit two research papers, each of which will constitute 20% of the final grade.

Section 1: Background--The Reach Toward National Consensus, 1945-1960

Lecture: The Reach Toward National Consensus, 1945-1960 Readings:
  1. "'The Other Half of the Walnut,' Social Reform and Activism in the Postwar Years," Unfinished Journey
  2. "The Paradox of Change. American Society in the Postwar Years," Unfinished Journey
  3. "The Ideology of Liberal Consensus," America In Our Time

Section 2: The Kennedy Years--Camelot and the Myth of New Beginnings

Lecture: The Kennedy Years: Camelot and the Myth of New Beginnings


  1. "John F. Kennedy: The Reality and the Myth," Unfinished Journey
  2. "The Presidency," America in Our Time
  3. "The Establishment," America in Our Time
  4. "The Crisis," America in Our Time
  5. "LBJ," Unfinished Journey

Section 3: The Civil Rights Movement

Lecture: From Montgomery to Birmingham, 1955-1963


  • "The Civil Rights Movement, 'The Gods Bring Threads to Webs Begun,'" Unfinished Journey


  1. Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings (1954-1956)
  2. Eyes on the Prize: Fighting Back (1957-1962)

Lecture: Birmingham to Selma, 1963-1965


  • "Black Uprising," America in Our Time


  1. Eyes on the Prize: Ain't Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961)
  2. Eyes on the Prize: Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964)

Lecture: Black Uprising, Power and Separation, 1965-1968


  1. Vincent Harding, "So Much History, So Much Future: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Second Coming of America," The Other American Revolution
  2. "Black Separatism," America In Our Time


  1. Eyes on the Prize: Bridge to Freedom (1965)
  2. Eyes on the Prize: No Easy Walk (1962-1966)

Section 4: Vietnam

Lecture: Vietnam: Background and Early Years


  1. "The Early Years," Unfinished Journey
  2. "Vietnam: The Beginning," America In Our Time


  • Vietnam, A Television History: LBJ Goes to War

Lecture: Escalating the War


  1. "Lyndon's War," Unfinished Journey
  2. "Fragmented Consensus," America In Our Time
  3. "The Great Schism," America In Our Time


  • Vietnam, A Television History: America Takes Charge

Lecture: Tet and Vietnamization


  • "Coming Apart At Home," Unfinished Journey


  • Vietnam, A Television History: Homefront

Section 5: The Rise of Counterculture

Lecture: The Rise of Counterculture


  1. "Telegraph Avenue, Son of Madison Avenue," America In Our Time
  2. "An Invasion of Centaurs," America In Our Time
  3. "Triumph and Failure of a Cultural Revolution," America In Our Time


  • A 1967 Retrospective

Section 6: 1968--The Cresting of the Sixties

Lecture: A Bewildering Array of Successive Crises
  1. "1968," Unfinished Journey
  2. "The End of Consensus," America In Our Time
  3. "War, Peace and Two Americas," America In Our Time

Section 7: The Road to Watergate

Lecture: The Nixon Years


  1. "The Discovery of Middle America," America In Our Time
  2. "The Capture of the New Majority," America In Our Time
  3. "Bringing Us Together," Unfinished Journey

Section 8: Television--A Pervasive Presence

Lecture: The Electronic Transformation of the Cultural Landscape


  1. "The Media," America In Our Time
  2. James Monaco, "The TV Plexus," Television and American Culture


  • Television News: Edwin Newman

Section 9: Retreat Into Narcissism

Lecture: A Self-Absorbed America


  1. Christopher Lasch, "The New Narcissism," The Culture of Narcissism
  2. Tom Wolfe, "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening," Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine
  3. Peter Marin, "The New Narcissism," Harper's Magazine (Oct 1975)

Section 10: Neo-Conservatism and the Advent of the Reagan Years

Lecture: From Kennedy to Reagan: The Cycle Completed to a New Consensus


  1. "America in the Eighties," Unfinished Journey
  2. Kevin Phillips, "The Balkanization of America"
  3. Michael Novak, "The Seventies: Decadeof the Ethnics," The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and Culture in the Seventies

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