Putting the U.S. Right into Textbooks and the U.S. History Survey

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 12:00 PM
Manchester Ballroom G (Hyatt)
Elizabeth Tandy Shermer , Claremont McKenna College
My presentation will reflect my experiences in editing the 3rd volume of the Who Built America? textbook and the teaching of the U.S. history survey and a course on the modern Right to provide colleagues with syllabi, documents, readings, and media for the teaching of the longer history of the American Right and its place in global shifts in political and economic thought and politics.
    All three experiences shaped my interest in incorporating new research and understandings of the power and potency of the Right. When I first read through the 2nd edition of WBA? (2000), I was shocked to see no discussion of the modern Right until the chapter on Reagan’s election and administration, which was discounted as “never ha[ving] the same thoroughgoing impact on American life as…the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt.” Still, when a publisher is concerned about word and page counts and unfamiliar with the most recent literature, it proved challenging to bring in new material, let alone upend the old narrative.
    But these experiences were vital for my approach in crafting my own post-1920 survey course and a separate course on the modern Right. I brought political conflict into the center of the story because the Right defined itself against both the left and center. As such, both courses focused on giving students a language to understand the variety of political arguments and ideologies, which included giving them a primer on socialism, communism, classical liberalism, mid-century liberalism, neo-liberalism, conservatism, and neo-conservatism. Moreover, in both classes, I focused on the transnational aspect of these ideologies to better place the American story. For example, we discussed at length Milton Friedman’s connections with Mount Pelerin Society and the global success of his Capitalism and Freedom to chart a global shift towards neo-liberal economic doctrine.
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