FRIDAY  9:30 – 12:15




Dr. Peter Klem

Office: 109D Lundberg Hall

Office Phone: 753-2128

Email: peterk@gwmail.gbcnv.edu

Office Hours:  Mon/Wed – 11-12 or 1-2; Tues/Thu – 9-10 or 1-2; Fri. 1-5



Course Description: Prerequisite- ENG 102

Dubbed by some historians “America’s Half Century”, we will study how World War II catapulted the nation into Superpower status and right into Cold War battles, as well as the changing economic, cultural, political, and social patterns of the nation.


So this course will examine a relatively short period in the history of the United States. This was [is!] a time of incredible growth, both politically and economically, for our nation and our primary goal will be to explore and somehow synthesize all of the vast changes that transformed our nation during this period, and come to some understanding of the forces and processes that shaped those changes. As we delve into these topics we shall hone our critical thinking skills by asking questions, analyzing choices, and exploring alternative viewpoints from both sides of the debates that swirled around all these policy changes. Keep in mind how far this nation has come in the last sixty odd years. Consider, for instance, that until 1964 most Southern states legally denied the majority of African Americans the right to vote! Forty years is not that long ago.


Course Structure:

After some serious consideration as to whether this class should follow a seminar format,  of discussion and writing assignments, or that of a typical history class – lectures and exams – I’ve decided to mix it up a bit. It occurs to me that many students will not have been previously exposed to much of the material an in-depth focus on this time period might require of them. Therefore, I chose to assign a textbook, Quest for Identity, by Randall B. Woods, which will be used to familiarize students with the basic facts. Also, I have decided to do some lecturing during our class time and to assign two exams.

However, your participation in class discussion is the MAJOR part of this class and is essential.


Course Learning Outcomes and Measurements:


Learner Outcomes


Analyze post-World War II political, ideological realities confronting U.S.

Response papers; In class discussions, exams

Recall important persons/groups who made an impact in the social, political, and economic realms of the era.

Exams, discussions, and response papers

Assess the 2006 elections in terms of its social and political ramifications.

Discussion and term paper

Breakdown the decisions made after the first Gulf War and assess the impact they had on the Iraqi War.

Discussion and response paper.

Compare and contrast the Vietnam War and the Iraqi War.

Discussion and response paper.

Evaluate Martin Luther King Jr’s overall importance on the Civil Rights movement.

Discussion, response paper, exams.

Appraise the accuracy of the common perception that the 1950’s were America’s “Happy Days”.

Discussion, response paper, exams.



Here’s the breakdown on




  1. Attendance. I can’t stress enough the importance of attending class. If you miss more than three classes [unexcused] you might as well drop the course. I’ll take attendance every class.


2.  Class Participation: Your participation in class discussion is the major part of                                                                                                                                           

     this class. There will be significant class discussion every week as we all work on                                       

     our communication skills. Part of these communication skills include listening as

     well as speaking, so cut your fellow students some slack if they express views you

     disagree with – you’ll get your chance to rebut them, I promise.


  1. Exams: There will be two exams – a midterm and a final [comprehensive].       

      Both will be essay exams and a list of possible essay questions will be given 

      out in advance to help you study. No books or notes will be allowed during the

      exams.   Tests will be based first and foremost on what happens in class. Yes, 

      the textbook is important, but I have a nasty habit of including material not in my

      textbooks [or expanding on the information] into exams. It’s my way of keeping 

      you on your toes – and coming to class! If you do miss class you will be lost on

     exam day since every lecture will contain at least part of a possible essay question.      


  1. Paper: There will also be a 5-7 page paper due at the end of the semester 

      centered around the Thomas Frank book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? as well  

      as other information from in-class discussions and possibly other materials 

      accumulated as we go along. More on the specifics of this assignment below, but

      since this is a class on “CONTEMPORARY AMERICA” – and it is an                     

      election year – well, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to work it into our class. 

      Like all writing assignments in this class, and probably in most of 

      your other classes as well, they should be typed, and double spaced, with a one-

 inch margin and 12 point font. NOTE: ALL WRITING ASSIGNMENTS SHOULD BE TURNED IN VIA THE “DROP BOX” IN WEBCT. Plagiarism is the passing off of other people’s work as your own – it’s cheating and will get you an “F” really quick!  You want to get together and kick-around ideas – fine, but do your own work. If you use outside sources give references. I have been urged by the school’s administration to report plagiarism to the main office for further possible action – so watch out!


5.   Response papers: As far as I’m concerned, THESE ARE THE HEART AND SOUL OF THIS CLASS! There will be several of these due during the semester. Since this class will be discussion oriented these short (1 ˝ - 2 pages, 3 pages TOPS!) papers are designed to get you thinking about the class material before class and provide you with an organized way of preparing for discussion. To get full credit for them they have to be on time and you have to be in class on the day they are due. In other words late papers will be docked points, and e-mailing (well  WebCT drop-boxing -is that a word?-) them and then missing class will cost you at least half the points allotted. You should have a copy with you and ready to discuss on the due dates, and they will be graded for content, quality, and mechanics (spelling, grammar, organization, etc.). In other words these are not just “busy-work” to be slapped together an hour before class, but should be taken seriously (easy points for the student with their “stuff” together though).


      These response papers will be taken from the Larry Madaras book, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues… . What I want is some critical/creative thinking on the topics being discussed, as well as your own thoughts/opinions on the subject. You come into class well armed and ready to go at it with any fool who dares to oppose your expert opinions. I’ll referee [and play devil’s advocate]. LET THE GAMES BEGIN! {Seriously, though, BE NICE! There should be a collegiate atmosphere of tolerance, good humor, and respect towards your fellow students at all times. By all means be passionate if you wish, and certainly be true to your beliefs, but no bullying, or hurling insults – or furniture – at others. This is not the Jerry Springer show! Crude comments about people’s mothers, upbringing, and questionable parentage are strictly verboten!) }   


  1. Required Readings:


Randall Bennett Woods, Quest for Identity: America Since 1945

Larry Madaras, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in American History Since 1945 2nd Edition

Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?

NOTE: This is a WebCT course and I will, no doubt, be putting various items up on the site from time to time as I dig up interesting or amusing tidbits. Even though this material may not be mandatory reading (I’ll let you know ahead of time if it is) check out the web site each week!     


Reasonable accommodation policy: Any student in this course who has a disability that may prevent him or her from fully demonstrating his or her abilities should contact me personally as soon as possible so we can discuss accommodations necessary to ensure full participation and facilitate your educational opportunities. ADA STATEMENT: GBC supports providing equal access for students with disabilities.  An advisor is available to discuss appropriate accommodations with students.  Please contact the ADA Officer (Julie Byrnes) in Elko at 775.753.2271 at your earliest convenience to request timely and appropriate accommodations.


Disclaimer: This syllabus represents my intended activities for this class. I reserve the right to alter, change, substitute, or reschedule activities if I believe it will benefit the course. I assure you, I have your best interests in mind if I do so and only want this class to be a success.


GRADES: Final grades will be decided on the following points scale

                                                Points Breakdown

                                                Midterm Exam   100

                                                Final Exam         100

                                                5-7 page paper    100

                                                Response papers 25 points each


Note: Final grade totals dependent on total number of response papers. So let’s say there are 5 response papers scattered throughout the semester [at 25 points each = 125 points total]. That means there are 425 possible points [the two exams and paper worth 100 pts. each + 125 for the response papers]. Let’s also suppose you get 389 total points [just an example]. Get out your calculator. You take your total points [389] and divide it by possible points [425] and you get 0.9152941. Your grade is 91.5 or 92 [rounded off]. CONGRATS! You got an A- [Yeah, you wish! Just kidding]. The scale is pretty basic: 94 and up = A; 90 to 93 = A-; 87 to 89 B+; 83 to 86= B; 80 to 82= B-; 77 to 79=C+; 73-76=C; 70 to 72=C-; 67 to 69= D+; 63 to 66= D; 60 to 62 = D-; 59 and below= F.


Class Schedule:


Week 1- September 1st

World War II: Legacies [No reading, mostly getting acquainted, going over the   syllabus, and I will give a mini-lecture – so bring a pen and paper].


Week 2- September 8th

            The Shadow of the Cold War


Quest for Identity (hereafter noted as Quest) pp.1-3; 7,8,9 ; 14-17; 19-23 “Civil Liberties” ; 23-30 ; Chapter 2; pp.31-62

Taking Sides  (hereafter noted as Sides)

Issue 1: Was the U.S. Responsible for the Cold War? Pp.2-23

Response paper # 1 [Remember: no more than 3 pages, please.]


Week 3- September 15th

             Years Of Tension: The 2nd Red Scare


            Quest, pp. 63-70 of Chapter 2 & 71-78 of Chapter 3


            Issue 2: Did Communism Threaten America’s Internal Security after world      

            War II ? pp.24-49

            Response paper #2  


Week 4-September 22nd 

            “Enjoy yourselves. It’s later than you think”: The Golden 50’s?


            Quest, Chapter 5, pp. 119-153.


            Issue 4: Were the 1950’s America’s “Happy Days”? pp.74-97

            Response paper #3


Week 5- September 29th 

            Civil Rights: From the Courts to the Streets


            Quest, pp. 17-26; 83-95; 155-162, 169-193, 243-250, 268-69.


            Issue 6: Was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Leadership Essential to 

            the Success of the Civil Rights Revolution? pp.128-149.

            Response paper #4


Week 6- October 6th

            The Turbulent 60’s


Quest, Chapter 6, “Liberalism Reborn” [note: some material already covered in Week 5 reading – just skip or skim].


Issue 7: Did the Great Society Fail? pp.150 167.

Response paper #5

Handout possible essay questions for midterm exam.


Week 7- October 13th

MIDTERM EXAM [You can have whole class to work on them.]


      WEEKS 8-15 [October 20th-December 8th]


100 point paper – Time to start reading Thomas Frank’s, What’s the Matter with Kansas?  This one is 5 to 7 pages, double-spaced, one inch margins, 12 point font. In a well-crafted essay answer the following questions: Media pundits [and this term applies to Frank] often describe the American public as politically "polarized." What does this description mean? Is it accurate? If so, how did we get so divided? If not, how did this misconception take hold? In support of your argument, consider one policy dispute (e.g., same-sex marriage or the war in Iraq) in some detail. This assignment is designed to take into account your opinions and therefore has a subjective element to it, but be sure to carefully examine Thomas Frank’s argument in What’s the Matter With Kansas? as well.




Week 8 – October 20th 

“Election 2006” – THE ISSUES: Discussion of the run-up to this election and some of the so-called “wedge-issues”  mentioned in the book.  Check out some of the news coverage [especially keep an eye out for any interesting commercials!]Do you see Frank’s arguments supported in the political squabbles pouring out of the airwaves? Any low-blows, mudslinging? Maybe this election will be different: candidates going positive instead of negative, talking about the good things THEY are going to do, rather than attacking their opponent [yeah, right]. Anyways this is a discussion class only NO WRITING ASSIGNMENT.



Week 9- October 27th NO CLASS = NEVADA DAY! [Keep reading Frank].


Week 10 - November  3rd

“Election 2006 Part II” – WHAT THE #@*! HAPPENED!! We can talk about the political “system” and Frank’s argument in light of the events of the past week. Keep an eye on what the “experts” say [TV, radio, print, “kitchen-table” talk around your house, etc.] If you hear something that amuses, angers, intrigues you jot it down and share it with the class. Of course I’m most interested in what YOU think. Should be interesting so don’t miss it.


Week 11- November 10th



A bit of an abrupt shift in focus, but we really can’t have a contemporary America class without coming to grips with the ‘Nam.


Quest, Chapter 7: pp. 217-234; Chapter 8: pp. 253-268; Chapter 9: pp. 277-307

Taking Sides;

Issue 8: Was the Americanization of the War in Vietnam Inevitable? PP. 168-189.

Response paper # 6


Week 12- November 17th

            Middle East: The Roots of the Present Conflict


            Hey, its easy to second guess a decision – and as they say, “Hindsight is 20/20

Vision” – but more than a few have questioned this one in light of the present Iraqi situation.


Quest, pp.486-490

Taking Sides:

Issue 12: Did President Bush Achieve His Objectives in the Gulf War? PP.262-289.

Response paper #7


Week 13- November  24th  - NO CLASS; HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Week 14- December 1st

            Last Class Discussion and the What’s the Matter with Kansas?  paper due.

            Taking Sides;

Issue 15: Did the Supreme Court Hijack the 2000 Presidential election From Al Gore?   PP. 344-371.


Week 15- December 8th – FINAL EXAM