Draft Syllabus—Social Forces that Shaped America (Summer 2012)



Esteemed political scientist Benedict Anderson wrote that a nation is more than a political entity with geographic boundaries; it is an imagined community. As Anderson explains, it is “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”[1] For Anderson, a nation is a state of mind. Following Anderson’s definition, this course looks at the social forces that have shaped the imagined community that is America.

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Revising Dissertation into Book–Project Overview

Amending Nature: The Equal Rights Amendment and Gendered Citizenship in America, 1920-1963

This study illuminates the ideological contours of the conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from 1920 to 1963. Through a careful analysis of correspondence, public and private utterances, congressional testimonies, and several court cases this study unearths the dueling civic ideologies rooted in the struggle: emancipationism and protectionism. Emancipationists supported the ERA as the necessary conclusion to the Nineteenth Amendment. In short, emancipationists believed that the ERA fulfilled America’s political aspirations, as the amendment would ensure that men and women citizens enjoyed the same basic legal standard. In contrast, protectionists opposed the ERA as a threat to sex-based legal distinctions. From the protectionist perspective, American society rightly affirmed the separate roles of men and women citizens by differentiation in law. In the end, emancipationists and protectionists held different interpretations of the relationship between gender and citizenship. Emancipationists insisted that American political ideals upheld the right of men and women to participate as citizens on the same terms while protectionists maintained that true sexual equity demanded that the law be free to treat citizens differently on account of sex.[i] 

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This dissertation uncovers the competing civic ideologies embedded in the conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from 1920 to 1963.It identifies these ideologies as emancipationism and protectionism. Emancipationists supported the ERA as the logical and, indeed, necessary outcome of the Nineteenth Amendment. Protectionists, in contrast, opposed the ERA as a threat to sex-based legal distinctions. Through an examination of over-forty different manuscript collections as well as an array of government documents, especially the often-overlooked congressional hearings on the amendment, this study shows that men and women politicians, intellectuals, labor activists, reformers, and government officials all participated in the original ERA conflict. Moreover, the participants not only argued over women’s status; they also contested the nature of American citizenship.

Above all, this study contends that the original ERA conflict created America’s gendered citizenship. In short, the Nineteenth Amendment profoundly changed women’s relationship to the state; however, disparities in men and women’s positions persist even to this day, because protectionists modernized the justification for sex-based differential treatment. To this end, protectionists successfully advanced the contention that their position provided men and women citizens with the appropriate level of equality, which also preserved women’s traditional right to special protection. Ultimately, protectionists effectively refashioned full citizenship status to include separate standards for men and women citizens, but their triumph also created dual meanings for American citizenship that negated the doctrine of universal rights and responsibilities.

-Rebecca DeWolf, Ph.D.

Book Review: Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings (1998)

Book Review: Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1998).

In Atlantic Crossings, Daniel Rodgers discusses American social politics from the Gilded Age through the New Deal. In the process, he uncovers the international roots of social reforms such as city planning, workplace regulation, rural cooperatives, municipal transportation, and public housing. For Rodgers, ideas shaped progressive social politics while individuals carried those ideas back in forth across the Atlantic. Rodgers examines an array of sources, including doctoral dissertations, magazine and newspaper articles, books, and public documents, to describe the tapestry that was trans-Atlantic world of social politics in the Progressive Era.[1] Ultimately, Rodgers seeks to unearth a distinct trans-Atlantic period in America’s past.[2]

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Escape from Los Angeles? A Look at Mike Davis’s City of Quartz

On the surface Los Angeles seems to be a beacon for dreamers. Here, the conventional myth recites, Cinderella realities are constructed on Hollywood back lots. The ugly become beautiful, the poor become rich, and the undesirable becomes desirable. In all, it appears, Los Angeles is the epicenter of the American dream. Yet, these Cinderella realities are quickly dismissed when one digs below the glimmering surface. In his work, City of Quartz, Mike Davis examines the socioeconomic history of Los Angeles. Moreover, Davis pulls the curtain back from the L.A. fairytale by showing us that the city is anything but an emerald city. Specifically, Davis looks at how physical and social space contribute to the formation of communal identities. In particular, Davis draws attention to Los Angeles’s culture industry, architecture, and power structures. In Davis’s illustration, Los Angeles is depicted as an “economic colony” for the globalized World economy.[1] Furthermore, for Davis, the City of Angels is a melting pot for various social and racial tensions. Importantly, this melting pot is on the verge of boiling over.

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