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HSTAA 345 A: US Political and Economic History, 1920 - present

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
RAI 121
Margaret O'Mara, Howard & Frances Keller Professor of History, University of Washington
Margaret O'Mara

Syllabus Description:

Margaret Hamilton NASA.jpg

How has the past century of American history shaped the political and economic landscape of the early twenty-first century?  What is the broader context and historical backstory of contemporary political and social movements, business practices, and global flows of people, capital, and ideas?  How can we use historical knowledge and the tools of historical analysis to better understand and address present-day challenges?  With these questions in mind, this course explores key moments and people in the history of the United States from the end of World War I to the present. 

Course organization is both chronological and thematic, performing deep, evidence-based study of particular events and people in recent U.S. history to explore the evolving role of government, grassroots activism and fights for individual and group rights, partisan political change, technology as a product and shaper of society, changing patterns of production and consumption, migration and immigration, financial systems and global markets, and America's changing role in the world.  The course is designed to build upon prior U.S. history knowledge gained in high school and lower-division college surveys, going deeper and including comprehensive coverage of very recent history.


  • A refined understanding of how governments, markets, and individuals and groups have functioned as agents of historical change;
  • Understanding the causes and contingencies behind America’s transition from an agrarian nation to an industrial and post-industrial superpower;
  • Sharpened critical thinking and writing about history, including ability to distinguish different types of sources (primary, secondary) and analyze their context and meaning; and
  • An ability to apply this historical awareness to understanding present-day political, economic, and social structures.

This course fulfills an I&S requirement and carries an optional W designation.


Readings (75-125 pages per week) include books, primary sources, and scholarly articles. Shorter readings will be available in PDF on Canvas and as in-class handouts.  Required books are available for purchase at the University Bookstore and on 4-hour reserve at Odegaard Undergraduate Library.  (They also are available new and used online, but please order in time for class use.  You may purchase any edition.)

Linda Gordon, The Second Coming of the KKK

Daisy Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock

Nathan Ensmenger, The Computer Boys Take Over

Elizabeth Drew, Washington Journal

Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart



The class consists of two 110-minute sessions per week.  Lecture periods will be split between lecture time and reading, writing, discussion, and group work.  Ungraded writing assignments will make a frequent appearance, and completion of these in-class assignments will count toward your participation grade. I expect everyone to take notes during lecture, either on laptop or paper.  If you use a laptop, always bring a pad of paper and pen/pencil for written activities, which you will turn in at the end of class.  They are ungraded but required, and their completion is a component of your participation grade.

  1. Five book reviews/analysis: substantive discussion posts of at least 300 words apiece, each responding to and analyzing one of the five required books. Due 11:59PM on the Fridays of even-numbered weeks of the quarter. [6% per post, totaling 30% of grade]
  2. Midterm essay exam: written exam of original essays on lecture/reading content from the first half of the quarter, responding to prompts posted by instructor, submitted to Canvas by Friday 11:59 PM of Week Five of the quarter. [25% of grade]
  3. FOR THOSE OPTING FOR A "W" CREDIT: Primary source analysis paper: paper of 8-10 pages (12-point font, double spaced, 1" margins) analyzing two primary source documents chosen from a list provided by the instructor. Draft of paper due for feedback in Week Seven; revised paper is due by Friday 11:59 PM on Week Nine. [20% of grade; other assignments down-weighted accordingly]
  4. Final essay exam: written exam of original essays discussing lecture/reading content for the full quarter but with particular emphasis on the second half, responding to prompts posted by instructor. Word document or similarly editable format only; no PDFs, please. Taken online on Canvas during designated final exam period, Wednesday of exam week. [35% of grade]
  5. In-class writing, discussion, group work, peer workshopping and content analysis during lecture sessions [ongoing; 10% of grade]. 



WEEK 1 – The “Roaring” 1920s

Fordism; laissez faire politics; presidential scandal; history and memory; the KKK and the United Daughters of the Confederacy

WEEK 2 – What the New Deal did

The Great Depression; Hoover vs Roosevelt; dissident politics; the New Deal and its legacy

WEEK 3 – The 1940s as turning point

Manhattan Project and the first computers; Seattle and the West in World War II

WEEK 4 – The Cold War begins

America in the postwar world; McCarthyism; 1950s politics; Korea and other dominoes

WEEK 5 – October 1957

From Little Rock to Sputnik to Fairchild Semiconductor [MIDTERM ESSAY DUE FRIDAY]

WEEK 6 – The revolution will be televised

The elections of 1960 and 1968; Voting Rights Act and beyond; television and mass media

WEEK 7 – Crisis of confidence

Watergate and Vietnam; New York fiscal crisis; stagflation and oil shocks

WEEK 8 – Reagan and other revolutions

Conservative victory in 1980; high-tech revolution; Cold War’s end; Gulf War and CNN

WEEK 9 – The “Roaring” 1990s

Clinton and the New Democrats; dot-com boom; Wall Street; 9/11

WEEK 10 – The New World Order

The history of the present:  media; populism; financial systems; globalization



Margaret Hamilton of Cambridge, Mass., mathematic and computer programmer at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, sits in mock up of Apollo command module on display at the Cambridge school, Nov. 25, 1969 where she headed group that programmed Intrepid’s pinpoint landing in the Sea of Storms on the moon. (AP Photo)

Catalog Description: 
History of American politics, business and interconnections from 1920s to today. How has American capitalism changed over the century? Who is responsible for these changes? How has democratic governance expanded, contracted, and shaped individual, collective economic opportunity? How have the two major parties and their relationship to the business community changed over time? Cannot be taken for credit if credit received for HSTAA 235.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 24, 2021 - 9:12pm