zzCourse Outline K – America in the Postwar Era

Winter Term 2018 – Room 204
Fridays, Jan. 12-March 16, 2018
Afternoons, 12:50-2:50

Co-chairs: Brian Thompson and Barbara Buchanan

Course Director: Peter Harris, former instructor, University of Toronto, and lecturer to several seniors’ groups in the GTA

This series explores major cultural, political, and social events and personalities in the United States during the tumultuous Cold War era. It deals with two often closely related areas:
1) The International Scene: The war-time alliance of the US and the USSR quickly deteriorated into the decades-long ideological struggle of the Cold War between these two superpowers.
2) The Domestic Scene: We explore some profound domestic changes in American postwar society.
Recommended Reading: American Dreams. By H.W. Brands. Penguin, 2011.

WEEK 1  Jan 12:  The End of World War II
We examine the situation of the US in 1945: What position will it take towards Europe and Asia after years of isolationism and the conflict of World War II? What domestic challenges does it face in the postwar era? We look at agreements forged during WWII to cope with the postwar world, and such extraordinary changes to American society as the Baby Boom and the rise of suburbia.

WEEK 2  Jan 19:  The Forties & The Fifties
The Cold War begins even as WWII ends, marked most dramatically by the Berlin Air Lift and the creation of two separate Germanys. Domestically, America resumes its love affair with the automobile, spawning a new American Modern “drive-in” architecture. Cars, houses, new appliances and gadgets, well-paying jobs: the American Dream seems enticingly within everyone’s reach – as long as you are White.

WEEK 3  Jan 26:  The Forties & The Fifties
The “Red Scare” heats up, with the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy. The Communist take-over in China, the Russian A-bomb, the Korean War, the fall of French Indo-China – Communism seems to be on the march! At home, the Civil Rights Movement moves into high gear, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Martin Luther King Jr. Abstract Expressionism emerges as a uniquely American art movement, and Robert Frank produces startling photographs of America.

WEEK 4  Feb 2:  The Fifties
Two simultaneous events heighten international tensions: the Hungarian Revolution and the Suez Crisis. The USSR stuns the West by launching the first satellite, Sputnik. Cuba falls to Fidel Castro. America also has its hands full at home, with the continuing struggles of civil rights. Even the cultural scene is in revolutionary mode: Alan Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” signals the rise of The Beats; Bill Haley Rocks Around the Clock; and Elvis Presley shocks middle-class white American parents – and thrills their offspring – with his hip-gyrating renditions of Black music.

WEEK 5  Feb. 9:  The Sixties
“The Times They Are a-Changin,” Bob Dylan’s unofficial anthem of the Sixties, signals the explosive coming of age of the Baby Boomers, and the unprecedented changes they bring to American life. Three remarkable women epitomize some of these changes: Betty Friedan, Rachel Carson, and Jane Jacobs. Internationally, the Cold War heats up with the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile crisis. Most shattering: the assassination of JFK.

WEEK 6  Feb.16:  The Sixties
Andy Warhol and Pop Art startle the art scene. The Vietnam War and LBJ’s Great Society vie for attention – and dollars – through the Sixties. Then 1968 produces a perfect storm of events: the Tet Offensive; the My Lai massacre; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy; the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring; the Paris Student Revolution. Terrorist groups are active abroad – e.g., the FLQ, the RAF, and the IRA – while at home there is the debacle of the Chicago Democratic Convention.

WEEK 7  Feb. 23:  The Sixties & Seventies
The Vietnam War takes its toll on American society. Guest Speaker Allan Briesmaster, editor of the anthology Crossing lines : poets who came to Canada in the Vietnam war era, speaks on the Draft Dodger phenomenon in Canada. The Watergate Scandal culminates in President Nixon’s resignation. Student activism of the Sixties morphs into domestic terrorism. Films of the time reflect nostalgia for better times or provide escapist fantasy to a galaxy far, far away….

WEEK 8  Mar. 2:  The Seventies
Land Art catches the imagination of the art world with the The Spiral Jetty. The Cold War thaws briefly with Détente and the Helsinki Accords, only to intensify again when the USSR invades Afghanistan. Harvey Milk captures national attention as an openly gay prominent political figure.

Week 9  Mar. 9:  The Seventies & Eighties
Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party installation polarizes critical response in the art world. Cold War politics intrude into the “apolitical” Olympics – in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984. Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan prove the adage of politics making strange bedfellows. As Gorbachev pursues his “Sinatra Doctrine,” the Berlin Wall begins to teeter.

WEEK 10  Mar. 16:  The Eighties
The Communist Bloc quickly unravels: first Poland, then Hungary, then the fall of the Berlin Wall. In an astonishingly short time, the seemingly invincible Communist Empire collapses: East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, then the USSR itself. The Cold War is over. Or is it?