Course syllabus


HISTORY 341: Making Sense of the Sixties: USA 1954-1973

SEMESTER 2, 2018

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Course Convenor & Lecturer: Jennifer Frost

Office: Humanities Bldg, Room 721 (206-721)
Phone: 373-7599, ext. 88322
Office Hours: Thursday 12-2 & by appointment

Lecturer: Paul Taillon 

Office: Humanities Bldg, Room 723 (206-723)
Phone: 373-7599, ext. 87365
Office Hours: Thursday & Friday 1-2 & by appointment

Tuākana Mentor: Morgan Dalton-Mill

Office: Humanities Bldg, Room 308 (206-308)
TUIA Hours: Thursdays 10-12

Class Representatives

Liam Bateman         
Murray Boucher      
Emma Cooper-Williams
Samuel Wong         


Course delivery format: 2 x Lecture, 1 x Tutorial

(Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online)

Course Description            

‘The Sixties will probably be spirited, articulate, inventive, incoherent, turbulent, with energy shooting off wildly in all directions. Above all, there will be a sense of motion, of leadership, and of hope’.

--Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., 1960

Organized thematically and chronologically, this course examines the history of the 1960s in the United States.  Several ideas shape the way we approach this historical topic.

  • The decade of the 1960s was ‘pivotal’ for the United States, a decade when some fundamental changes occurred which marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.
  • The idea of the ‘long sixties’ is used, dating from the Civil Rights Movement’s victory with the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown Board of Education to the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon after the Watergate scandal by 1974.
  • The era was not only an important period for political liberalism and radicalism but also for conservatism.
  • The 1960s cannot be seen simply as a decade of decline, with the early ‘good’ sixties devolving into the late ‘bad’ sixties; this ‘declension model’ only fits some developments during the era and misses many others.
  • All of the key conflicts in American history re-emerge in the 1960s—individual v. community, state’s rights v. federal power, ideals of equality v. reality of inequalities by race, class, gender, and sexuality, and the U.S. as a peace-seeking v. war-mongering nation—thus making this era one of the most significant in U.S. history.

Overall, the course aims to shed light on why the 1960s were so important in the USA and on today’s polarized scholarly—and political—debates about the larger meaning and legacy of ‘the sixties’.  This course is taught concurrently with History 241, and students share a lecture time.  However, History 341 differs from History 241 in that students have separate tutorials and different assessment. 

Learning Outcomes and the BA Graduate Profile

This course offers students the opportunity to develop key capabilities in the BA Graduate Profile and toward employability, including advancing disciplinary knowledge and practice in history, critical thinking, communication and engagement, and social responsibilities.  From this course, you will gain a strong understanding of the significance of social and political action to effect positive, constructive change, which will contribute to your ability to exercise rights and fulfil responsibilities as informed, ethical, and engaged citizens in Aotearoa New Zealand and the world.  Specifically:

  • Students will gain greater knowledge and understanding of the history, meaning, legacy of the ‘long 1960s’ in the USA.
  • Students will further develop the skills of the historian, including thinking historically, using and distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, and develop proficiency in writing argumentative essays. Through engagement with the contested historical interpretations of the USA in the 1960s, students in History 341 will apply prior and new information to create new understandings about the past.
  • Through essay research, reading, and writing, students will find, critically evaluate, and manage information.
  • Participating in the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968 game will hone students' written and oral presentation skills, as well as ability to communicate, work, and strategise collaboratively in teams.

 Assessment Summary

Assessment in the course is 100% coursework and is as follows:
(1) Tutorial participation, worth 10% of the final grade
(2) Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968 game participation, task (speech, story, or contribution), and reflection, approximately 1200 words, worth 20% of the grade
(3) Review essay of 1800 words, worth 30% of the final grade
(4) Final essay of 2100 words, worth 40% of the final grade


Lecture Schedule     

Week One
19 July                        Introduction
20 July                        The 1950s I: Conformity, Consensus, and the Cold War

Week Two
26 July                        The 1950s II: Roots of the Sixties
27 July                        The Civil Rights Movement: Freedom Now!

Week Three
2 August                      Liberalism I: JFK, ‘Camelot’, and the New Frontier
3 August                      Liberalism II: LBJ and the Great Society

Week Four
9 August                      The New Left I: A Generation in Revolt?
10 August                    The New Left II:  The Berkeley Free Speech Movement

Week Five
16 August                    The Vietnam War I: Into the ‘Quagmire’
17 August                    The Vietnam War II: In Country

Week Six
22 August                    The Antiwar Movement I: ‘Give Peace a Chance’
24 August                    The Antiwar Movement II: The War at Home

                                    MID-SEMESTER BREAK

Week Seven
12 September            Essay Due
(manually by 3:00 p.m. to Arts Assignment Centre and electronically within 24 hours to Canvas)

13 September             Cultural Politics I: ‘High’, ‘Low’ and ‘Pop’
14 September             Cultural Politics II: The Counterculture

Week Eight
20 September             Identity Politics I: Black, Red, and Brown Power
21 September             Identity Politics II: Women’s and Gay Liberation

Week Nine
27 September             The Rise of the ‘New Right’
28 September             1968: The Unravelling of America

Week Ten
4 October                    Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968: Opening Ceremonies
5 October                    Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968 I: Domestic Policy?

Week Eleven
11 October                  Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968 II: Vietnam Policy?
12 October                  Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968 III: The Nominee?

Week Twelve
18 October                  The 1968 Election and After: Nixon, McGovern, and Watergate
19 October                  When Did the Sixties End?

1 November               Final Essay Due (electronically to Canvas; no hard copy needed!)


Tutorial Topics, Readings, and Questions 

Week One: No Meeting

Required Reading:

  • This Course Guide
  • Andrew Hunt, ‘“When Did the Sixties Happen?” Searching for New Directions’, Journal of Social History 33 (Autumn 1999), 147-161.
  • ‘Brief Chronology,’ in David Farber and Beth Bailey, The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s, New York, 2001, pp. 437-444.

Questions to Consider:
According to Hunt, what have been the key themes or developments in the historiography of the United States in the 1960s?  What new directions for historians does he recommend?


Week Two: The 1950s and the Civil Rights Movement

Required Reading:

  • Alice Echols, ‘The Ike Age: Rethinking the 1950s’, in Echols, Shaky Ground: The ‘60s Its Aftershocks, New York, 2002, pp. 51-60.
  • SNCC’s Founding Statement, 1960.
  • Student Voice Editorial and Cartoon on the FBI, 1964.

Questions to Consider:
In what ways did ‘the sixties’ start in the 1950s?  Are the revisionists correct to emphasize continuity rather than change between the decades of 1950s and 1960s?  How does consideration of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically SNCC, affect your answer about change and continuity?

Week Three: Liberalism

Required Reading:

  • Alan Brinkley, ‘Allard Lowenstein and the Ordeal of Liberalism’ in Alan Brinkley, Liberalism and its Discontents, Cambridge, , 1998, pp. 237-248.
  • President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, 1961.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson Declares War on Poverty, 1964.
  • Ronald Reagan, ‘A Time for Choosing’, 1964.

Suggested Viewing: Selection from the first Kennedy v. Nixon presidential debate, famous as the first televised presidential debate:  Kennedy vs. Nixon - 1st 1960 DebateWho do you think ‘won’?

Questions to Consider:
What were the key ideas of Allard Lowenstein’s Cold War liberalism?  What was the ‘ordeal of liberalism’ according to Brinkley?  How did the ideas and policies of Kennedy, Johnson, and Reagan differ?  Did they share anything in common?


Week Four: The New Left  

Required Reading:

  • Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, ‘The Failure and Success of the New Radicalism’, in Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, eds., The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980, Princeton, 1989, pp. 212-242.
  • The Port Huron Statement, 1962.
  • The Sharon Statement, 1960.

Suggested Viewing: Photos from the Berkeley Free Speech Movement:;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&  What inferences can you draw from these photographs?

Questions to Consider:
Why did the 1960s New Left emerge? What were SDS’s main points of critique of American society?  On what points did SDS and YAF differ?  Did they share anything in common?


Week Five: The Vietnam War

Required Reading:

  • Charles E. Neu, ‘The Vietnam War and the Transformation of America’, in Neu, ed., After Vietnam: Legacies of a Lost War, Baltimore, 2000, pp. 1-23.
  • The Decision to Escalate the Vietnam War, 1965.
  • George Skakel, ‘One Soldier’s View: Vietnam Letters’, 1967-1968

Questions to Consider:
Why did the US get involved in Vietnam and what were the consequences?  How have the consequences outlined by Neu changed in the 21st century and why?  What was the experience of fighting the war like for American soldiers in Vietnam?


Week Six: The Antiwar Movement

Required Reading:

  • Charles DeBenedetti and Charles Chatfield, ‘The Antiwar Movement and American Society’, in Robert D. McMahon, ed., Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, Boston, 2003, pp. 446-459.
  • Paul Potter, ‘The Incredible War’, 1965.
  • Carl Oglesby, ‘Trapped in a System’, 1965

Questions to Consider:
What were the differences between the liberal and radical antiwar perspectives?  Was the antiwar movement a success or failure at achieving goal of ending the war in Vietnam?


Week Seven: Cultural Politics

Required Reading:

  • George Lipsitz, ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain? Youth Culture, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Social Crises’, in David Farber, ed., The Sixties: From Memory to History, Chapel Hill, 1994, pp. 206-234
  • Guy Strait, ‘What Is A Hippie?’ 1967.
  • The Digger Papers, 1968

Suggested Viewing & Listening: Protest songs from the 1960s available online:,,  How do these songs reflect issues or concerns relevant at the time within American society? 

Questions to Consider:
What was the counterculture’s critique of American society?  In what ways was the counterculture different from or similar to the New Left? In what ways was the counterculture ‘a symptom’ of American society’s ‘worst failings,’ as Lipsitz puts it?


Week Eight: Identity Politics—Race and Gender 

Required Reading:

  • Gordon Mantler, ‘Black, Brown, and Poor: Civil Rights and the Making of the Chicano Movement’, in Brian D. Behnken, ed., The Struggle in Black and Brown: African American and Mexican American Relations during the Civil Rights Era, Lincoln, 2011, pp. 179-210
  • John D’Emilio, ‘Placing Gay in the Sixties,’ in Alexander Bloom, ed., Long Time Gone: Sixties America Then and Now, Oxford, 2001, pp. 209-229.
  • SDS Statement on the Liberation of Women, 1967.

Suggested Viewing: Advertisements from 1969 for Virginia Slims cigarettes:  What message and meaning do these ads attach to feminism? 

Questions to Consider:
Upon what basis did African American and Mexican American activists forge an alliance in the 1960s and what barriers stood in the way?  Using D’Emilio’s essay, how does ‘placing gay in the Sixties’ challenge the historiography of the decade?  According to sixties feminists, what were the causes of women’s oppression and what changes were needed to end it?


Week Nine: 1968

Required Reading:

  • Estelle B. Freedman, ‘Coming of Age at Barnard, 1968’, The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture, 1, 2 (2008), pp. 209-222.
  • Tom Hayden, ‘Two, Three, Many Columbias’, 1968.
  • Richard Nixon’s Acceptance Speech for the Republican Nomination, 1968.
  • ‘Daley City Under Siege’, Time (30 August 1968).

Suggested Viewing: 1968 Timeline:

Questions to Consider:
Why was 1968 significant for the history of the 1960s?  Can we say the events of 1968 constituted a ‘turning point’ for the decade or are there other years we could see as the decade’s ‘turning point’?  What was the conservative critique of liberalism in the 1960s? To help answer this question, refer back to these tutorial readings from weeks 3 and 4: Reagan’s ‘A Time for Choosing’ and the Sharon Statement.


Week Ten: Chicago ’68 Game Preparations

Recommended Reading:

  • Chicago ’68 Game Book for University of Auckland (on Canvas under Game Module)


Week Eleven: Chicago ’68 Game Preparations

Recommended Reading:

  • Chicago ’68 Game Book for University of Auckland (on Canvas under Game Module)


Week Twelve: The Election of 1968 and the ‘End’ of the Sixties?

Required Reading:

  • Weathermen, ‘You Don’t Need a Weatherman....,’ 1969.
  • George McGovern’s Acceptance Speech for Democratic Nomination, 1972.
  • Brian Ward, ‘“A Curious Relationship”: Barack Obama, the 1960s and the Election of 2008’, Patterns of Prejudice 45, 1-2 (2011), pp. 15-42.
  • Rick Perlstein, ‘Who Owns the Sixties? The Opening of a Scholarly Generation Gap’, Lingua Franca 6 (May/June 1996),

Suggested Viewing: Forrest Gump (1994).  Consider the film’s historical representation and interpretation of the 1960s.  Does the film deviate from historical accuracy and chronology?  If so, how and why? 

Questions to Consider:
How does Ward characterize Obama’s relationship to the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sixties?  How do the conflicts of 1960s continue to play out in contemporary America?  Do you think in fifty years historians still will be teaching about the United States in the 1960s?


Workload and deadlines for submission of coursework:           

The University of Auckland's expectation is that students spend 10 hours per week on a 15-point course, including time in class and personal study. Students should manage their academic workload and other commitments accordingly. Deadlines for coursework are set by course convenors and will be advertised in course material. You should submit your work on time. In extreme circumstances, such as illness, you may seek an extension but you may be required to provide supporting information before the assignment is due. Late assignments without a pre-approved extension may be penalised by loss of marks – check course information for details.

Course summary:

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