HI5004 - Affluence and Anxiety: The US from 1920 to 1960

What will I learn on this module?

Historians and other researchers have often used the terms of ‘affluence’ and ‘anxiety’ to describe US history and culture from 1920 to 1960. According to a traditional narrative, Americans enjoyed unprecedented ‘affluence’ in the 1920s and in the postwar period, while experiencing great ‘anxiety’ in the context of the Cold War. While useful, these narratives do not fully account for the complexity of this period. In this module, we will ask questions such as: Who took advantage of affluence (pre- and post-WW2)? Who was excluded from it and how? How did American conceptions of affluence fundamentally shape our current climate crisis? Beyond Cold War anxieties, what were Americans, in their diversity, worried about? How did foreign policy anxieties reveal themselves at home? And how did racial and gender anxieties shape US politics and culture?

With these questions in mind, we will assess and analyse major developments and events of the period, including, but not limited to: the roaring 1920s, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, the postwar “economic miracle,” the suburban boom, and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. By narrowing our focus on four crucial decades of the 20th century, we will be able to look at these events from various angles. In accordance with recent developments in the field, we will pay particular attention to historiographical interpretations that emphasize race, gender, sexuality, and class, as well as the environment. This will mean, for instance, that you will not only learn about the anti-communist ‘Red Scare’ of the 1950s, but also about the lesser known ‘Lavender Scare’ that targeted gay men and women working for the US government. Similarly, we will study Rosa Parks’ efforts to desegregate the buses in 1950s Birmingham, but we will also pay attention to ordinary actors of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the African-American youths who desegregated swimming pools and amusement parks.

Primary and secondary source readings, along with classroom activities, will help you to critically engage this key era of American development and develop the interpretive skills of a historian.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn on this module by attending lectures and seminars. The lectures will introduce you to the module’s core themes and key historiographical debates related to the subject area. For the weekly two-hour seminars, you will be expected to undertake the required reading (available via the electronic reading list) and sample the recommended reading, give group presentations (on key themes and debates of the era), select and analyse key primary sources (from digital databases pre-selected by the tutor), watch parts or all of the ‘film of the week’ (pre-selected by the tutor), and take part in discussions. You will develop your reading, writing, public speaking and thinking skills throughout the semester. You will participate in formative assessment activities and receive feedback, and will be responsible for your own guided and independent learning. Summative assessment matches your learning against the learning outcomes for the module.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your academic development will be supported through engagement with your peers, academic tutors, and programme leaders. Academic support is provided through group/individual tutorials which allow specific issues to be addressed and to promote progress in academic development. The module tutor will be accessible within publicised office hours and via email. Your peers will provide you with a collaborative learning environment, and your programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your course. You will also be supported through individual engagement with the academic literature, lectures, and resources available on the eLearning Portal. Formative feedback will be on-going throughout seminar activities and through assessment tasks.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Critically analyse the way in which scholars understand key issues in US history, such as the economic booms and busts, the jazz age, the Cold War, Jim Crow segregation, economic development and its environmental consequences, consumerism, and mass culture.
2. Employ key concepts in social sciences, including class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and age, to analyse and critically discuss the varied ways in which Americans experienced the period 1920-1960.
Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Critically engage with historical theories and methodologies to investigate and analyse the political, economic, social, and cultural struggles of the US from 1920 to 1960.
4. Apply knowledge and communicate your informed opinions about US history, employing carefully chosen primary and secondary sources, and analysing and clearly presenting your arguments.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5. Demonstrate an awareness of historical and contemporary relationships and how these relations shape our contemporary perceptions.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed on your knowledge and understanding of American history in this era, your ability to analyse and critically discuss historiographical theories, and your skill at presenting a variety of primary evidence. This will be tested in three different ways:
- 2 x oral presentations (working in groups of 2 or 3; individual presentations are possible if discussed beforehand) on topics set by the tutor. Presentations will take the form of a classic presentation on a given theme (key event or phenomenon of the era), a debate, or a film analysis (including a close reading of a short scene).
(weighted 20%)

- 1 x 1,500-word commentary of three primary sources; each week students will independently pick a primary source (a photograph, short article, advertisement, oral interview, song, etc.) from a digital database selected by the tutor and relevant to the week’s major themes. They will discuss its significance with the rest of the class and the tutor, receiving feedback on how best to describe and analyse it. At mid-semester, students will pick three primary sources of their choice (based on their weekly selection) and prepare a critical commentary of around 500 words per source (1,500 in total), outlining context and contemporary significance.
(weighted 30%)

- 1 x 2,500 word essay, set by the tutor, which will span the breadth of the modules’ coverage. Basic to this assessment will be your ability to present your arguments clearly and back them up with strong evidence.
(weighted 50%)

You will receive formative feedback from your lecturer in classroom discussions, debates, and tutorial sessions. Formative assessment through your lecturer will be written and verbal, and you will also receive feedback through engagement with your peers who will enable you to test your explanations about the nature of America in an age of anxiety and affluence. Feedback on your first summative assessment will allow you to improve on later ones.





Module abstract

This module explores US history from 1920 to 1960. Beyond traditional narratives of postwar ‘affluence’ and Cold War ‘anxieties,’ you will study in depth how Americans of different race, class, age, gender, and sexuality experienced that period. You will learn about the most recent and thought-provoking interpretations of major events and developments, including the roaring 1920s, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement. In doing so, you will encounter a varied cast of characters, such as Ku Klux Klan members in 1920s Indiana, middle-class African-Americans in Jazz Age New York, Oklahoma farm workers fleeing the Dust Bowl, Mexican-American youths dancing the night away in wartime Los Angeles, and closeted housewives in 1950s suburbia. By taking part in writing workshops, trying your hand at film analysis, and exploring digital databases of primary sources, you will hone your research and writing skills.

Course info

UCAS Code V100

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

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