Left and Right in American History

Although the United States has been celebrated for its political stability, its history has been shaped by currents that start out far from the mainstream. This course will look at how and why social movements have formed in American politics, and the influence they have had on the country. We will focus on the following political mobilizations, spending two weeks on each chronological unit: the Populist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century and the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s; the Communist Party of the 1930s and American Nazis and fascist sympathizers during the Depression years; the civil rights movement, black power, and massive white resistance; the student movements of the 1960s, including SDS and Young Americans for Freedom; second-wave feminism and the religious right of the 1970s; and the labor movement alongside “Christian free enterprise” in the late 1970s and 1980s. We will examine how these mobilizations of apparent outsiders have affected each other rhetorically and strategically, and how they have been able to shape electoral politics. How do protest movements “win”? When have they been able to change the terms of the debate? Are there fundamental dynamics that distinguish left- and right-wing social movements? And how have these movements on opposing ends of the political spectrum echoed or shaped each other? We will end by bringing the class up to the present, looking at the Tea Party, right-wing nationalism and the election of 2016

By approaching autobiography as equally sociological, historical, and literary, this course facilitates a better understanding of the genre and opens new means of communication between disciplines in unraveling the meanings of human expression and experience. Sociological and historical issues raised by the materials are considered in tandem with the formal and stylistic means through which those issues are shaped in the works at hand.

Course Information



4 Points

Term Section Instructor Schedule Location

Spring 2018

Irene Linda Gordon
W: 9:30 AM - 12:15 PM KJCC 701
Kimberly K Phillips-Fein
W: 9:30 AM - 12:15 PM KJCC 701