Monday, October 31, 2011

1945-1965: An Abundance of Riches

I begin our focus on the United States after World War II by putting the students into groups of three and having them list anyone and everything they can name that somehow applies to the years 1945-1965. Then, of course, they share what they’ve got with the class. It helps in two ways: first, I get to know what they know and what they don’t (or at least what they know for purposes of historical association) and, for the first time, the class typically sees that they actually know something about the past. Unlike previous eras, where my students labor to name the presidents or important events or celebrities, they have greater knowledge of this period. And I ask them to consider why that is … and it’s not just because it’s closer to us in time. They can name a whole bunch of “founding fathers” and important pieces from the American Revolution, and I bet they know more about these decades than they do the 1970s (and it’s hard to blame them … any decade that births the Bee-Gees is forgettable in my estimation). It might have something to do with the Baby Boom generation and the emergence of television.

Bert the Turtle (1952)
1945 to 1965 is probably the most fun, but also most difficult, period to teach. There’s so much going on. We have Youtube videos galore (I absolutely love the trailer for Rebel Without a Cause). We have heroic stories and dramatic anxieties. There’s the emergence of the modern Civil Rights movement and our students have not only heard of, but actually heard speak Martin Luther King Jr. They know somehow that Malcolm X was tough, and that white segregationists were somehow a group of odd, awful southerners. And talk about documentaries, Eyes on the Prize is a gold mine. It’s probably the only documentary that doesn’t put me to sleep (well, I like Ken Burns’s The Civil War too, although it gets pretty formulaic). There’s the “duck and cover” fears of nuclear devastation and the video of Bert the Turtle teaching children to “duck and cover” is unbeatable as a discussion starter. (I’ve had classes literally duck and cover, and ask them if they magically feel safer; they don’t. We all just feel awkward).

Then there’s the massive economic and population growth. Americans got very good at growth. We made suburbs, televisions, automobiles, and babies. We moved to the West, especially California, to build more and more. By 1960, California had as many Electoral College votes as Pennsylvania and was creeping up on New York. And as we bought, sold, and made in bigger and bigger fashion, we crafted even bigger ways to destroy everything. Hydrogen bombs were atomic bombs what the B2 bomber was to the biplane. It’s an exaggeration to say that they were 1000 times more destructive, but the point is that they took destructive potential to new heights.

1945 cartoon found at
And of course, the Cold War looms everywhere. Whether it was militarization in the form of NATO and Korea or homespun anxiety of the McCarthy-esque type, the battle between “God-fearing, free-market capitalism” and “atheistic Communism” touched everything in its path.
But how can we pull it all together? How do we make sense of the moment before the Civil Rights Act, immigration reform, Vietnam, and stagflation reconfigured every element of the United States from the late 1960s into the 1970s?

I’m trying two main themes, which I’ll elaborate on later in the week (and report back what my students know and don’t know from the years): 1) the rights revolution, or how so many groups and individuals pushed for rights that even upper-middle-class white men turned to the language of oppression to defend either their long hair or their business interests; and 2) the burdens of power, or how economic and political power created an American responsibility and dependency that we carry to this day. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Uncovered, a new approach to the survey?

Yesterday my department had a lunchtime brownbag discussion about Lendol Calder's new way of teaching the survey (although, as you'll see, him calling it "the survey" is a misnomer).

The idea, articulated in an influential 2006 JAH piece, is that attempting to cover everything that happens from 1865 to 2011 turns into a plodding along of facts that is pedagogically unsound. Students get bored, he says, and they don't retain the information. It isn't working. His "uncoverage" approach is instead a topical approach to history, working through big subjects (in his examples: "the Cold War" or "the civil rights movement") and forgetting about trying to cover everything. He then has his students uncover history for themselves, using documentaries, primary source documents, and dueling textbooks (Howard Zinn versus Paul Johnson is his example). He hopes that students will then leave the semester knowing: (1) a lot about the Cold War (and the other topics he's selected); and (2) a lot about thinking historically and understanding that history is contested ground but premised on evidence and interpretation. This is a thin summary, but you get the gist.

There is much merit this approach, and to his credit Calder (and my department's advocates for him) has got me re-thinking the way I set up my discussion sections and even some of the readings I assign in my 100-level survey. Indeed, after the brownbag I am even more impressed with the Major Problem series, which consciously sees history as a series of arguments with results based on documents.

On the other hand, there are several problems with Calder's approach, at least as it appears in the article. First, he's teaching a ten-week semester, for 30 students, on 1945 to the present. With such limitations, his approach is probably wonderful. But in my experience, a class of that description is not "the survey" but an upper-division class. In my 100-level classes, I get 120 students in a lecture hall with bolted down seats and two TAs who lead Friday discussion sections. We're talking apples and oranges here. When I teach upper-division classes, I'm most certainly taking another look at the article.

In addition to this complaint, the syllabus he proposes spends a full third of the classtime watching documentaries. One third! To me, this is just lazy lecturing. Plus, if he thinks sitting through a lecture is boring (is it, really?), has he tried to stay awake through "God in America" or almost any Ken Burns' documentary? I usually last about 15 minutes before the saccharine music and the long, panning skyward shots have got me reaching for my afghan and increasing my horizontal ratio. Plus, is using as a model of the "typical" lecture the famous scene from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" ("Anyone? Anyone?") really fair? It's certainly not my approach to the classroom, and I doubt it's anyone's.

On the other hand, Calder makes a good case for how we learn (and therefore how our students' learn).

One of his best arguments is that we learn when it matters, and a test isn't quite good enough to create "mattering." This got me thinking: what if I restructured my 16-week survey around 16 topics that slide chronologically forward. For instance, assuming that the industrial revolution is a meritorious starting point, what if we spend the first day going through technological breakthroughs in American life, then pull back to the late 19th century to see how we got to where we are today. The next week could be an investigation of, say, why Chicago (my city) is so racially segregated today. Clearly Reconstruction and the New South and the Great Migration would come up. Then third, the role of women in politics, which will highlight the Progressive Era movement toward female suffrage. Then the relationship between government and industry, a la the New Deal. Etc.

Of course, we'd need a concise textbook to keep the thread alive (go HIST!). But I wonder, has anyone with my kind of constraints tried this approach? Can uncoverage work in a real survey?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

World War II

The New Deal at War

I’m behind, and it happens every semester. This week, we should be discussing the 1950s. I should be scarring them with a McCarthy-like “I know someone cheated on the exam, now everyone write down the name of someone who cheated or I’ll assume that you cheated; if you do not turn in a sheet with at least one name listed, you will flunk this class” game that terrifies the class. (students always hate me after it for about a week; one cried a few years back and so I now stop it before anyone actually writes anything down) But alas, we haven’t even ended the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt isn’t dead yet; he’s on his way to winning the presidential election not once, not twice, not thrice, but frice (sic!)!

Portrait of Rockwell painting
So how to catch up. In the past, I would kick the lecture into overdrive and talk like the old Fex-Ex or Micro Machine commercial guy. Instead, I’m going to make the books work for me and just chop out some material. The first 10 minutes of class will be working through the Hist chapter on World War II (where I highlight for them what to read) and the second part will be juxtaposing Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want with the discussion of a family during the Japanese American internment (both of which are in the chapter on World War II in Major Problems). The contrast is striking. Rockwell’s painting features a table with a beautiful turkey. Grandpa (looking awfully like an aged Roosevelt) wears a nice suit and is about to carve the bird. The white grandchildren and children have big smiles and the tabletop china is magnificent. The tale from the Japanese American internment camp is disgusting. It’s full of stories of “cramps and diarrhea” and latrines that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. Looking at what the image and the stories include (and exclude), my students are prepared for the next discussion: the use of atomic weaponry.

By the end of class, we’ll be at 1945 and ready to kick into the Cold War and the new age of affluence. But the terrain will be set, I hope, that “freedom from want” was a racialized concept and that the nation’s new military might could be used for good (no doubt that defeating the Nazis was good), but that might could also be used in troubling ways and for uncertain causes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Midterm Blues, part 2

All the feedback from Ed's post has inspired me to rethink the way I formulate my tests (note to current History 104 students who might be reading this: not for the upcoming test!). I do a few things differently, and a few things the same. My normal dictum, "when in doubt, do what Ed does," might be challenged here. Ah, the moral turmoil!

At any rate, my class is broken into thirds, with an exam at the end of each third. Thus there is no midterm exactly, as students are tested in smaller chunks. I've tried four tests and two tests, and three seems about right. With two, there is just too much material to test on, and with four there seems to be a test every other week. Three is my sweet spot.

I do give a study guide in the form of 40 or so important terms. In my defense, it's a class of 120 and, more importantly, I would never ask a student merely to recite the definition of a term. Instead, I ask them to (1) know the term, (2) know why it's important in the context of the class, and (3) be able to relate it to other terms on the list. Essays about relations appear on the exam. In defense of study guides, they does allow students to focus on certain pillars in the lecture, but in my class at least students have already been warned that they will need to know why the terms are important, just not what the terms mean (for instance, DuBois is important in the context of Part One because of his book on Reconstruction and how it was ignored until the 1960s, and for his role in founding the NAACP and in fighting against Jim Crowism and lynching, not for any of his other later work). Offering a study guide was a concession to demand, one I'm still uncertain about making, and one I am trying to make work as best I can.

The other thing I've started doing (again only after three years of demand) is to post my powerpoints. The argument that finally won me over, self-indulgent as I am, was that students couldn't pay attention to the lecture (me!) because they were copying down terms from the slides. The first thing I did was cut down on the number of words on the slides, then I said sternly, "well, I'll post them, but if attendance drops I will stop!" This is the second time I've done it. Neither time has attendance dropped. That said, a picture of a navy bomber doesn't really get them very far.

One other thing I've learned is important regarding exams: giving students a choice. There are three essay questions, pick two. Students with choices don't get stuck having to answer a question they are unprepared for. Plus, it gives us instructors a bit of capital when students come to complain--you couldn't do either of these questions?

Oh, and one other thing: a timeline. I'm a big stickler that history is not, as Toynbee put it, "one damn thing after another." That said, my sister, a big-wig professional college-educated executive (Go Wildcats!), once looked at one of my tests and asked, "when again was the Great Depression?" For that reason alone I do a very broad and basic timeline (eg: "when was the Great Depression?"). Thanks sis. Generations of students are in your debt.

Now if she could only fix Ed's toilet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Midterm Blues

The Midterm Examination

My Dad gave me lots of good advice, and some terrible. (an example of terrible advice was to “make friends with people who know how to fix things, cause then they can help you out.” This mercenary approach to friendship has never sat well with me and so I abandoned it years ago. Alas, now I have to call a plumber when my toilet runs). An example of great advice was right before I left suburban New Jersey for suburban Michigan (oddly enough, they looked and felt exactly the same!): “if it’s important to the professor, then it will probably be important on the exam.” True, Dad, but only in good classes from wise professors. I had a class or two where the course exams did not match the course material, and nothing enraged students more.

Exam writing is like writing and evaluating writing: clarity and consistency are key. Each question and topic should connect to material we focused upon either in lecture, discussion, or the reading. A cardinal sin of teaching is to have examinations that do not reflect the main body of work.

Unless panic will make
you study more - then panic.
So from day one, my students know what’s important to me and the exam reflects the main points. First, it’s critical that they read and be familiar with the textbook. For years I assigned one and could never think of an effective way to test it (except for reading quizzes, which bored me and them). Hist offers a great way to test: 50% of the exam asks a question directly from “the reasons why” sections. Each chapter has a short insert addressing a major problem from the age. One Gilded Age chapter, for instance, asks why so many Europeans immigrated to the United States during the time and offers four main reasons. For my exam, students must present the main reasons and then fill each one in with details from lecture, the textbook, and Major Problems. The E student won’t know the reasons; the D student will know them, but little else. The C student will have one example for each; the B student will have two or three; and the A student will fill that blue book up with example after example after example for each main point. This way, I’m forcing them to take the textbook serious and I can differentiate among them.

Second, it’s important to me that students read and know the Major Problems documents. Since their essays force them to quote directly from the documents, the exam focuses on the broad points. And for this, I merely test the main points of the documents, which are encapsulated by the document titles. The titles are some of the best, and easily overlooked parts of Major Problems, for they distill the main points for students. A question might be, “Whom did Reconstruction poet Francis Miles Finch mourn and celebrate in his 1867 poem “The Blue and the Gray”? The answer would be “Soldiers” as nicely and clearly stated on the poem’s title. I know what you’re thinking: this can be learned from rote memorization and students will forget it after the exam or the semester. Maybe, but maybe some of it will stick. Also, since I ask a set of verbatim questions from this exam on the next one, I force them to learn the answers. They’ll know that Jane Addams was in charge of Hull House … they’ll know it for Jeopardy, they’ll know it playing Trivial Pursuit, they’ll know it when they’re child takes U.S. history. We may not like memorization and we may know that everything can be found on google, but if you don’t know to search for “Hull House” or for “Jane Addams” than you may never know why she’s so important. And hell, I’ve got to have some measure to grade that is somewhat “objective.”

Who advocated "civic housekeeping" in 1906?
Oh, I know: Jane Addams
And here is what I do not do: I do not give out a study sheet with key words, concepts, and ideas. Students can easily figure out those out from the textbook and from lecture Powerpoints (which I also do not distribute). I found that when I gave out a study sheet, I was bound to ask questions from it and was doing too much of the work that students should be doing (filtering which information is most important); I also found that when I gave my students the PowerPoints, attendance dropped dramatically (but then students had no idea why there was an image of Cheaper by the Dozen on the slideshow). I’m not saying that it’s wrong to give test preparation sheets or to furnish students with the slide shows. But at some point I asked myself, what’s their responsibility and what’s mine? I determined that it is the students’ responsibility to show up to class, take notes effectively on lectures and the textbooks, and determine which material to study. The responsibility of the professor is to be clear with what will be tested and how it will be evaluated. Good luck, History 110 super scholars, you’re going to need it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

a Friday funny

Perhaps we ourselves should take a bit more care when we teach our own classes, but Don Cheadle puts in a stunning performance as Frederick Douglass playing opposite Will Ferrell's Abraham Lincoln on this volume of Funny Or Die's Drunk History.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Music and Lyrics (of the Great Depression)

Music of the Great Depression

Amid watching Something Borrowed and finding myself wanting more John Krasinski at every moment (he’s Jim on The Office for those who don’t know second-rate romantic comedy movies), I was struck by how much fun the soundtrack was. It narrated nicely the life and times of the now 30-year-old main character and her travails in love and friendship.

And, of course, some time historical eras have better sound tracks than others. Some speak volumes about their times. The Great Depression is certainly one of them. For class discussion today, I’m going to balance the readings from Major Problems with some music from the era to ask questions about the effects of the Great Depression on American life.
The songs are: “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”; “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”; “This Land is Your Land” (which some students will sing along to); and Victoria Spivey's “Detroit Moan.” They match with the Major Problems essays well, because they do not directly speak to government efforts, but rather focus on the overall wrenching effect of the depression. While the Major Problems articles (one of which is the lyrics from “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”) brilliantly show the political debates over what the government should do during such hard times, these songs bring up some other questions. What are the meanings of material goods? Who owns the land? Who made America? Where should one go for happiness? Ultimately, I try to get my students to see that the Great Depression was so cataclysmic that it left Americans openly wondering if they could be happy on earth, whether they owned the land or not (and if they did, they had to fight for it), and that African Americans encountered particular forms of troubles that other Americans now endured as well (as “Detroit Moan” so beautifully voices and the Major Problems essay on the Scottsboro Boys so poignantly details).

Together, the music and the essays show how influential the depression was not only on American politics and its political-economy, but also on the overall psyche of the nation. And to really rock their cultural worlds, I then show clips from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). They'll never think the same about "Whistle While You Work" or "Heigh, Ho, Heigh Ho, It's off to Work I Go" in the same way!

Another way to teach this through culture would be with comic books. Hist has a wonderful little bit on Superman being developed in the era, and you can have students see the first issues on line here.

Teaching tip: I always try to put up the lyrics of a song as it plays (ideally, the Youtube video will have the lyrics, but sometimes they don’t). I often have a hard time knowing exactly what a singer is saying and being able to read and hear the lyrics, I think, helps students examine the tune. I also include the lyrics on the course webpage (called blackboard here) so that students can refer back to it for their essay papers or exam preparations (and I do ask questions about the discussion songs on the exam).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

how not to teach the survey

While I'm sure we all get a bit frustrated at the student on the golf team who has to take the make-up exam because her team is traveling to Winnetka while everyone else is in exam mode, it nevertheless seems clear that we shouldn't: (1) send an email asking a student who stutters not to participate in class; and (2) then allow that student to keep his hand aloft for 75 minutes the following day in class. Otherwise, we might end up on the front page of the New York Times.

More relevant to this week's Great Depression theme, the New Yorker has a piece reviewing a bunch of new books on Keynes and the economic theories that undergirded the New Deal--and created fierce opposition like the Tea Party. It's still behind the firewall, but a blog by the author can be found here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What’s So Great about the Great Depression?

The Great Depression

For a historian, there is a lot that’s great about the Great Depression. We love change over time, and what’s better than the Republican Party going from 58% of the vote in the presidential election to less than 40% in 1932? We love connecting religion to the moment, and what better examples than "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," "Detroit Blues," or "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries"? We love the nitty-gritty of everyday experiences, and what’s better than the letters to Franklin Roosevelt detailing the hard times of the era? One African American, for instance, wrote to the President complaining, “If there is a such thing as a God, he must be a white person, according to the conditions we colored people are in and if there is such a thing as heaven there must be signs [saying] we cater to white only.” This man had tried the WPA for a job, but had been rejected. He looked to Germany with hope: “You hear of so many people low-rate Hitler and tell how mean he is treating the people. The colored people right here in the United States are treated just as bad, if not worse. Hitler has not done anything to the colored people – it’s the people right here in the United States who are keeping us out of work and keeping us down.” Of course, Hitler wasn’t kind to blacks at all, but the writer was speaking to his frustration and devastation. The economy was so bad and white supremacy was so powerful that he was convinced that even God must be white.

For my lecture on the Great Depression, I really try to show the greatness of the period – meaning historical greatness. I want my students to see that the Great Depression made modern America. It moved the Bible Belt to the southern California Sun Belt. It destroyed the Republican Party for what it was. It created a new approach to interactions with Native Americans through the Indian New Deal. It led not only to the increased size of the federal government, but also a completely new approach to it. The marks of the New Deal are all over San Diego State University’s campus, and it’s fun to have students think about the benches they sit on as Great Depression artifacts. Although perhaps America’s most aristocratic president – at least by lineage – Franklin Roosevelt came to embody the hopes of common women and men. Why today do we look to the president for every problem, complaint, and struggle? This was a Great Depression and New Deal creation.

What’s typically missing from my lecture are the structural drawbacks from the Great Depression and New Deal. If I really want to connect to my students, then I’ll need to somehow, someway interact with the Fox-News-ization of approaches to the New Deal that render it an intense evil. The roots and intentions of Social Security may be helpful here. Does anyone know of a way to connect this material with current political debates – without making the classroom a forum for partisanship?!?

Later in the week, I’m going to discuss how the documents from Major Problems work to address the questions “what was so great about the Great Depression” and “what was so depressing about the Great Depression”? And then I’m going to see if my students can address the problem of a strong, executive government. What does it mean for a government formed with the preponderance of power vested in Congress function where the President is seen as the beginning and end-all-be-all of the nation?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Looking Forward from the 1920s, or Another Man Nobody Knows

Another Man Nobody Knows

There’s another man that nobody knows about – like William Dean Howells – and I think I can make a case for why he should find a place in Major Problems. And that man is Bruce Barton.

Betty Crocker ad, c. 1927
Barton gained widespread popularity in the mid 1920s for his book The Man Nobody Knows. It was a new spin on an old man: the “late, great Jesus Christ,” as one of my former students always put it when discussing religion or Christianity. Hist discusses Barton as part of the 1920s culture of consumerism and especially its new emphasis on advertising. And Barton was a pioneer in the advertising world. He helped establish an advertising firm just before 1920 and then created the character of Betty Crocker.

When it came to Jesus, Barton was fed up. He was tired of the Christ he encountered at Sunday School as a child. There, “Jesus was the ‘lamb of God.’ … [H]e sounded like Mary’s little lamb. Something for girls – sissified. Jesus was also ‘meek and lowly,’ a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ He went around for three years telling people not to do things.” This wouldn’t fly in the 1920s. The meaning of Christ for the modern age was profound: “He picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world.” Jesus was an “executive”, an “outdoor man,” a “sociable man,” and he taught how to advertise. Jesus “recognized the basic principle that all good advertising is news.” He was, Barton concluded, “the founder of modern business.” (I won’t mention it here, because Paul Harvey and I have now entered the copy-editing stage for our book on race and images of Jesus throughout American history, but Barton had a lot to say about what Jesus looked like and how he has been portrayed in artwork; more on that soon in Jesus in Red, White, and Black).

As the chapter on the 1920s in Major Problems reads now, it includes religion beautifully. There is a great cartoon of the evils of modernism; there is a radio broadcast calling Americans back to Jesus and traditional ways; and there is an incredible excerpt from Darrow interrogating Bryan. And heck, one of the historical essays is from Edward Larson’s amazing book Summer for the Gods. But while these documents may show the cultural rifts of the 1920s and the emergence and shaping of Fundamentalism, they do not set up the Great Depression – and that’s what Barton accomplishes.

Barton’s The Man Nobody Knows shows how committed Americans were to market capitalism and the culture of affluence. It shows how far their intellectual and religious worldviews were permeated by materialism and material growth. Only four years later, when the Stock Market plunged in 1929 and the economy spiraled out of control, Americans experienced it not as another example of hard times (like the ones they experienced during the Gilded Age). They took it as a shock; it struck to their core as if they had never been poor or out of work before. Bruce Barton helps set our students up for the great fall. And then … then we can understand how in the 1930s, W. E. B. Du Bois had a new Jesus character say in a new Sermon on the Mount, “there won’t be any rich people in heaven” or John Steinbeck could give the former-preacher-turned-radical-labor-organizer the name Jim Casy (note his initials).

Here’s a vote for Bruce Barton and The Man Nobody Knows getting greater play in the 1920s. Not just to epitomize the era, but to prepare us for what’s next. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Anyone heard of William Dean Howells? --my favorite lecture

While Prof. Blum wisely brings up the absence of medical advances in the survey, I'm worried about another absence that is connected to but not defined by technology and industry: the intellect.

Does intellectual history make an appearance in the survey? Should it?

Today I gave my favorite lecture, which wins this honor in part because I love the material and in part because I think I connect with the students in a way that I normally haven't yet.

The subject is the decline of the Victorian ethos as the dominant form in American culture and life. I crib enormously from Henry F. May's classic book The End of American Innocence: A Study in the First Years of Our Own Time. I read excerpts from The Masses and from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." And I get giddy. I love this stuff. This is a massive cultural transformation away from the universal belief in progress and the moral certainties of the Victorians (and their facial hair) and toward the cynicism and groping for a broader, more humanly awareness of the carnal and artistic urges that drive humankind. It's more comfortably terrain.

I use this transformation as a preparation to "the twenties," and then I get caught: is it still fair to say these are the first years of our time? Does the post-World War II period fit better? Post-1991? Post-9/11?

At any rate, I ask my students if they've ever heard of William Dean Howells, who was widely considered the best American writer of the turn of the century. Today none of them had. (They had, of course, heard of Fitzgerald, which proved my point perfectly--of the foreignness of the Progressive Era, if not of its ideas). Still, I wondered if we should teach more broadly in our surveys, to include literature, culture, and the intellect. Religion might fit in with that too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pick Your Poison

As I was reading the material from the 1920s and thinking about "what's missing" in Hist and Major Problems it dawned on me that when we teach about technological advances, we typically ignore one gigantic field: medicine. Hist mentions some prior advances, like the introduction of aspirin. But while we pay a lot of attention to the emergence and democratization of automobiles or the role of the radio in disseminating information and creating new entertainment cultures, we rarely include the medical world or its transformation.

Including medical history would be a significant way to amp up the global history of the United States as well, since so many medical problems and innovations move across and beyond national borders. The influenza epidemic, for instance, would get much more attention. The discovery of vitamins and identifying of particular ones (and then the synthesizing of them). Penicilin would become just as important to the 1920s as the radio, perhaps. And the history could move forward into the late 1930s with the creation of the first U.S. blood bank in Boston. Innovations with and discoveries in blood could even be tied to civil rights stories through the life and legends of Charles Drew - the black doctor who helped the Red Cross develop its method of collecting blood, but then barred African Americans from donating. Legend had it that he was refused a medical stay or a transfusion because of his race. It wasn't true, but the story mattered. Does anybody know a good medical history of the U.S. for this?

But now to the question of what to do with the material in Hist and Major Problems. I plan on asking my students to pick another kind of poison: if you had to go without one of these, your cell phone or your car, which would it be? The point of the question would be to think about the 1920s and which was altered society more: the automobile or the radio (I'll see the cell phone as the descendant of the radio and the automobile the descendant of the ... well ... automobile). If any students want to chime in now and connect their opinion to the readings, I'd love to hear it. If not, expect that question when we meet again.