Editing and Teaching the Rise of Conservatism in America, 1945–2000

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 11:40 AM
Manchester Ballroom G (Hyatt)
Bruce Laurie , University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA
My remarks will focus on two distinct but closely related aspects of teaching the history conservatism with my co-edited book, The Rise of Conservatism in America, 1945-2000. I’ll start by discussing the reasoning behind our choice of  documents and then discuss teaching the book to several groups of students, namely American undergraduates at UMass, schoolteachers in western Massachusetts, and teachers of English and American Studies from 30 different countries under the auspices of an ongoing Fulbright Summer Seminar. As for choosing documents, we assumed that the documents needed a certain flair or yeasty quality in order to work for undergraduates and as a result we included cartoons and excluded somewhat dry if significant selections for fear they would lull students to sleep. The cartoons have not worked as well as we expected. Moreover, a few documents we rejected for fear of dullness, Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” and statistics on the performance of the economy in the conservative era for instance, are too important to be excluded.
      Teaching the book has been a real eye-opener for two fundamental reasons. First, unlike the period before mid-1990s, the most attentive and political savvy undergraduates I have taught are not liberals or left radicals but conservatives of the libertarian variety.
These conservatives are serious students conversant with the classic political and economic texts and quite adept at defending themselves. Some are gifted polemicists. Second, for this group of students and the adult learners I have worked with the burning questions are: why are Americans so religious and why has religion become so politicized? They fail to realize that the Christian Right was one of the last groups to join the conservative coalition and that it is actually part of a much broader movement. The next edition, we hope will clarify those questions.