History 688


Readings in Twentieth-Century U.S. History:

Urban Crisis/Suburban Nation




Matt Lassiter                                                                                                                                       Fall 2009

Office: 2513 Haven Hall                                                                                                                     Tues. 5-8 p.m.

E-mail: mlassite@umich.edu                                                                                                               G437 Mason Hall

Phone: 546-0799


Office Hours: Thurs. 2:00-4:00 p.m., and by appt.


This course is a graduate seminar in twentieth-century U.S. history, emphasizing a metropolitan approach to and a spatial analysis of key topics in modern America.  The course begins with the three great migrations of mid-century America: white families to the suburbs, political power and economic resources to the Sunbelt, and black southerners to the North and West.  We will then investigate processes of political transformation and economic restructuring, civil rights battles over school and housing integration, and policy debates over the inner-city "underclass," urban redevelopment, "theme-parking" cities, and suburban sprawl.  From a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches, the readings probe the intersection of race, class, neighborhood, consumer culture, grassroots movements, public policies and the state, business and labor, and the "creative destruction" of capitalism.  The title of the course is not intended to imply fixed categories in a metropolitan dichotomy, but instead the intertwined discourses of "urban crisis" and "suburban nation" that we will approach skeptically and investigate thoroughly. 


Did the same policies that built the sprawling suburbs also produce the urban crisis?  How does a metropolitan approach to postwar America recast historiographical debates about racial identity and class consciousness, public policy and political realignment, the rise and fall of the New Deal Order?  Case studies of key cities and regions are interspersed with synthetic works and policy analyses that address topics such as the forging of urban and suburban political cultures; the postwar reconstruction of the "American Dream"; the power shift from Rust Belt to Sunbelt; the intersection of market forces, state policy, and grassroots movements in metropolitan space; and new directions in interdisciplinary scholarship on topics such as immigration, environmentalism, and crime.


Discussion: The central obligation of this course involves thorough preparation for each weekly meeting and active participation in class discussion.  Seminar participants will each serve as the discussion generator during one week of the semester.  We will use CTools to stimulate thought and begin conversation about the weekly reading before the actual class meeting.  CTools postings should be about one single-spaced page in length.  The discussion generator should plan to launch the conversation with a posting on CTools no later than Sunday afternoon.  The goal of this initial response is not to summarize the book comprehensively but instead to pose a series of questions designed to place provocative ideas into the spotlight and/or draw connections among various readings, including those from previous weeks. The other students in the seminar should post their own weekly responses to the readings, which may include responses to the comments by the discussion generator and other course members, by Monday at 8 p.m.  Everyone in the class should read over the entire CTools dialogue before the seminar meeting on Tuesday.  Maintaining a record of your own notes and responses to the readings also should prove to be extremely useful when you begin to prepare for preliminary exams. 


Course Listserv:  I have established a course listserv (history6882009@umich.edu) for announcements.  Members of the seminar may use the listserv to forward information about events on campus, links to resources, and other items that would be of interest and relevance to class participants.


Metropolitan History Workshop:  Five of the authors on the syllabus will be coming to campus this fall as part of the Metropolitan History Workshop designed for members of History 688 and other interested graduate students.  The visitors include Jefferson Cowie (Sept. 25), Tony Chen (Oct. 16), Darren Dochuk and Michelle Nickerson (Nov. 6), and Bryant Simon (Nov. 13).  The book workshops will be held on Fridays afternoons, times and locations TBA, with a social event following.  Most of the visitors will also deliver a lecture or participate in a panel discussion.  Updates regarding the Metropolitan History Workshop can be found here:




Evaluations:  The course requirements include active and consistent participation in class discussions, weekly postings on CTools, and a final paper (15-20 pages) that will require additional reading and should explore a specific theme in urban/suburban historiography, metropolitan studies, or some other aspect of political/social/cultural history relevant to the topics of the course.  Guidelines for the final paper will be posted on CTools and sent out via the course listserv in a timely fashion.  Each member of the seminar should schedule a meeting with the instructor to discuss the final paper at some point before December.


            **Discussion participation (60%)

            **CTools postings and Final Paper (40%)


Reading Assignments: Seminar members are responsible for securing your own copies of the assigned books.  One copy of each book also is on course reserve at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.  I have placed two other texts on reserve for general reference: Michael B. Katz, ed., The "Underclass" Debate: Views from History; and John Charles Boger and Judith Welch Wegner, eds., Race, Poverty, and American Cities.  The assigned journal articles and book chapters are designated by [CT] on the syllabus and are available as pdf files in the Resources/Electronic Reader section of the History 688 CTools site.  In addition, a supplemental historiography list, for present and future reference, will be distributed in class each week and posted under the Resources/Supplemental Reading Lists section of the CTools site.




Course Outline



I. Political Economy



Week 1 (Sept. 8)—Suburban Migration and the "American Dream"


**Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (1985)


            **Kevin Kruse and Thomas Sugrue, eds., The New Suburban History (2006) [skip chapter 7]



Week 2 (Sept 15)—Growth Liberalism and the New Deal Order


**Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003)


            **Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore, "The Long Exception: Rethinking the Place of the New Deal in American History," International Labor and Working-Class History (Fall 2008), 3-32, with responses by Kevin Boyle, Michael Kazin, Jennifer Klein, Nancy MacLean, David Montgomery, and Cowie/Salvatore, 33-69 [CT]



Week 3 (Sept. 22)—Capital, Labor, and "Creative Destruction"


            **Sharon Zukin, Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World (1991)       [chapters 1, 3-6, 8-9]


**Jefferson Cowie, Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor (1999)


            **Sept. 25: Cowie workshop



Week 4 (Sept. 29)— Social Policy and the Welfare State


            **Alice O’Connor, Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History (2001)


            **Alice O'Connor, "The Privatized City: The Manhattan Institute, the Urban Crisis, and the Conservative Counterrevolution in New York," Journal of Urban History (2008), 333-53 [CT]


            **Daryl Michael Scott, "The Politics of Pathology: The Intellectual Origins of the Moynihan Controversy," Journal of Policy History (1996), 81-105 [CT]



II. Political Culture



Week 5 (Oct. 6)—The Postwar Metropolis and the Spatial Turn


**Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (1996, new ed. 2005)


            **Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (2003)



Week 6 (Oct. 13)—The "Long Civil Rights Movement"


            **Anthony Chen, The Fifth Freedom: Jobs, Politics, and Civil Rights in the United States, 1941-1972 (2009)


            **Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, "The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past," Journal of American History (March 2005), 1233-63 [CT]


            **Matthew D. Lassiter, "De Facto/De Jure Segregation: The Long Shadow of a National Myth," in The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism, 25-48 [CT]


**Thomas Jackson, "The State, the Movement, and the Urban Poor: The War on Poverty and Political Mobilization in the 1960s," in The "Underclass" Debate, 403-39 [CT]


            **Matthew Countryman, "'From Protest to Politics': Community Control and Black Independent Politics in Philadelphia, 1965-1984," Journal of Urban History (Sept. 2006), 813-861 [ER]


            **Oct. 16: Chen workshop


Oct. 20—No Meeting: Fall Break  


Week 7 (Oct. 27)—The Sunbelt and the New Conservatism


**Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001)


            **Darren Dochuk, "Evangelicalism Becomes Southern, Politics Becomes Evangelical: From FDR to Ronald Reagan" in Religion and American Politics, 297-325 [CT]


            **Michelle Nickerson, "Moral Mothers and Goldwater Girls," in The Conservative Sixties, 51-62 [CT]


            **Matthew Lassiter, "Suburban Strategies: The Volatile Center in Postwar Political Culture," in The Democratic Experiment, 327-49 [CT]          



Week 8 (Nov. 3)—Beyond the Backlash Thesis


            **J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (1985)


            **Nov. 6: Sunbelt workshop with Dochuk and Nickerson



III. New Directions



Week 9 (Nov. 10)—Urban Studies and the Cultural Turn


            **Michael Sorkin, ed., Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space (1992)


            **Bryant Simon, Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America (2004)


            **Nov. 13: Simon workshop



Week 10 (Nov. 17)—Immigration and Racial Formation


            **Nayan Shah, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (2001)


            **Eduardo Obregon Pagan, Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A. (2003)



Week 11 (Nov. 24)—Environmental History of the Metropolis


            **Matthew Klingle, Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle (2007)


            **Amy L. Scott, "Remaking Urban in the American West: Urban Environmentalism, Lifestyle Politics, and Hip Capitalism in Boulder, Colorado," in Political Culture of the New West, 251-80 [CT]         


            **Louise Nelson Dyble, "Revolt against Sprawl: Transportation and the Origins of the Marin County Growth-Control Regime," Journal of Urban History (Nov. 2007), 38-66 [CT]       



Week 12 (Dec. 1)—Big Business and Market Populism


            **Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2009)


            **Thomas Frank, "Lie Down for America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plains," Harper's Magazine (April 2004), 33-46 [CT]


            **Kimberly Phillips-Fein, "American Counterrevolutionary: Lemuel Ricketts Boulware and General Electric, 1950-1960," in American Capitalism, 249-70 [CT]


            **Nelson Lichtenstein, "Supply Chains, Workers' Chains, and the New World of Retail Supremacy," Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas (Spring 2007), 17-31 [CT]



Week 13 (Dec. 8)—War on Crime


            **Eric Schneider, Smack: Heroin and the American City (2008)


            **Jonathan Simon, Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (2007) [skip chapters 2 and 8]



Final Essay due: Dec. 22