What Is the Difference Between Left and Right? Teaching U.S. Conservative Political Culture in the United Kingdom

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 11:00 AM
Manchester Ballroom G (Hyatt)
Jonathan Bell , University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
Teaching American political culture outside the United States requires students to acquire not only a background understanding of American history and politics but also an awareness of the distinct contours of political ideology in the US. In my contribution to the round table I will explore the extent to which teaching US political history to those outside the United States requires an engagement with popular movements and political debates on the left and internationally as well as on the right in order to place the particular trajectory of right-wing thought and action in its broader local, national, and international context. I will refer to my own undergraduate courses on popular protest in the US and American State and Society and the Wider World, and my MA option on the American welfare state and its limits. Popular movements on right and left in the United States have often had much in common, and a comparative element to a teaching syllabus allows students to gain a fuller awareness of the nuance and complexity of the American story, as well as to engage with a rich historiography that questions easy assumptions of the United States as inherently “conservative” or “individualist.” Students often come into courses on the USA with some preconceptions, and only by framing discussion of various forms of right-wing politics within a wider ideological canvas can teachers demonstrate the reasons why American political culture took the form that it did. The international dimension to US politics through an understanding of how American views of the wider world influenced its politics is another way in which course structure can engage usefully with problematic notions of American political culture as being somehow different or unique, using a rich literature on the political engagement of Americans with foreign cultures.
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