American Values: Regulating Morality in the United States

History 103D.006

Fall 2018
3205 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Th 12-2
Class Number: 

"Morality” is a devilishly flexible rhetoric, a language invoked to tell people how to act and how to be good, or, conversely, to criticize and to shame. This course uses morality as a lens through which to understand and assess twentieth-century American history. It examines how state and non-state actors have attempted to regulate the lived experiences of Americans and explores the conflicts that ensue over what, exactly, is correct, right, or good for individuals, society, and the state. What are "American values"? Are they religious? How have they changed? Is it possible to hew to moral frames and remain inclusive and tolerant? What role does morality play as a foil for religion in American life—in other words, in a nation that constitutionally separates religion and state, is morality religion by any other name or something else altogether?

The class moves chronologically through twentieth-century America, taking on different tensions each week. It is not comprehensive, but offers a chance to dive into particular moments of moral friction, opprobrium, and anxiety. Topics may include the family, immigration, Prohibition, sex, incarceration, war, disease, and money.