The Age of Reform: America from 1876 to 1920

THE HONOR TRADITION:

Like all your classes at Converse, in this class, you are bound by the Converse Honor Tradition.   You may review the honor tradition in the Student Handbook.  With regard to class work, remember that you are honor-bound not to cheat or plagiarize, not to lie about your work, and to report others if they violate the honor tradition.

Remember that you must pledge all written work.  I will not grade work if it is not pledged.

COURSE DESCRIPTION AND OBJECTIVES:

This course examines American history from 1876, the end of Reconstruction, to the end of World War I.  These years mark the emergence of America as we know it–as a world economic, diplomatic, and military power.  This period was also a time of constant change–social, political, and economic.  Change generates new problems, and Americans sought to address these problems with numerous reform movements that were based on voluntary activity by individuals.  We will examine the nature of social reform movements and their successes and failures in this period.  We will also examine our assumptions about the nature of social problems and the appropriate ways to solve them by connecting our historical study to a study of a modern social service agency in the Spartanburg community.

In the process of studying this period, we will develop your skills in reading, analyzing, and synthesizing historical writing as well as your own writing and speaking skills.  This is a collaborative course:  we will all work together to integrate texts, lecture, discussion, research, and community involvement as the process for developing historical understanding.

Major issues:

  1. What is “progress”?  Was “progress” good for all its citizens?  Was it good for democracy?
  2. How did workers deal with changes in their conditions of work?  How did they seek to gain more control over their lives?
  3. How did the federal government and business work together to bring about changes in the political economy to support modern economic development?
  4. How did whites moving West view the Indians and the Hispanics they found there?  What policies did the federal government develop to deal with these earlier settlers?  How did these populations resist white encroachment?
  5. How did late-nineteenth century Americans seek to “Americanize” newcomers?
  6. How did white Southerners reorder race relations in the South after Reconstruction?  How did African-Americans cope with white domination?  Was the “New South” really new?
  7. How did urbanization change the face of America?  What did people of the time make of the explosive urban growth?   Did the expanding metropolis provide an environment in which to address long-standing social problems or did it merely create new ones?
  8. How did the nation’s public institutions respond to the Gilded Age’s growth and new wealth?
  9. How were politics transformed in the Gilded Age?
  10. What led to the rise of the Progressive reform movement at the turn of the century?  Were the Progressives conservative reformers, seeking to reinstate an old way of doing things?  Or were they radical visionaries seeking to remake American society?
  11. How did Progressivism transform the American state?
  12. Who benefited from Progressive reforms?
  13. What role did women play in the reforms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries?  How did expectations about roles of women change?
  14. Why did an environmental movement emerge during the late Gilded Age?
  15. How and why did the United States seek to become a world power at the turn of the century?

THE WORK LOAD

Reading Load:

A little heavy at times.   As you’ll note in the schedule, some weeks, you will only need to read a chapter for class while in other weeks, you will need to read about entire books.  You will need to plan ahead, beginning the long readings during lighter reading weeks.  You’re a grown-up; I expect you to plan ahead and get the reading finished before class.  Our discussions will be based on the required reading as will the in-class writings, so it is critical that you do it in order to be prepared to participate in discussions and answer the in-class writing question.

Collaborative Work:

Undergraduate students will be assigned to a group; each group will then be assigned to a local social service agency.  Each member of the group will complete at least ten hours of voluntary activity with this agency, prepare a class presentation that places the work of the agency in historical context, and write a paper about the agency.  More information on the group project is available below and in class.

Writing Load:

You will do several types of writing in this class, including:

  1. in-class writing on discussion questions about the reading. These 1-2 paragraph essays will generally be graded, and they serve as a springboard for discussion.  (They will also tell me whether you did the reading.)
  2. a reflective journal that explores the things you have read, learned, seen, and experienced in the work for this course.  More information on the journal is available on a separate sheet.
  3. a 3-5 page paper that identifies and explores the history of your group’s agency, the larger social issues addressed by your group’s social service organization, and its activities.
  4. a 5-8 page take-home essay exam in which you synthesize information from your reading, from class discussions, from your group placement, and from other materials to formulate arguments and draw some conclusions about America during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era.

Thinking Load:

Medium required, more invited.

Talking Load:

  1. Daily participation.  And more than once.  Learning is an active process.  The more you participate, the more you learn.  Although I will lecture SOME in this course, the bulk of class time will be spent on intensive discussion of the readings either in small groups or as a whole class. I expect you to come to class having done the reading so that you can participate in the discussion in a meaningful way.  Participation is important; students learn a great deal from each other’s perspectives.  For that reason, participation is 15% of your course grade.  You cannot make an “A” in participation by simply showing up.  You have to TALK, but you should not plan to “wing it” in discussions.  Your comments and questions should be grounded in thorough and thoughtful consideration of the reading and the class materials.  I expect you to participate, not dominate.  Remember that your classmates also have things to contribute to the discussion.  Your participation grade will be based on your attendance, whether you come to class prepared, and the quality of your contributions to small group and full class discussions.
  2. Small group presentation related to your experience in the community organization.

    See separate sheet for more information.

 

Attendance:

Your attendance is required.  If you don’t intend to be here every class day, for better or for worse, you’re registered for the wrong class.  One absence is acceptable–for good reason–but don’t feel obliged to take it.If you are ill or have a family emergency, I’d appreciate a phone call so that I’ll know you’re not just cutting class.  If you miss a class, I expect you to send your assignment with a classmate and I expect you to find out what you may have missed and make it up in time for the next class.

Your attendance is part of your participation grade.  If you are not here, you cannot possibly participate.  Excessive and unexcused absences will be reflected in your participation grade.  For example, if you miss one-fourth of all classes, you can expect to lose one-fourth of your participation grade off the top.

CLASS ORGANIZATION AND GRADING:

Requirements:

Participation 15%

In-Class Writing 20%

Reflective Journal 20%

Group Presentation 10%

Paper on Social Service Agency 10%

Take Home Final 25%

Dr. Walker’s Top Nine Rules for Success in this Class:
  1. Read the syllabus.  The answers to many of your procedural questions are found there.  And hang on to your syllabus; it is your guide to this course.  You should also read instructions for assignments carefully.  Students often lose points on assignments because they fail to follow the instructions.
  2. Late assignments will lower a student’s grade by one letter grade per day.
  3. No late take-home exams will be accepted.  Late exams will receive a zero.
  4. Do not email me your assignments OR put them in campus mail.  You should hand them to me in class or drop them off in my office.  The only exceptions to this rule must be approved by me IN ADVANCE.
  5. If you have to miss class, send me an email or leave me a voice mail explaining why you are absent.
  6. If you miss a class, I expect you to send your assignment with a classmate and I expect you to find out what you may have missed and make it up in time for the next class.
  7. Treat each other and the instructor with respect.  You should not engage in private conversation while others are talking.  You should not use abusive language, roll your eyes, or otherwise show contempt for others’ opinions.  All of these are examples of rude and immature behavior.  You may express your opinions, including disagreement, in a civil tone without becoming disrespectful to others.
  8. Turn your cell phones off.  Do not text message in class.
  9. Bring the day’s assigned reading material to class.  We often refer to that material in class.  Pull it out of your book bag so that it is handy for use in class discussion.

Research Paper:

Because of the demands of the group project, this may not be the best course in which a junior or senior history major fulfills her research paper requirement in this course.  If you are considering trying to juggle both projects, please talk with me in the first week of the course.

REQUIRED READING:

Barry, The Great Influenza

Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky

Keith, Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

McGerr, A Fierce Discontent:  The Progressives in American History

Piott, American Reformers, 1870-1920

Worster, Rivers of Empire

 

THE WRITING CENTER

The Writing Center (located on the second floor of Mickel Library) can help you with writing assignments for this course.

SCHEDULE AND ASSIGNMENTS

The instructor reserves the right to change this schedule with advance notice.

Reading should be completed before class each week.

Date: Aug. 29

Topic: Intro to Course:  Progress and its Price

Date:  Sept.5

Reading: Piott, chap.1,2,5,6

Topic: Industrialists in the Gilded Age, Social problems:  evolving ideas about causes and solutions

Assignment Due:  In-class writing

Date: Sept. 12

Reading: Cahan, pp. 1-216

Topic: Workers in the Gilded Age

Assignment Due:  In-class writing

Date: Sept. 19

Reading: Cahan, pp. 217-530

Topic: Urban America:  Diverse Peoples

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Sept. 26

Reading: Worster, selected chapters

Topic: “Civilizing” the Wild West

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Oct. 3

Reading: Piott, chap. 4

Topic: The New (?) South

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Oct. 10

Reading: Piott, chap. 8-9

Topic: Power and Politics in the Gilded Age

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Oct. 17

Reading: Piott, chap. 3

Topic: Rural America and Populism

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Oct. 24

Reading: McGerr part 1

Topic: Progressivism:  The Spirit of Reform

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Oct. 31

Reading: Piott, chap. 12

Topic: Women’s Suffrage; Women’s Rights

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Nov. 7

Reading: McGerr, part 2

Topic: Progressivism continued

Assignment Due: In-class writing

Date: Nov. 14

Reading: McGerr, part three

Topic: The American Empire

Assignment Due: In-class writing

NOV. 21-23  Thanksgiving Break—no class

Date: Nov. 28

Reading: Keith book, selected chapters

Topic: America and the Great War

Assignment Due: Group presentations in class. Reflective journals due.

Date: Dec. 5

Reading: Barry

Topic: Assessing the Age of Reform:  The 1918 Influenza Epidemic as Yardstick

Assignment Due: In-class writing.  Social service agency papers due.

Date:  Dec. 10

Assignment Due:  Take Home Final Due at 4 p.m. on Dec. 10

CONNECTING PAST AND PRESENT

A Group Activity for HST 422:  The Age of Reform

The Purpose of This Assignment

A major theme of this course is the development of voluntary activity to address social problems and achieve social change.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, rapid industrialization, urbanization, and immigration aggravated many existing social problems and created some new ones.  At the same time, new ideas about science and society were reshaping Americans’ assumptions about what caused social problems such as poverty, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, and crime.  New notions of causes led to new ideas about how to solve social problems.

New types of social service agencies grew out of all this intellectual and social ferment.  Many of today’s human service agencies are direct descendants of the agencies that appeared in the Age of Reform, and others ground their activities in ideas and philosophies that arose in the Age of Reform.  Therefore, to better understand the ideas of the Age of Reform and to better connect that past to our own present, undergraduate students in the course will complete a group project that gives them experience working with a local social service agency.  The goal here is to link the texts you are reading and the things you learn in class with the world beyond the Converse gates.

The Historical Context

In our reading and discussion, we will explore many themes related to social reform in particular:

  • changing assumptions about the causes of social problems
  • changing relationships between state and voluntary activities
  • the role of religion in voluntarism and philanthropy
  • how ideas about race, class, and ethnicity shape approaches to various social problems
  • shifting definitions of appropriate realms of “public” and “private” endeavors
  • why, and in what ways, people become involved in voluntary associations
  • tensions between idealism and coercion in association activities
  • the “professionalization” of voluntarism

The Basic Requirements

  1. Each student will join a group of three.
  2. Each group will be assigned to a local social service agency.
  3. Each group will interview the agency director of another senior staff member about the history, origins, goals, and activities of the agency.  The goal here is to gain a shared understanding of the agency’s mission, the ways it tries to achieve that mission, and the history of the organization.
  4. EACH student will complete ten hours of volunteer activity with the agency.  Students may do this work alone or with other group members, depending on her schedule.
  5. EACH student will keep a reflective journal about her experience.  See below.
  6. Each GROUP will make a class presentation that outlines the history, goals, and activities or your agency AND places them in the context of the social reform history that we have learned in class.
  7. EACH student will complete a three to five page paper.

 

What Should You Write in Your Reflective Journal?

A reflective journal includes personal reflections, but those reflections should be connected to all the things you are learning in class including reading and class discussion.  Here are a few of the ingredients that go into a keeping a great journal:

  • Journals should be snapshots filled with sights, sounds, smells, concerns, insights, doubts, fears, and critical questions about issues, people, and, most importantly, yourself.
  • Honesty is the most important ingredient to successful journals.
  • A journal is not a work log of tasks, events, times and dates.
  • Write an entry after each visit. Write entries after you complete class readings or after a particularly thought-provoking class discussion.  If you can’t write a full entry, jot down random thoughts, images ,etc. which you can come back to a day or two later and expand into a colorful verbal picture.
  • Final journals need to be edited for proper grammar and spelling.

These three levels of reflection may help you begin the process of reflection. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

The Three Levels of Reflection

The Mirror (A clear reflection of the Self)

What are my values? What have I learned about myself through this experience? Do I have more/less understanding or empathy than I did before volunteering? In what ways, if any, has your sense of self, your values, your sense of “community,” your willingness to serve others, and your self-confidence/self-esteem been impacted or altered through this experience? Have your motivations for volunteering changed? In what ways? How has this experience challenged stereotypes or prejudices you have/had? Any realizations, insights, or especially strong lessons learned or half-glimpsed? Will these experiences change the way you act or think in the future? How have you challenged yourself, your ideals, your philosophies, your concept of life or of the way you live?

The Microscope (Makes the small experience large)

What happened? Describe your experience. What have you learned about this agency, these people, or the community? Was there a moment of failure, success, indecision, doubt, humor, frustration, happiness, sadness? Does this experience compliment or contrast with what you’re learning in class? How? Has learning through experience taught you more, less, or the same as the class? In what ways?

The Binoculars (Makes what appears distant, appear closer)

From your service experience, are you able to identify any underlying or overarching issues that influence the problem? What could be done to change the situation? How is the issue/agency you’re serving impacted by what is going on in the larger political/social sphere? What does the future hold? What can be done?  Can you place this agency in some kind of historical context?

[This journal description is adapted from Mark Cooper, “Reflection:  Getting Learning Out of Serving,” available on-line at http://www.fiu.edu/~time4chg/Library/reflect.html.]

The Paper

Each student should write a three to five page selective and analytic history of the organization with which you worked.  Make sure to include:

  • a description of the origins and mission of this agency.  What assumptions about social problems and their causes have shaped the work of this agency.
  • a description of the structure of organization, how the organization evolved; who does the work? who gets paid? how is board/supervisory committee chosen?
  • A description of who is served?  How is their eligibility for service determined?
  • a description of the funding of organization; how it was funded in the past? Does it appear that there will be important changes in the future?
  • A description and analysis of the historical context of the agency.  Place the development of the organization in framework that describes and analyzes the emergence of agencies in the area in which this organization works, and identify how conditions in which it is working have changed.
  • Remember, your history should be analytical; that is, you should go beyond description to explanation and exploration.

UNDERGRADUATE PRESENTATION INSTRUCTIONS

To be made in class on November 28

At or near the end of the completion of each student’s ten hours of service, the group should:

  1. Meet to develop a plan of action for a presentation that will not exceed 15 minutes.  Each student should do SOME of the talking in the class presentation.
  2. Each presentation should do three things:
    • outline the history, goals, and activities or your agency.  Be sure to include who is served by the agency, how the agency determines eligibility for service, and some summary of the agency’s basic approach to social services.
    • briefly outline your volunteer work at the agency and your observations of whether the agency is meeting its own goals.
    • place the work of the agency in the context of the social reform history that we have learned in class.
  3. Meet again to pull your parts together.  Rehearse the presentation AND time it.  I will penalize the grade of groups who go significantly over time.  Staying within your time limit is an important skill in life.
  4. Students may use power point (presentations should be saved on your U drive or a CD-Rom) or other visual aids.

Presentations will be evaluated on

a) quality of the presentation—clarity, succinctness, and engaging presentation style. Do your individual parts flow smoothly?

b) quality of the research—evaluation of historical accuracy

c) contributions of each member of the group to the project.  For this portion, group members will have an opportunity to evaluate each other’s contributions.

School: Converse College
Professor: Dr. Melissa Walker
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