BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Reconstruction to Reagan: American History, 1877-1988

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER10002
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


In 1876 Americans celebrated the country’s first century. Within a year, political chicanery would end Reconstruction in the South, and one of the largest strikes, the Great Railroad Strike, would unfold in cities from Baltimore to Chicago. These events mark the start of this module, and help to frame the context of the later nineteenth century, which was characterized by profound economic transformations, new ideas about government and politics, and persistent questions about race and citizenship. In the century or so that followed, and which is surveyed by this module, the US would change in even more dramatic ways, becoming the world’s dominant economy, a global power of considerable military and diplomatic force, and a leading cultural influence. This course is intended to offer students a broad overview of the economic, cultural, political, and intellectual history of the US in the period from the end of Reconstruction to the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Students will encounter this history through both primary and secondary sources, and the course will help to develop skills for interpreting and synthesizing these varied materials.


  • To introduce students to major themes in American history between 1877 and 1988;

  • To encourage students to consider the value of American literature, art, music, film and other forms of culture for studying the history of this period;

  • To acquaint students with a variety of secondary and primary sources appropriate for the study of this topic;

  • To introduce students to some of the most important historiographical debates in this field.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course successful students should be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the main developments and themes in American history from 1877-1988;

  • An appreciation of the ways in which those developments and themes were expressed in, and shaped by, American cultural productions;

  • A capacity to find and use a variety of primary and secondary source materials relating to American history during this period;

  • Familiarity with some of the important historiographical debates relating to this topic.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 60%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%

Recommended reading

* Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty: An American History (latest edition, 2014)--Purchase
* Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 (New York: 2009).
* John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (2000)—ebook
* Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (London: Penguin, 2001)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andrew Fearnley Unit coordinator

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