H473B Bulletin Board

Spring 2018






Class Schedule

Requirements & Grading


Exam Study


"Indeed, I have sought a broad understanding of politics and the political that is relational and historical, and that encompasses collective struggles for what might be termed socially meaningful power."

Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet


In the post Civil War years, an increase in the concentration of wealth and in the expanding bureaucracies of powerful corporations transformed the daily lives of Americans.  Industrialization, urbanization, and record immigration, along with lingering effects from the panics of 1873 and 1893, challenged Americans to find new ways to survive.  The personal struggles of individuals grappling with such large economic change is a defining theme of the "Gilded Age," so named by Mark Twain who thought much about poverty and power in his fiction and in his own life.  Spoofed Twain, honest "poverty is a gem that even a King might be proud to call his own, but I wish to sell out. I have sported that kind of jewelry long enough."

In this class, we will begin with personal struggles in order to understand the nature of industrialization and its impact on the least powerful of citizens.  Steven Hahn writes about the political organizing of freedmen and women in the South, and their continued fight for basic rights in the face of tenant farming and impressment into a prison system that provided convict labor for a variety of infrastructure jobs, from laying down rails to building roads. Freedmen organized politically against all odds, and in doing so, they also reflect the other central theme of the Gilded and Progressive Era--the wahys in which people organized and fought back against political corruption and economic oppression.  

We will then move West, taking a look at its promise as an engine of economic growth and change, as well as what American expansion meant for the multitudes of Native American peoples.  What opportunities did the West hold for women, for labor, for freedmen, for European immigrants, and for Indians battling to survive in a world so different from their own?  We will study issues of equality in the West via Carole Haber's book, The Trial of Laura Fair, and via issues discussed in Kim Cary Warre's The Quest for Citizenship:  African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935.

Finally, moving East, we will meet some of New York's Jewish immigrants in the Bintel Brief, selections from a letter-to-the-editor  forum of the Jewish Daily Forward These letters reflect the daily struggles of immigrants to adapt to a new culture, in finding opportunities,  as well as inadapting to urban poverty.  After getting a view of regional, personal struggles, we can address the crescendo of national actions and events that begin to profoundly affect the lives of individuals.  We will look at the the economy, the communication revolution, new ways of using information and advertising, and the building of national networks of individuals and organizations who pushed for a variety of reforms, including rooting out political corruption.   "Sometimes I wonder" satirized Twain, "whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it."  

We end with the nature of national leadership and American designs on world power, from the Spanish American War to WWI. Hew Strachan's The First World War provides insight into the issues that brought us there, and a short summary of the conduct of the war.

Along with WWI and a foreign policy that brings fully into the more modern twentieth century, we turn to the political system itself. To what extent was the progressive power consolidated at the national level representative of those individuals who electerd them?  To what extent did national domestic and international policies reflect the demands and desires of citizens?  We will read Daniel Czitrom's New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal that Launched the Progressive Era as a way of understanding progressive political space.

Overall, what was accomplished in the Gilded and Progressive Eras, and what were its limits?

Required Reading: 

1-Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet:  Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Belknap Press, 2003)

2-Carole Haber, The Trials of Laura Fair:  Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West(UNC, 2015)

3-Kim Cary Warren, The Quest for Citizenship:  African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935 (UNC, 2010)

4-Isaac Metzker (ed), A Bintel Brief:  Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward (Schocken, 1990)

5-Daniel Czitrom, New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal that Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford, 2018 Reprint Edition)

6-Hew Strachan, The First World War (Penguin, 2005)

7-Various Additional Readings from Jean Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans (University of California Press, 2007); Sharon Wood, The Freedom of the Streets (University of North Carolina, 2005); & Leon Fink, Major Problems in Gilded Age and The Progressive Era (Cengage, Third Edition, 2015).