English 125, Fall 1999

Conspiracy Theories in American History
Section 089, MWF 10 a.m. - 11 a.m., 2449 Mason Hall


Instructor: Judy Daubenmier

  • Office: 3023D Tisch Hall
  • Telephone: 763-9855
  • E-mail: jdaubenm@umich.edu
  • Office Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and by appointment

Course Goals

Expectations for Students

Required Readings

Course Outline -- Updated11/9/99

Writing Assignments --Updated, 11/9/99

Writing Clinic -- Updated 11/9/99


Class on Friday, Nov. 12, will be at Gerald R. Ford Library

First drafts are due Friday to be exchanged for peer review within your JFK teams. Bring two copies.


Course Description

This course will explore the tendency in American politics to explain political and economic events in terms of an effort, orchestrated behind the scenes, to destroy the American way of life. These explanations have taken many forms over the years. In the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy fanned fears of communism into a purge of nonconformist ideas. After President Kennedy was assassinated, many Americans refused to believe Warren Commission fndings that Oswald acted alone and insisted Kennedy was the victim of a plot involving the CIA, the Mafia, the KGB or some combination of those. More recently, first lady Hillary Clinton asserted her husband was the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Americans did not suddenly become conspiracy-crazed starting in the 1950s. Fears of secret plots have haunted Americans since the early days of the republic. This course will use writings from contemporaries to examine several of the more familiar conspiracy theories, as well as some that have faded from the public's memory but were once influential views of the world. Several authors' thinking about the place of conspiracies in American political life will form the foundation for these examinations. The course will explore what constitutes "evidence" in the case of conspiracy theories and, more generally, for historians. It also will discuss how one point of view comes to be seen as authoritative and another as wacky.