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Archived Information

History and Social Science
Curriculum Framework

V. Commonly taught subtopics related
to core knowledge in United States
and world history, geography,
economics, and Civics and Government

Grade Spans 5-8 And 9-12: The United States

1. Early America and Americans (Beginnings to 1650)

a. The setting: geography and resources of the Western Hemisphere

  • Recapitulation of PreK-4 learning in geography
  • Coastlines, river valleys, plains, mountains, and climates of North America
  • Major resources for food, clothing, shelter, war, and trade

b. Native Americans: differing economics and politics; peace and war

  • Recapitulation of PreK-4 learning on first inhabitants of Massachusetts
  • North American tribal groups; differing relations to natural environment
  • Different modes of law and government; differing relations to neighbors

c. Major European societies, rivalries; 15th and 16th century explorations

  • Recapitulation of PreK-4 learning of European explorations
  • Spain, France, England in competition; the Spanish Armada 1588
  • Commercial revolution; mercantilism; traders and bankers finance explorations

d. African geography, societies, politics; backgrounds of the slave trade

  • Highly varied geographical regions; highly varied economic and social life
  • Political variations, from villages to empires; Ghana, Mali, Songhai
  • 15th century Portuguese enter African-Muslim slave trade

e. First encounters between Americans and Europeans; the consequences

  • The intercontinental exchange of plants, animals, technology, and disease
  • Native American societies destabilized by epidemic and European conquest; weaker groups and cultures perish in wars with stronger native groups; European colonists arrive and settle amid widespread upheavals

f. Early English settlements; daily life in Massachusetts

  • Jamestown Colony
  • The Mayflower Compact; Pilgrims and the Plimoth Plantation
  • The Puritans; Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630
  • The clustered village or town; security and social life
  • Centrality of work, the family, and religious observance

2. Settlements, Colonies, and Emerging American Identity (1600 to 1763)

a. Political, religious, and economic motives of European colonizers

  • Spanish in present-day California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah; seekers of precious metals, traders, ranchers, missionaries
  • French along the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers: Quebec, Montreal, Detroit, St. Louis, New Orleans; fur traders, farmers, merchants, and missionaries
  • English merchant-investors, landlords, farmers; refugees from civil war and political upheavals of the 17th century
  • For religious freedom; Puritans, Catholics, Huguenots, Jews, Quakers and William Penn

b. Coexistence and conflict between Europeans and Native Americans

  • Exchange of foods, tools, weapons, farming and fishing techniques
  • Advances into Indian habitats and hunting grounds; rising hostility
  • Pequot War 1637; King Philip's War 1675; exchange of massacres
  • In sparsely-populated French areas, conversions and intermarriage

c. Massachusetts town government, religion, and schooling in colonial times

  • The town meeting; church and town elders; propertied voters
  • The General School Act of 1647; free town schools for boys
  • High rate of male literacy; reading the Bible and the laws
  • Growth of newspapers and almanacs; Ben Franklin's Poor Richard

d. Colonial era labor and the advent of North American slavery

  • Effects of geography and climate; cash crops vs. self-sufficient farming
  • By mid-17th century, hereditary slavery of Africans established in Virginia
  • The Atlantic slave trade; the "middle passage"
  • Limited use of slaves in northern colonies; first anti-slavery societies

e. Family life across classes, races, and regions of colonial America

  • Widespread Christianization of African slaves; strong family patterns
  • In New England, strict Puritan child-rearing; patriarchal authority
  • Labor of women and children essential to family farms and shops
  • Quakers insulate children from others; women's status higher than elsewhere

f. Intellectual and religious heritage of Anglo-American colonials

  • The centrality of the Bible; Judaic-Christian principles of spiritual equality, individual responsibility for moral choice, community responsibility
  • Shakespeare; King James Bible; Milton, John Locke
  • For schooling: Aesop's Fables, Virgil, Cicero, Horace
  • Founding of colleges to train clergymen; Harvard, Yale, William & Mary

g. Growing social and political divergence from England

  • Social mobility, expectations loosen class lines
  • Unlike French and Spanish, English imperial rule limited by local colonial power
  • Town and colonial assemblies and voters often challenge royal governors
  • Until mid-18th century, "salutary neglect" accustoms colonists to freedom from direct taxation and strict enforcement of trade and navigation laws

3. The American Revolution: Creating a New Nation (1750 to 1815)

a. Events and interests behind the American Revolution

  • British victory in Seven Years' War frees colonies from outside threats
  • Colonists protest direct British taxes to recoup war costs, cite Magna Carta: "no taxation without representation"
  • Americans defy British prohibition of settlements west of Appalachians
  • Rising cooperation and patriotism among colonies; British goods boycotted
  • Boston Massacre 1770; Boston Tea Party 1773; Boston occupied by British

b. First battles in Massachusetts; the Declaration of Independence

  • April 1775: Lexington and Concord; "the shot heard round the world"
  • June 1775: Battle of Bunker Hill
  • Thomas Paine's Common Sense, January 1776
  • July 4, 1776: Continental Congress votes the Declaration of Independence
  • The Declaration's principles "heard round the world," inspiring the quest for freedom and justice in America and elsewhere down to the present

c. Leaders, turning points, and deciding factors of the Revolutionary War

  • George Washington's strategy, fortitude, and personal example
  • Defeat of the British at Saratoga wins French alliance and support
  • The bitter saga of Valley Forge, 1778; an army survives to fight again
  • Rochambeau and Washington capture British army at Yorktown, 1781
  • Factors in British defeat: distance from England; unpopularity of war at home; American patriotism and military ingenuity; foreign mercenaries undependable; inferior leadership; losses to guerilla attacks; French money, troops, and fleet sent to support Americans against the British.

d. The Anglo-American political heritage

  • Lessons from Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic
  • Magna Carta: principles of limitation of royal power, and consent to taxation
  • The Common Law; English Parliament from 13th century to Elizabeth I
  • The Mayflower Compact; consent of the governed; rule of law
  • The Glorious Revolution; the Bill of Rights, 1689
  • Practices of the several colonial governments
  • 17th and 18th century ideas: Hobbes; Locke; Montesquieu

e. Founding documents and debates

  • Basic provisions of state constitutions for free self-government: separation of powers; bills of rights
  • Articles of Confederation; weaknesses vis-a-vis the problems of the day
  • The Northwest Ordinance, 1787; slavery banned in the territories
  • The United States Constitution; the Philadelphia Convention of 1787; James Madison, "Father of the Constitution"
  • Ratification debates; the Federalist and Anti-Federalist positions
  • The Bill of Rights (1791); models from England and the states

f. The Constitution

  • The balance of powers between national and state authorities (federalism)
  • The separation of powers: executive, legislative, judicial
  • Bicameral legislature
  • Major compromises: between large states and small; the three-fifths compromise on counting slaves for determining seats in the House of Representatives and direct taxation
  • Change and continuity in the amending and interpreting of the Constitution

g. The early Republic: Washington, Adams, Jefferson

  • Washington's unique stature; his cabinet balanced among factions
  • The "first American party system" emerges; the conflicting views of Hamilton and Jefferson on national power and the economy
  • The French Revolution further divides "Federalists" and "Republicans"
  • John Adams, Federalist, first President from Massachusetts
  • The "peaceful revolution" of the Jefferson election, 1800

h. Expansion and conflict: the Louisiana Purchase; War of 1812

  • 1803 Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, after French disaster in Haiti at the hands of rebel general Toussaint L'Ouverture
  • Louisiana Purchase doubles the size of the country, assures domination of North America
  • The expeditions of Lewis and Clark, and Zebulon Pike
  • British capture and burn city of Washington, are defeated at Baltimore; birth of the "Star Spangled Banner"; brief supremacy of American navy; "Old Ironsides"
  • Andrew Jackson wins fame defeating British at New Orleans, 1815, two weeks after signature of peace in Belgium
  • The Monroe Doctrine

4. Expansion, Reform, and Economic Growth (1800-1861)

a. Evolution of the Supreme Court

  • John Marshall's "nationalist" aims; strengthening federal powers
  • The Court establishes judicial review of the constitutionality of legislation in Marbury v. Madison, 1803
  • The Court expresses "implied powers" of the federal government, or "loose construction," in McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819
  • The Court extends federal power through the commerce clause in Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824

b. Industrialization in New England; invention and enterprise

  • English origins of the Industrial Revolution; the factory system
  • Samuel Slater, copier of British machinery; the first mill in Pawtucket
  • Bankers provide capital; rivers, canals provide power; Lowell and Lawrence mills
  • Farming decline provides disciplined, dependable labor; the mill girls
  • Eli Whitney; development of interchangeable parts for mass production

c. The Northern economic system: capital, industry, labor, trade

  • Capital: profits from trade and shipping available for new industries
  • Industry: mass production of textiles, shoes, rails, and farm machinery
  • Labor: sources of cheap labor; the early and divided union movement
  • Trade and shipping; the great East Coast ports; Yankee Clippers
  • Transport: rivers; canals (Erie); by 1850, 25,000 miles of railroad

d. The Southern economic system: land, agriculture, slavery, trade

  • Cotton, king of cash crops; tobacco, rice, and sugar plantations
  • Mass demand from markets in the Northern states and Europe
  • Mass supply: Eli Whitney's cotton gin; roads, rails, steamboats
  • Slave labor enriches some Southern landowners; slave and Northern labor's contributions to national economic growth
  • Growth of free black workers and farmers slowed by state laws of 1840s

e. Pre-Civil War reformers: abolitionism; labor; women's rights; schooling

  • Garrison's The Liberator, 1831; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852
  • Frederick Douglass' Narrative, 1845; the Underground Railroad; Harriet Tubman
  • Women's rights proclaimed; Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls, 1848: "all men and women are created equal"
  • Horace Mann and the common public school; his "Massachusetts theory" of education as "the great equalizer"; Emma Willard and women's education
  • Reform of prisons, hospitals, and asylums; Dorothea Dix

f. The emergence of distinctly American religion, art, and literature

  • Webster's dictionary and American Spelling Book; McGuffey's Readers
  • American Methodism; Unitarianism; Shakers; Mormons; distinctly immigrant and African-American influences on Catholicism and Protestantism
  • American Romantic painters; Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School
  • Writers' version of Romanticism; Emerson, Self-Reliance; Thoreau, Walden, Civil Disobedience; Poe's poetry and tales; Cooper; Longfellow; Hawthorne; Melville, Moby Dick

g. New immigrants; migration patterns; nativist hostility

  • Irish famine, German revolutions, poverty in England spur waves of newcomers
  • Nativist hostility found in all socio-economic classes
  • Labor movement divided along racial, ethnic, native/newcomer, religious lines
  • The Know-Nothing party; discrimination and segregation.
  • Immigrants double the free labor force for mines, factories, railroads, docks

h. Westward migration; Indian removals; war against Mexico

  • Pre-Civil War settlements between Appalachians and Mississippi River
  • Since Louisiana Purchase, Indians forced to sell or abandon lands; Jackson defies Supreme Court, forces the Cherokee "Trail of Tears"
  • Beyond the Mississippi; the Oregon Trail by wagon train
  • Lure of the West Coast; China trade, rich land, fisheries, and gold
  • Mexican War adds Spanish and Indian lands and population to the United States

5. The Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 to 1877)

a. Slave life; families, religion, and resistance in the American South

  • Range of slave experiences: regimented plantation labor; skilled crafts; docks, fisheries, and factories
  • Historians' debates on slave family life and intrusions on it by law and owners
  • Sources of cohesion: kinship networks; black church-going, both open and secret; sermons, stories, and music; oral tradition in absence of forbidden education
  • Variations of passive resistance; Nat Turner's rebellion and retaliations

b. A nation divided; the failed attempts at compromise over slavery

  • Missouri Compromise; Compromise of 1850; the Fugitive Slave Act vs. Northern "liberty laws"
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854; deadly struggles in "Bleeding Kansas"
  • The Dred Scott decision further divides Congress and the country
  • The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 focus attention on slavery
  • John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry; Brown, a monster to Southern slave-owners, a martyr to Northern abolitionists

c. Abraham Lincoln; beliefs, election; secession and war

  • Lincoln: early life and work; his reading and use of language; his vision of the United States as "the last, best hope of earth"
  • Views of slavery; debates with Douglas; Lincoln's "right makes might" speech at Cooper Union in 1860
  • Inaugural address pleads for peace from "the better angels of our nature"
  • Eleven Southern states secede; the attack on Fort Sumter

d. Scenes of war: battlefield, farm, factory, home, hospital, prison

(the uses here of original sources; letters, diaries, reports, and memoirs)

e. Massachusetts soldiers; Fort Wagner, the Wilderness

(¼ uses here of letters, diaries, memoirs, regimental histories)
  • The 54th Massachusetts black regiment; its valor and casualties in frontal assault on Fort Wagner, 1863, transforms Northern view of black soldiers
  • The 57th and other Massachusetts units suffer slaughter in Grant's campaign of attrition from the Wilderness to Petersburg in 1864

f. Leaders, deciding factors, turning points, and human toll of the Civil War

  • Lincoln versus Davis; Lee and Jackson; Grant and Sherman
  • Disadvantages of the South: 1/3 of free population; 1/5 of industrial capacity; weak transport; lack of navy; isolation from foreign markets and supplies
  • Military turning points of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, 1863
  • Union blockade drains Southern economy and civilian morale
  • 620,000 dead, the equivalent of 5 million out of today's population

g. Emancipation Proclamation; the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments

  • Proclamation of January 1, 1963; Lincoln uses war powers to declare slaves free in areas under Confederate control
  • Historians debate the limits, implications, and circumstances of the Proclamation
  • 13th Amendment, 1865, bans slavery everywhere in the United States
  • 14th Amendment, 1868, declares former slaves are citizens with equal rights
  • 15th Amendment, 1870, declares right of citizens to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude"

h. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Second Inaugural, and assassination

  • At Gettysburg cemetery dedication, November 1863, Lincoln reasserts the basic principle of the Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal"
  • His Second Inaugural address, March 1865, attributes the scourge of war to "the judgments of the Lord" on the nation's "offense" of slavery, and calls for healing "with malice toward none, with charity for all"
  • First assassination of an American President, Ford's Theatre, April 14, 1865

i. Reconstruction: aims, obstacles, and phases

  • Postwar chaos in South; defeat, destruction, fears, hatreds, and social upheaval
  • Short period of Republican and black political power in Southern states
  • Congress unwilling to distribute land; promises broken to former slaves
  • North unwilling to commit resources to enforce the Civil War Amendments
  • Compromise of 1877 over disputed election of 1876; Federal troops withdrawn from South; Reconstruction ends

6. The Advent of Modern America (1865 to 1920)

Note: This era represents a "hinge" between the main topics to be treated in grade span 5-8 and those for grade spans 9-10 and 11-12. Portions of the era may be treated in both spans and portions may be reviewed.

a. Changes and constraints for African-Americans; Plessy v. Ferguson

  • Southern white power returns; 14th and 15th Amendments ignored
  • Black voting blocked by force and fear; emergence of Klan; lynch law
  • Racial segregation of "Jim Crow" laws; legitimized in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896
  • Independent black farming limited and precarious; share-cropping develops
  • Independent black churches; new social and educational institutions emerge

b. Industrial expansion; inventions, resources, government support

  • Civil War as stimulant and shaper of the national economy
  • United States as a "developing country"; massive foreign investments
  • New industries: oil, steel, electricity (Thomas Edison), office machines; growth in railroads, steel, ore and coal, machine tools, shipbuilding
  • Communications: Atlantic cable, telephone, Marconi's "wireless" radio
  • Government supports: tariffs; tax policies; limits on union activity; liberal immigration laws; sale of public mineral lands; federal and state subsidies to railroads; state and local concessions to new businesses
  • Portent of the air age: the Wright Brothers

c. Modern business: corporation, banking, stock exchange; the Gospel of Wealth

  • The corporation; limited liability; sale of stock to accumulate investment capital
  • Horizontal combinations: railroads; vertical: Carnegie steel; both: Rockefeller oil
  • Investment bankers, with industrialists, control access to capital; J. P. Morgan
  • Ideas of: Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest; Gospel of Wealth, using wealth for social and educational purposes; Carnegie libraries; universities and foundations
  • Images of business: great builders; "Robber Barons"; Horatio Alger heroes

d. Organizing 19th century labor; aims, strikes, and obstacles

  • Protested long hours at forced pace; unsafe, unhealthy conditions in mines, factories, railroads; depressed wages; sudden layoffs; insecurity in illness, accident, old age
  • The Knights of Labor; the American Federation of Labor
  • Suppressions of the 1877 railroad strike, 1892 Homestead strike, and the 1894 Pullman strike; federal and state troops intervene
  • Obstacles to peaceful, effective union action: workers mobile and diverse; internal divisions over aims; employer lockouts, blacklists, and retaliation; hostile press; public fear of radicals; courts, police, political authorities side with employers

e. New immigration and migration; life in growing American cities

  • Between 1865 and 1914, millions move from farm to city and town; over 25 million immigrants arrive; southern blacks begin migration to North and Midwest
  • Resurgence of nativist hostility; the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 follows upon the completion of western railroads, built by Chinese labor
  • Attraction of city: lights, water, sewers, schools, libraries, entertainments
  • The underside: noise, crime, poverty, squalid tenements; violent racial, ethnic, and religious conflicts; start of flight to the "streetcar suburbs"
  • Need for services, defenders; rise of ethnic political bosses and machines

f. Settlements and diversity; the West, Southwest, Pacific coast, Alaska

  • In the pre-Civil War period, settlement had leapt over the Plains, from the Mississippi basin to the promising regions of California and Oregon
  • Slaughter of the buffalo; final defeat of Plains Indians, confinement to reservations
  • Rapid settlement of the plains followed; frontier declared "closed" in 1890
  • Struggles and compromises among cattlemen, sheepmen, and farmers
  • Alaska purchased from Russia in 1868; gold rush of 1896 drew population

g. Crises and losses on American farms; the Populist movement

  • Mechanization of agriculture; productivity depresses prices
  • Weakness of farmers versus banks, railroads, processors, distributors
  • Agrarian rebellion; the Grange and Farmers' Alliances
  • Populist party platform: graduated income tax; government-run railroads and utilities; people's banks, end of monopolies
  • Populism weakened, divided over race, errant leaders, failure to draw in the industrial workers and Eastern liberal leaders

h. The United States as World Power; the Spanish-American War

  • War with Spain over Cuba; Theodore Roosevelt sends Admiral Dewey to victory in Manila Bay, and leads battle at San Juan Hill in Cuba
  • Spain frees Cuba, cedes Puerto Rico and Philippines to United States
  • Congress, public divided; opponents see imperialism betraying American democracy
  • Imperial arguments: "white man's burden" to "civilize" and democratize; Social Darwinism; needs of expanding trade; global balance of power
  • U. S. forces crush Philippine independence forces of Aguinaldo
  • The Open Door Policy
  • The Panama Canal; saga of imagination, engineering, and medicine

i. Progressivism; results and limits; Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson

  • Progressive creed of middle class professionals: reform of society through science, reason, education, expert management, civic and political reform
  • The muckrakers: Tarbell on Standard Oil; Steffens on shame of the cities
  • The Progressives in education; intelligence testing, socialization, and "practical" schooling for the masses; rejection of academic tradition
  • Theodore Roosevelt vs. "malefactors of great wealth"; antitrust cases, aid to 1902 coal miners strike, Pure Food and Drug Act; proposes 8-hour day and income tax
  • The environmental White House and conservation: Theodore Roosevelt, Pinchot, John Muir
  • Woodrow Wilson; wins lower tariff, graduated income tax, anti-child labor laws commonly taught subtopics

7. The United States and Two World Wars (1914-1945)

a. World War I; causes, stages; American economic, military, political roles

  • Long term accumulation of explosive forces in Europe; European diplomacy fails in July 1914, following murder of Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo
  • Stalemate at the Marne, 1914 is followed by four-year war of attrition
  • Wide American sympathy for Allies: loans, arms, and raw materials go to them
  • The Lusitania, 1915; German submarine warfare; Wilson's 1916 campaign promise to keep U.S. out of war; U.S. declares war, 1917
  • "Lafayette, we are here!" American Expeditionary Force (AEF) critical in final battles; British-American Atlantic convoys frustrate German submarine fleet

b. The war, the peace: short- and long-term consequences for 20th century America

  • Americans, British, French buoyed by common cause against autocracies
  • Women and blacks enter the arms industries; black migration to northern cities; experiences of black soldiers in segregated army, at home and in France
  • Xenophobia; anti-German vandalism; anti-Bolshevik fear; Americanization programs in schools and communities
  • Wilson's 14 Points seek to address the apparent causes of war; his struggle for them and the League of Nations at Paris; clash of Allied interests forces compromise
  • The United States Senate battle over Versailles Treaty and League; Wilson's cross-country speech campaign; his collapse; failure of the Treaty in the Senate
  • Effects of World War I bring Communists to power in Russia; open Italy to Fascists and Germany to Nazis, and Europe to crises of 1930's, WWII and Cold War

c. Campaign for women's suffrage; the 19th Amendment

  • Evolution from Seneca Falls, 1848; Susan B. Anthony; Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Women's vote a central reform of the Progressive era; National American Woman Suffrage Association has 2 million members by 1917
  • Gains in many states accompany wartime entry of women into work force
  • In 1920, pro-suffragists win ratification of the 19th Amendment
  • Division of movement between accepting women's "separate sphere" and National Women's Party demand for equal rights, for a ban on discrimination in all spheres of life

d. Jazz Age: optimism, new industries, mass consumption and entertainment; arts and letters; the Lost Generation; the Harlem Renaissance

  • Mass production; Ford's Model T, the "worker's car"; automobile industry stirs boom in oil, steel, machine tools, services; suburbs grow beyond the trolley lines
  • Social and cultural implications of America's "love affair with the automobile"
  • Mass advertising, easy credit, rise of mass consumption economy; increase in prosperity and standard of living
  • Mass entertainment across generations: Hollywood and movie palaces; spectator sports; football, baseball; 12 million radios in American homes by 1929
  • Literary style of postwar disillusion, self-indulgence: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dos Passos, O'Neill; the Paris expatriates
  • Harlem Renaissance: Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson
  • Black musicians create American jazz, its many forms destined to dominate popular music in the Western world.

e. The underside of the 1920s; race conflict, nativism; urban and farm poverty

  • Black migration northward continues, into ghettos and mostly segregated schools; excluded from labor unions; Marcus Garvey and black separatism; Ku Klux Klan grows nationwide, extending its threats to hyphenated Americans, Jews, Catholics, labor organizers
  • Immigration quotas imposed; in 1924, 2% based on 1890 Census
  • Most workers unorganized, unprotected by legislation; Supreme Court invalidates anti-child labor laws: women's entry into law, medicine; advanced professional education for women resisted
  • Fall of farm incomes; rural poverty and foreclosures are harbingers of depression even as other sectors of the economy grow and prosper
  • Prohibition divides society; defiance of law; criminal conspiracies become more organized and powerful with profits from illegal liquor trade

f. Causes of the Great Depression, domestic and international

  • Low incomes of farmers and industrial workers prior to the Depression; continuing low incomes limit mass purchasing power and slow the boom in automobiles, appliances, real estate, and construction
  • Unregulated and highly leveraged speculation on Wall Street grows to popular craze; stock prices soar beyond profits and value of firms
  • The Crash: October 1929, stocks plummet, ruining investors big and small; panic and retrenchment spread
  • Post-crash events: purchasing cut, factories close, jobs eliminated; Federal Reserve policies, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and their effects
  • By 1932, 60% drop in farm and labor income; 10 million jobless; 25% of farm homes lost; 7,000 banks fail, with 9 million bank accounts
  • American tariffs, effects of European inflations and depressions hobble trade

g. Massachusetts in the Depression; joblessness, poverty relief, family life

(uses here of original sources; and oral history; memoirs, local records, interviews)

  • Massachusetts largely reflects the nation; vagrancy; homelessness, malnutrition; stricken families undermined; desertion, divorce, decline in marriages and births
  • Other families, some with country relatives, survive and draw closer
  • Some employers strive to keep workers on, by dividing tasks and hours
  • Private and religious charities, local relief agencies struggle to meet the crisis

h. American artists, writers, and popular culture of the 'thirties and 'forties

  • Depression years in photography; Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans (in James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), Margaret Bourke-White, Russ Lee
  • John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle relates trials of California migrant labor, his Grapes of Wrath, the trek of a dispossessed "Okie" family fleeing the Dust Bowl
  • Richard Wright's Native Son pictures life in a poor black city neighborhood
  • Popular culture; filling workless hours; radio music, comedy, drama
  • Movies both take and avoid the Depression as theme; screwball comedy, musicals
  • Sports, stunts, contests; ballroom dancing in the Big Band era

i. FDR's New Deal; business regulation; social security; protests Left and Right

  • Restoration of hope: "The only thing we have to fear isÐÐfear itself"
  • New Deal coalition of labor, farmers, urban ethnics, and blacks; "the Fireside Chats"
  • Eleanor Roosevelt and the "Black Cabinet" oppose racial discrimination and segregation in New Deal agencies, promote black appointments to federal posts
  • Restoring investor confidence: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Spurring investment, economic development: Rural Electrification Administration
  • Jobs: Civilian Conservation Corps; Works Progress Administration, building schools, libraries, parks, beaches, airports, roads, and bridges
  • Social Security Act, 1935; retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, aid to elderly poor, the disabled, and dependent children
  • From the Left, Socialist and Communist parties; neo-Populist Huey Long demands "redistribution of wealth"; from the Right, conservative Republicans and Democrats in the Liberty League denounce "attacks on business" and "dictatorship"; the debate over whether government intervention was economically beneficial or harmful

j. Labor's advances; the Wagner Act, NLRB; the CIO and UAW

  • Hoover had signed Norris-LaGuardia Act establishing freedom to join a union
  • Frances Perkins, the first woman cabinet officer, as Secretary of Labor
  • Wagner Act, 1935 outlaws unfair anti-union practices; sets up National Labor Relations Board to investigate violations
  • John L. Lewis, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, organizing all workers in given industries, e.g., steel, automobiles
  • The United Automobile Workers: the sit-down strikes
  • "Memorial Day Massacre" in 1937 at Republic Steel of ten workers only temporarily delays unionization of steel companies.

k. American isolationism: Axis aggression and conquest in Asia and Europe

  • Geography and American confidence in national security
  • American memories of entry into World War I; Neutrality Acts prohibit arms sales to all belligerents
  • Neutrality strained; Japanese rape of Nanking; Nazi terrorism, rearmament, and threats; Italy crushes Ethiopians; Franco destroys Spanish republic
  • Appeasement in Europe; Hitler seizes Rhineland, Austria; British and French capitulate at Munich; American rearmament begins; Nazis attack Poland, 1939, and Second World War is opened
  • Fall of France and Battle of Britain allow Roosevelt openly to aid British; Lend-Lease supplies and American Navy cooperation against German submarines

l. From Pearl Harbor to victory; the course and human costs of World War II

  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the isolationists discredited
  • Japanese seize Philippines; Bataan Death March
  • Anti-Axis fervor; anti-Japanese hysteria on West coast; FDR approves internment camps for over 100,000 Japanese-Americans; their property taken
  • Effects of wartime production on U.S. economic growth
  • Armed forces stay segregated; war industries opened to blacks by Fair Employment Practices Commission, set up after black leaders threaten march on Washington
  • Women serve in army and navy; women are vital to weapons industries; "Rosie the Riveter"
  • Vast majority of all Americans see a "good" and necessary war; Anglo-American defeat appears possible through 1942
  • Early turning points: Russian victories at Stalingrad and Leningrad; U.S. naval and air victories of Coral Sea and Midway; British victories in North Africa
  • The costly battles of Atlantic, Italy, and the Pacific islands; critical supplying of the Soviet Union; massive air strikes against German cities
  • June 1944, Normandy invasion opens second front against German armies; the Battle of the Bulge
  • May 1945, convergence of Anglo-French-American forces with those of Russia forces the unconditional surrender of Germany; scenes of the Holocaust
  • Death of Roosevelt; succeeded by Harry Truman; invasion of Japan ready; Truman orders atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Japanese surrender, August 1945

8. The Contemporary United States (1945 to the Present)

a. Postwar America: prosperity, new suburbs, education, optimism

  • Postwar economy spurred by pent-up demand for goods and by foreign aid/exports
  • Effects of greater spending power of elderly, farmers, and labor
  • The GI Bill finances post-high school education for millions of veterans
  • Housing boom, suburban developments sustained by federal mortgage support for veterans' home ownership
  • New highway systems; the automobile and public transit
  • Decay of the inner city begins
  • Early steps to racial equality; Truman desegregates armed forces by executive order; his "Fair Deal" for national health insurance and civil rights laws is blocked

b. Continuity and dislocation in the Massachusetts economy since 1945; cases of poverty and its causes

(uses here of local and oral history; town, city, state government archives; business and labor records; visits to industrial, commercial, and agricultural sites, both active and inactive; interviews of entrepreneurs, managers, workers)

c. Widespread ruin and the Cold War call forth new American foreign policies

  • American leaders revise post-World War I isolationism; United Nations as the reincarnation of the League
  • Russian takeover of Eastern Europe, pressure on Berlin and Turkey; militant Communist parties in France and Italy; European economy in chaos
  • The "containment" policy emerges; Truman sends aid to Greece and Turkey
  • The Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe, resist Marxist imperialism, and support American export trade
  • Soviet blockade of Berlin; the saga of the successful Berlin airlift
  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), first mutual security alliance in United States history; urgency rises from Soviet detonation of its own atomic bomb

d. The 'fifties: suburbs; advent of television; domestic anti-communism; war in Korea; rising demands for desegregation; Brown v. Board of Education

  • The spread of the suburbs, causes and effects; television portrayal of suburban life and the nuclear family, later mocked in caricatures by some social commentators
  • High wartime wage and profit levels continue in absence of foreign competitors
  • China's "loss" to the communists blamed on Truman and the Democrats; hunt for communists and sympathizers in government, universities, and media intensifies; communist spies in government discovered
  • Debate on subsequent issues, domestic or foreign, constricted by each party's fear of either being or seeming "soft on communism"
  • Soviet suppression of uprisings in Hungary, Poland, East Germany; Chinese suppression in Tibet and Chinese mainland; communist violations of human rights
  • Communist North Korea, with Soviet encouragement, invades South; Truman sends U.S. troops under UN mandate; General MacArthur and the Inchon Landing; Chinese intervene across Yalu against Americans in North Korea
  • Bloody seesaw battles end in stalemate; General MacArthur demands war with China, challenges civilian authority over the military; Truman removes him
  • In Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, Supreme Court unanimously rules against school segregation
  • Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, 1955; emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr.; militant non-violence, Christian and Gandhian
  • Eisenhower signs Civil Rights Act of 1957, first since Reconstruction, creating Civil Rights Commission; he federalizes Arkansas National Guard to force desegregation of Little Rock Central High School

e. The 'sixties and 'seventies: assassinations; civil rights struggles and laws; war in Vietnam; moon landing; the women's movement: advances and limits

  • John F. Kennedy and Cold War: Bay of Pigs fiasco; Cuban missile crisis; under theory of "flexible response," 16,000 servicemen sent to Vietnam
  • Freedom Riders force desegregation of interstate transportation; Kennedy uses troops to open Universities of Mississippi and Alabama
  • Television shows Birmingham police brutality against men, women, and children in peaceful demonstration led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • August 1963 civil rights march on Washington; King's "I have a dream" speech
  • JFK assassination in Dallas, November 1963; first trauma of the 'sixties
  • Lyndon B. Johnson signs Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Television rouses opposition to Vietnam War; casualties shake official credibility
  • Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. stirs nationwide black rioting
  • Election of Richard Nixon, promising to end Vietnam War; war prolonged by four years to 1973; Nixon opens relations with China, detente with Soviet Union
  • Constitutional crisis of Watergate; first American president to resign from office
  • Feminism and the women's movement; gains in professions, business, and political office; tensions along class and racial lines
  • The federal judiciary and judicial activism; affirmative action

f. The 'eighties and 'nineties: racial tensions and culture wars; effects of technological change and the global economy on American business and labor

  • Political rise of Christian fundamentalists: opposition to abortion, earlier given Constitutional sanction by Roe v. Wade; feminism; and Supreme Court ban on school prayer
  • Rise of divorce, single-parent families, and illegitimate births raise fears about the decline of the traditional nuclear family
  • 1983 education report, A Nation at Risk, declares American schools falling behind foreign competitors; movement for national academic standards launched
  • Penetration of illegal drugs and narcotics into all socio-economic classes and localities; a rising debate over national values and relations with drug-supplying countries
  • Job losses to automation, "downsizing," "outsourcing," and export of operations to cheap labor countries, raise fears of blue-collar and middle classes; rise of new United States corporations and exports, and related new job opportunities and broader economic opportunity in the United States
  • Inner city poverty, black underemployment, unequal school funding raise new racial tensions; Nation of Islam; the million-man march on Washington

g. The end of the Cold War; new world disorders and American responses

  • Iran hostage crisis during Carter administration; guerilla warfare in El Salvador
  • Soviet Union weakened by economic failings, border wars, embargoes, pressures of arms race with the United States in the Carter and Reagan years; Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech; effects of Reagan policies on decline of the Soviet Union
  • Gorbachev opens era of Soviet liberalization; Berlin Wall pulled down; Germany unified and Communist regimes ousted across Central and Eastern Europe
  • Soviet Union collapses and breaks into component nations and regions
  • Iraq invades oil-rich Kuwait; President Bush wins international coalition including Russia for UN sanctions; American power quickly expels Iraqi forces in "Gulf War"
  • Civil wars, bombardment of civilians, "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia; Clinton administration moves slowly towards intervention; the Dayton accords
  • North Korean threat to South Korea; American attempts to defuse
  • Relations with China; human rights vs. enlarged trade; failure to curb Chinese sale of arms to rogue nations

h. Waves of newcomers to the American promise; debates over immigration

  • Despite internal tensions and self-questioning among Americans, the United States continues to attract newcomers from all parts of the world
  • Recent debates over costs to states of schooling, health care, welfare needs of rising numbers of immigrants
  • Variety of languages and cultures raises questions of multi-cultural and bilingual education; divisive issues for educators, legislators, and general public

i. Renewed disputes over government's role in the economy, culture, and schools

  • In 1980s, reduced tax rates and increased spending on defense and entitlements (such as Social Security and Medicare) make for largest peacetime budget deficits in American history; choices made on discretionary domestic spending; subsequent Reagan administration tax increases, reductions in defense spending; stock market boom, and expansion of national wealth
  • Mixed results of government deregulation; freer competition among airlines, trucking firms, telecommunications companies, oil and gas companies, and in utilities promises lower prices; Savings and Loan failures, arising from effectively unlimited government insurance combined with deregulation and subsequent corruption, require massive bailout by taxpayers
  • Liberal/conservative culture wars fuel debates over federal support of National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities, and the public broadcasting system
  • Disagreements over federal role in school financing, in setting academic standards, and in enforcing school reforms

j. Promises and questions from science, technology, medicine, and mass culture

  • Genetic engineering, cloning, AIDS and other epidemics; responses to them
  • Issues of medical costs, health insurance, and health care in an era of advance and discovery in medicine
  • The costs and benefits of various methods of agricultural production and manufacturing, including effects on the environment
  • The mixed effects of technology on the amount and quality of leisure; its provision of passive amusements, of "virtual reality" rather than reflection, activity, and self improvement immersed in reality itself
  • Debates over the content and effects of movies, television, music, lyrics, and exploitative advertising images; the "loss of childhood"
  • In education, questions of overload from the "information highway" and ways of gaining time and perspective with which to reflect upon meaning and significance


Last Updated: September 1, 1997
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