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Unit 1: The Gilded Age
Issue: Did Reconstruction Fail as a Result of Racism?
Yes: George M. Fredrickson, from The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914, Harper & Row (1971)
No: Heather Cox Richardson, from The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901, Harvard University Press (2001)
George M. Fredrickson concludes that racism, in the form of the doctrine of white supremacy, colored the thinking not only of southern whites but of most white northerners as well and produced only half-hearted efforts by the Radical Republicans in the postwar period to sustain a commitment to black equality. Heather Cox Richardson argues that the failure of Radical Reconstruction was primarily a consequence of a national commitment to a free-labor ideology that opposed the expanding central government that legislated rights to African Americans that other citizens had acquired through hard work.
Issue: Did a "New South" Emerge Following Reconstruction?
Yes: Ronald D. Eller, from "A Magnificent Field for Capitalists," in Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930, University of Tennessee Press (1982)
No: James Tice Moore, from "Redeemers Reconsidered: Change and Continuity in the Democratic South, 1870-1900," Journal of Southern History (1978)
Ronald D. Eller describes the post-Reconstruction entrepreneurial spirit that altered the traditional rural economy of the Mountain South through the introduction of the railroad and the development of coal, iron, and lumber industries in Appalachia. James Tice Moore challenges the view that the white, Democratic political elite that ruled the post-Reconstruction South abandoned antebellum rural traditions in favor of business and commerce and concludes that these agriculturally-oriented “Redeemers” represented a continuity of leadership from the Old South to the New.
Issue: Were Nineteenth-Century Entrepreneurs "Robber Barons"?
Yes: Howard Zinn, from "Robber Barons and Rebels," in A People’s History of the United States: 1492 - Present, HarperCollins Publishers (1999)
No: John S. Gordon, from "Was There Ever Such a Business!" in An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power, HarperCollins Publishers (2004)
According to Howard Zinn, the new industrialists, such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan, adopted business practices that encouraged monopolies and used the powers of the government to prevent the masses from rebellion. John Steele Gordon argues that the nineteenth-century men of big business, such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, developed through the oil and steel industries consumer products that improved the lifestyle of average Americans.
Issue: Were Anarchists Responsible for the Haymarket Riot?
Yes: Timothy Messer-Kruse, from The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks, University of Illinois Press (2012)
No: Paul Avrich, from The Haymarket Tragedy, Princeton University Press (1984)
Timothy Messer-Kruse challenges the traditional narrative of the Haymarket riot and concludes that the violence in Chicago on May 4, 1886, was the culmination of a thoroughly planned conspiracy by dedicated anarchists committed to the cause of violent revolution. Paul Avrich confirms that Chicago’s anarchist leaders employed threatening rhetoric in response to the battle between workers and police at the McCormick Reaper Works that left two strikers dead on May 3, 1886, but he insists that the police, led by Inspector John Bonfield, precipitated the violence near Haymarket Square on May 4 by attempting to break up what had been a peaceful labor meeting.
Issue: Were Late Nineteenth-Century Immigrants "Uprooted"?
Yes: Oscar Handlin, from "The Shock of Alienation," in The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People, Little, Brown and Company (1973)
No: Mark Wyman, from "The America Trunk Comes Home," in Round-Trip to America: The Immigrants’ Return to Europe, 1880-1930, Cornell University Press (1993)
Oscar Handlin asserts that immigrants to the United States in the late nineteenth century were alienated from the cultural traditions of the homelands they had left as well as from those of their adopted country. Professor Mark Wyman argues that as many as four million immigrants to the United States between 1880 and 1930 viewed their trip as temporary and remained tied psychologically to their homeland to which they returned once they had accumulated enough wealth to enable them to improve their status back home.
Issue: Did Women Adapt Favorably to Life in the American West in the Late Nineteenth Century?
Yes: Glenda Riley, from "Women, Adaptation, and Change," in A Place to Grow: Women in the American West, Harlan Davidson (1992)
No: Christine Stansell, from "Women on the Great Plains 1865-1890," Women’s Studies (1976)
Glenda Riley argues that in spite of enduring harsh environmental, political, and personal conditions on the Great Plains, women created rich and varied social lives through the development of strong support networks. Christine Stansell contends that women on the Great Plains were torn from their eastern roots, isolated in their home environment, and separated from friends and relatives. She concludes that they consequently endured lonely lives and loveless marriages.
Unit 2: Reform, War, and Depression
Issue: Did the Progressives Succeed?
Yes: Neil A. Wynn, from "The Progressive Era: American Society, 1900-1914," in From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society, Holmes & Meier Publishers (1986)
No: Richard M. Abrams, from The Failure of Progressivism, Little, Brown and Company (1971)
Neil Wynn argues that the progressives were a diverse group of reformers who confronted and ameliorated the worst abuses that emerged in urban-industrial America during the early 1900s. Professor of history Richard Abrams maintains that progressivism was a failure because it tried to impose a uniform set of values upon a culturally diverse people and never seriously confronted the inequalities that still exist in American society.
Issue: Was Woodrow Wilson Responsible for the Failure of the United States to Join the League of Nations?
Yes: Thomas A. Bailey, from "Woodrow Wilson Wouldn't Yield," in Alexander De Conde and Armin Rappaport, eds., Essays Diplomatic and Undiplomatic of Thomas A. Bailey, Appleton-Century-Crofts (1969)
No: William G. Carleton, from "A New Look at Woodrow Wilson," The Virginia Quarterly Review (1962)
Thomas A. Bailey argues that President Wilson’s physical collapse, his general inflexibility, and his insistence that membership in the League of Nations be tied to ratification of the Treaty of Versailles makes the President the primary culprit in the failure to ratify the treaty ending World War I. William G. Carlton believed that Woodrow Wilson understood better than any of his contemporaries the role that the United States would play in world affairs.
Issue: Was the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s a Mainstream Organization?
Yes: Shawn Lay, from "The Second Invisible Empire and Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s," in The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, University of Illinois Press (1992)
No: Thomas R. Pegram, from One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2011)
Shawn Lay rejects the view of the Ku Klux Klan as a radical fringe group comprised of marginal men and instead characterizes the KKK of the 1920s as a mainstream, grass-roots organization that promoted traditional values of law, order, and social morality that appealed to Americans across the nation. Thomas Pegram, on the other hand, recognizes that Klansmen were often average members of their communities, but this did not prevent most Americans from denouncing the organization’s commitment to white supremacy, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and violence as contradictory to the values of a pluralistic society.
Issue: Did the New Deal Prolong the Great Depression?
Yes: Gary Dean Best, from Pride, Prejudice, and Politics: Roosevelt versus Recovery, 1933-1938, Praeger (1990)
No: David M. Kennedy, from "What the New Deal Did," Political Science Quarterly (2009)
Professor of history Gary Dean Best argues that Roosevelt established an antibusiness environment with the creation of the New Deal regulatory programs, which retarded the nation's economic recovery from the Great Depression until World War II. David M. Kennedy argues that while the New Deal programs did not end the Great Depression in the 1930s, many of those programs in banking, housing, and social welfare made life less risky for most Americans today.
Issue: Was the World War II Era a Watershed for the Civil Rights Movement?
Yes: James A. Nuechterlein, from "The Politics of Civil Rights: The FEPC, 1941-46," Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives (1978)
No: Harvard Sitkoff, from "African American Militancy in the World War II South: Another Perspective," in Remaking Dixie: The Impact of World War II on the American South, University Press of Mississippi (1997)
James A. Nuechterlein insists that the efforts to improve employment opportunities for African Americans during World War II, as exemplified by the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Commission (1941–1946), marked the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States and set the stage for broader civil rights successes in the 1950s and 1960s. Harvard Sitkoff challenges the “watershed” interpretation by pointing out that, after Pearl Harbor, militant African American protest against racial discrimination was limited by the constraints imposed on the nation at war, the dwindling resources for sustained confrontation, and the genuinely patriotic response by black Americans to dangers faced by the nation.
Unit 3: The Cold War and Beyond
Issue: Was President Truman Responsible for the Cold War?
Yes: Walter LaFeber, from America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-2000, 9th ed. McGraw-Hill (2002)
No: John Lewis Gaddis, from "The Origins of the Cold War: 1945-1953," in Russia, the Soviet Union, and the United States: An Interpretive History, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill (1990)
Walter LaFeber argues that the Truman administration exaggerated the Soviet threat after World War II because the United States had expansionist political and economic global needs. John Lewis Gaddis argues that the power vacuum that existed in Europe at the end of World War II exaggerated and made almost inevitable a clash between the democratic, capitalist United States and the totalitarian, communist USSR and that Joseph Stalin, unwilling to accept any diplomatic compromises, was primarily responsible for the Cold War.
Issue: Was Rock and Roll Responsible for Dismantling America's Traditional Family, Sexual, and Racial Customs in the 1950s and 1960s?
Yes: Jody Pennington, from "Don’t Knock the Rock: Race, Business, and Society in the Rise of Rock and Roll," in Dale Carter, ed., Cracking the Ike Age: Aspects of Fifties America, Aarhus University Press (1992)
No: J. Ronald Oakley, from God's Country: America in the Fifties, Barricade Books (1990)
Jody Pennington believes that the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s, along with new forms of consumerism, expressed “the inner conflict between conservative and rebellious forces for high school teenagers who wanted to rebel against their parents yet still grow up to be them.” J. Ronald Oakley argues that although the life-styles of youth departed from their parents, their basic ideas and attitudes mirrored the conservatism of the affluent age in which they grew up.
Issue: Did President John F. Kennedy Cause the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Yes: Thomas G. Paterson, from "When Fear Ruled: Rethinking the Cuba Missile Crisis," New England Journal of History (1995)
No: Robert Weisbrot, from "The Missile Crisis in Historical Perspective," in Maximum Danger: Kennedy, the Missiles, and the Crisis of American Confidence, Ivan R. Dee, Publisher (2001)
Thomas G. Paterson believes that President Kennedy, even though he moderated the American response and compromised in the end, helped precipitate the Cuban missile crisis by his support for both the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and the continued attempts by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. Robert Weisbrot argues that the new sources uncovered in the past 20 years portray Kennedy as a president who had not only absorbed the values of his time as an anti-Communist cold warrior but who nevertheless acted as a rational leader and was conciliatory toward the Soviet Union in resolving the Cuban missile crisis.
Issue: Did Southern White Christians Actively Support Efforts to Maintain Racial Segregation?
Yes: Carolyn Renée Dupont, from "A Strange and Serious Christian Heresy: Massive Resistance and the Religious Defense of Segregation," in Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, New York University Press (2013)
No: David L. Chappell, from "Broken Churches, Broken Race: White Southern Religious Leadership and the Decline of White Supremacy," in A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and The Death of Jim Crow, University of North Carolina Press (2004)
Carolyn Renée Dupont argues that in the post-Brown years of the 1950s and 1960s most white Mississippians, including Christian ministers and laypersons, zealously drew upon biblical texts, religious tracts, and sermons to craft a folk theology supporting massive resistance to racial segregation. David L. Chappell concludes that white southern religious leaders from the mainline Protestant denominations, preferring peace and social order, failed to provide sufficient support to enable segregationist politicians to mount a united front in defending the doctrine of white supremacy.
Issue: Did President Nixon Negotiate a "Peace With Honor" in Vietnam in 1973?
Yes: Richard Nixon, from "The Vietnam Syndrome," in The Real War, Warner Books (1980)
No: Jeffrey Kimball, from "Debunking Nixon's Myths of Vietnam," The New England Journal of History (2000)
Former President Richard Nixon believes that the South Vietnamese government would not have lost the war to North Vietnam in 1975 if Congress had not cut off aid. Jeffrey Kimball believes that the Nixon-Kissinger versions of the peace negotiations were designed to protect their reputations as diplomatic realists and misrepresented the truth that the failure to bomb North Vietnam into submission had produced a military stalemate by the middle of 1972 and political pressure from liberals and conservatives that forced the two men to negotiate the withdrawal of US troops by early 1973.
Issue: Has the Women's Movement of the 1970s Failed to Liberate American Women?
Yes: F. Carolyn Graglia, from Domestic Tranquility: A Brief against Feminism, Spence Publishing (1998)
No: Jo Freeman, from “The Revolution for Women in Law and Public Policy," in Women: A Feminist Perspective, McGraw-Hill Education (1995)
Writer and lecturer F. Carolyn Graglia argues that women should stay at home and practice the values of “true motherhood” because contemporary feminists have discredited marriage, devalued traditional homemaking, and encouraged sexual promiscuity. Jo Freeman claims that the feminist movement produced a revolution in law public policy in the 1960s and 1970s that completed a drive to remove discriminatory laws regarding opportunities for women in the United States.
Issue: Were the 1980s a Decade of Affluence for the Middle Class?
Yes: J. David Woodard, from "A Rising Tide," in The America That Reagan Built, Praeger (2006)
No: Thomas Byrne Edsall, from "The Changing Shape of Power: A Realignment in Public Policy," in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980, Princeton University Press (1989)
According to J. David Woodard, supply-side economics unleashed a wave of entrepreneurial and technological innovation that transformed the economy and restored America’s confidence in the years from 1983 to 1992. Political journalist Thomas B. Edsall argues that the Reagan revolution brought about a policy realignment that reversed the New Deal and redistributed political power and economic wealth to the top 20 percent of Americans.