KC Johnson

Modern US (spring 2020)

This course examines U.S. history since 1950, with a focus on events in politics, public policy, and the law. Topics include the development of the Cold War; the Red Scare; the civil rights movements; the elections of the 1960s; the Americanization of the Vietnam War; the collapse of the New Deal political order; the decline of the 1970s American economy; the age of Reagan; the end of the Cold War; 1990s partisanship; the causes and effects of 9/11; and the recent political developments.

All documents and other primary sources will be posted on the course website; articles will be e-mailed.



  • Exams (midterm and final): 50 percent
  • Group oral presentation: 25 percent
  • Reading-based quizzes (3 lowest grades dropped): 15 percent
  • Participation: 10 percent

My Contact Information:

  • email: kcjohnson9@gmail.com
  • cell: 207-329-8456
  • skype: kcjohnson9
  • office hours: Thursday, 12.30-1.30, Boylan 1127a, or by apptment


January 27: Introduction: America in 1945

January 29: Truman’s First Term

  • Robert Mickey, “The Beginning of the End for Authoritarian Rule in America: Smith v. Allwright and the Abolition of the White Primary in the Deep South, 1944–1948,” Studies in American Political Development (2008).
  • Richard Fried, “‘Operation Polecat’: Thomas E. Dewey, the 1948 Election, and the Origins of McCarthyism,” Journal of Policy History (2010).

February 4: McCarranism, McCarthyism, & the Origins of the Red Scare

  • Steven Casey, Selling NSC-68: The Truman Administration, Public Opinion, and the Politics of Mobilization, 1950–51,” Diplomatic History (2005).
  • Manfred Berg, “Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism: The NAACP in the Early Cold War,” Journal of American History

February 6: Eisenhower Republicanism

  • Fred I. Greenstein, “Eisenhower as an Activist President: A Look at New Evidence,” Political Science Quarterly
  • Anthony Badger, “The South Confronts the Court: The Southern Manifesto of 1956,” Journal of Policy History
  • Michael Klarman, “Brown vs. Board of Education: Law or Politics?,” UVA Public Law Research Paper

February 11: The 1960 Election

  • Kim Phillips-Fein, “‘As Great an Issue as Slavery or Abolition’: Economic Populism, the Conservative Movement, and the Right-to-Work Campaigns of 1958,” Journal of Policy History (2011).
  • Laura Gifford, “’Dixie is no longer in the bag’: South Carolina Republicans and the Election of 1960,” Journal of Policy History

February 13Politics & Policy in the Kennedy Era

  • Lawrence McAndrews, “Beyond Appearances: Kennedy, Congress, Religion, and Federal Aid to Education,” Presidential Studies Quarterly (1991).
  • David Coleman, “The Missiles of November, December, January, February . . . : The Problem of Acceptable Risk in the Cuban Missile Crisis Settlement,” Journal of Cold War Studies (2007).

February 18: LBJ Takes Charge

  • Robert Caro, “The Transition,” New Yorker.
  • Hugh Davis Graham, “The Origins of Affirmative Action: Civil Rights and the Regulatory State,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
  • James F. Findlay, “Religion and Politics in the Sixties: The Churches and the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Journal of American History

February 20: The 1964 Election  

  • Thomas Sugrue, “Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction Against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964,” Journal of American History
  • Rick Perlstein, “Thunder on the Right: The Roots of Conservative Victory in the 1960s,” OAH Magazine of History (2006)

February 25The Demise of the New Deal Coalition

  • Kenneth O’Reilly, “The FBI and the Politics of the Riots, 1964-1968, ” Journal of American History
  • Francis M. Bator“No Good Choices: LBJ and the Vietnam/Great Society Connection,” Diplomatic History 32 (2008).
  • Michael Flamm, “‘Law and Order’ at Large: The New York Civilian Review Board Referendum of 1966 and the Crisis of Liberalism,” The Historian (2002).

February 27The 1968 Election

  • Melvin Small, “The Election of 1968,” Diplomatic History (2004).
  • Andrew Johns, “Achilles’ Heel: The Vietnam War and George Romney’s Bid for the Presidency, 1967 to 1968,” Michigan Historical Review (2000).
  • Dan T. Carter, “Legacy of Rage: George Wallace and the Transformation of American Politics, “ The Journal of Southern History

March 3Nixon & Political Culture

  • Kyle Longley, “Target Number One: The Nixon Administration and Foreign Policy Issues in the Efforts to Unseat Senator Albert Gore, Sr. in 1970,” Diplomatic History (2004).
  • Gareth Davies, “Richard Nixon and the Desegregation of Southern Schools,” Journal of American History

March 5Watergate

  • Beverly Gage, “Deep Throat, Watergate, and the Bureaucratic Politics of the FBI,” Journal of Policy History (2012).
  • David Thelen, “Introduction: Remembering the Discovery of the Watergate Tapes,” Journal of American History
  • “Conversations between Alexander P. Butterfield and David Thelen about the Discovery of the Watergate Tapes,” Journal of American History

March 10: Midterm

March 12: Rights-Related Liberalism

  • Donald Critchow and Cynthia Stachecki, “The Equal Rights Amendment Reconsidered: Politics, Policy, and Social Mobilization in a Democracy,” Journal of Policy History
  • Amanda Ross Edwards, “Why Sport?,” Journal of Policy History

March 17Rise of the Right

  • Daniel Williams, “The GOP’s Abortion Strategy: Why Pro-Choice Republicans Became Pro-Life in the 1970s,” Journal of Policy History (2011).
  • Robert Freedman, “The Religious Right and the Carter Administration,” The Historical Journal

March 19The 1980 Election

  • Cary R. Covington, Kent Kroeger, Glenn Richardson and J. David Woodard, “Shaping a Candidate’s Image in the Press: Ronald Reagan and the 1980 Presidential Election,” Political Research Quarterly
  • Jerome L. Himmelstein and James A. McRae, Jr., “Social Conservatism, New Republicans, and the 1980 Election,” The Public Opinion Quarterly

March 24Politics & Policy in the Reagan Years

  • Hugh Davis Graham “The Surprising Career of Federal Fair Housing Law,” Journal of Policy History
  • Andrew Van Alstyne, “Media, Advertising, and the 1984 Election.”
  • John Ellwood, “Politics of the Enactment and Implementation of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings: Why Congress Cannot Address the Deficit Dilemma,” Harvard Journal on Legislation (1988).

March 26: no class (NCUR)

March 31The End of the Cold War & U.S. Politics

  • Jeffrey Engel, “A Better World . . . but Don’t Get Carried Away: The Foreign Policy of George H. W. Bush,” Diplomatic History (2010).
  • Stephen Borrelli, “Finding the Third Way: Bill Clinton, the DLC, and the Democratic Platform of 1992,” Journal of Policy History
  • James A. McCann, Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone, “Heeding the Call: An Assessment of Mobilization into H. Ross Perot’s 1992 Presidential Campaign,” American Journal of Political Science

April 2Politics & Policy in the Clinton Years

  • WJ Rorabaugh, “Critical Perspectives: Did Prosperity Contribute to the South’s Abandonment of the Democratic Party?,” Journal of Policy History
  • Norman Graebner, “The End of Liberalism,” Journal of Policy History
  • Bailey, Sigelman and Wilcox, “Presidential Persuasion on Social Issues: A Two-Way Street?,” Political Research Quarterly

April 7-16: spring recess, transition day

April 21Political Tumult: Impeachment & the 2000 Election

  • Wm. Gormley, Death of American Virtue, (chaps 1-6).
  • Steve Brill, “Pressgate (6 parts),” Brill’s Content (1998).
  • Benjamin Highton, “Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the 1998 House Elections,” The Public Opinion Quarterly

April 23: Politics & Policy in the Bush Years

  • Melvyn Leffler, “9/11 and American Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History 29 (2005), pp. 395-413.

April 28The 2008 Election

April 30:  Politics & Policy in the Obama Years

  • Kevin Donnelly and David Rochefort, “The Lessons of ‘Lesson Drawing’: How the Obama Administration Attempted to Learn from Failure of the Clinton Health Plan,” Journal of Policy History (2012).
  • Jeffrey Toobin, “Money Unlimited,” New Yorker
  • George Packer, “The Empty Chamber,” New Yorker

May 5: 2016 and Beyond

readings TBA

May 7: Group presentations

May 12: Group presentations

May 14: Review Class

TBA: Final exam (1:00-3:00)

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