Pages de Jean Kempf — Université Lumière - Lyon 2 — Département d'études du monde anglophone

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M1  — The Post-War Years in the United States

The post-war years in the United States (1945-1960), or the "Long Fifties" were rich in social, political and cultural events. They were also an interesting moment of tension between the assertion of an indisputable power and dynamism, both domestically and internationally, and serious fears and doubts about the future and the implications of these deep transformations. Most of the features of the 1960s in fact emerged in the 1950s. The aim of this course in cultural history is to understand and probe these formative tensions and explore fifteen years that remain a little undervalued in terms of their impact on the American imagination.

As this is a Master's seminar, you will be asked to do weekly readings and be prepared to discuss them in depth in class.
Every week, two documents will be posted on this site. One student will be chosen to present each text, one will be chosen as respondent, and then we will have a collective discussion.
Also, every week you will be asked to choose two iconographic documents relating to the topic of the week and to briefly present them to the class.
I will then wrap up the session by synthesizing the discussions and offering a comprehensive perspective on the topic.

  • Final exam (4h) : a commentary of a primary source or an essay question on the period.
Syllabus (adjusted as we'll ago along)

Jan 24: What were the Fifties? A general introduction

Jan 31: no class.

Feb 7: End of the introduction. Discussion of the following documents : 1) Irving Howe, "The Age of Conformity" (1954); 2) "The Paradox of Change," excerpt from W. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey, OUP, 1986.

Feb 14: The Cold War as defining factor. Discussion of the following documents : 1) Guy Oakes, The Cold War Conception of Nuclear Reality: Mobilizing the American Imagination for Nuclear War in the 1950's, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 1993; 2) Greg Barnhisel,  Cold Warriors of the Book: American Book Programs in the 1950s," Book History 13 (2010).

Feb 21: winter break

Feb 28: McCarthyism and the great witch hunt.
Discussion of the following documents : 1) "Conservative Battles for Public Education," 2) "Religion, Culture, and the Cold War," and 3) Joseph McCarthy on Communism.

Mar 7:
The great Civil Rights battles. Discussion of the following documents : 1) General presentation.
Another look at race in the fifities, from the bottom up : 2)  "The Perils of the Back Seat: Date Rape,Race and Gender in 1950s America" ; 3) "Jim Crow, Civil Defense, and the Hydrogen Bomb: Race, Evacuation Planning, and the Geopolitics of Fear in 1950s Savannah, Georgia"

Mar 14: Follow-up on "race in the 50s" :
"The Perils of the Back Seat: Date Rape,Race and Gender in 1950s America". Looking at young women and young people : 2) A“Very Innocent Time”: Oral History Narratives, Nostalgia and Girls’Safety in the 1950s and 1960s; 3) The Subversive Nature of Girl Scouting in the 1950s.

Primary and secondary sources on the Civil Rights

Visual sources on race relations in the 1950s :

Mar 21: Culture in the Fifties. Y

Mar 28: Culture in the Fifties.
Music and movies. Assignements sent by e-mail and read: Making Sense of Post–World War II Westerns.

Apr 4: Culture in the Fifties.
End of "music in the Fifties." Discussion of Post-WW2 Westerns. Also read "Some Enchanted Evenings" (Culture in the Fifties).

Apr 11: Culture in the Fifties. Follow up on Western movies and "Some Enchanted Evening." Robert Frank's The Americans (on moodle). Links to culture in the 1950s.

Apr 18: spring break

Apr 25: Ambiguities and fears.
Exporting the US.

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