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Hist 357 Syllabus

At my request, soon-to-be-Dean Karen Merrill kindly forwarded a copy of her syllabus for History 357: Race, Region, and the Rise of the Right. Comments:

1) Many thanks to Professor Merrill for sharing this syllabus with us! It is always a pleasure to work with Williams professors who are open to dialog with alumni. I am occasionally depressed that so many professors refuse to even acknowledge my polite requests for information. (I have no problem with a professor says, as some do, “Busy now with classes! Drop me another e-mail during the summer.” The teaching of undergraduates should always come ahead of goofy alumni questions.)

2) Professor Merrill is interested in seeing what comments we might have. Depending of time constraints, she might even reply. So, be constructive!

3) Although I am not an expert in this topic, it seems that the syllabus is fair, at least viewed from the perspective of the Right. How can any Republican complain when the syllabus includes classics like God and Man at Yale by Williams F. Buckley and “An Autobiographical Memoir” by Irving Kristol? Only an idiot like David Horowitz could see evidence of the left-wing takeover of the academy here.

4) Is it just me or does the workload seem a little light, especially for a 300-level class. Consider:

F. 9/23: Frederickson, Dixiecrat Revolt, pp. 118-216

T. 9/27: Goldberg, Barry Goldwater, pp. 67-117

I haven’t read either book, but isn’t this reading load less than we had back in the day? And we had to walk through more snow too! And Williamstown was colder! ;-)

I hope to post more substantive comments later. What do members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (Eph Division) think?

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#1 Comment By TangoMan On January 11, 2007 @ 8:07 pm

Regarding the content of “Week 12: Twenty-First Century Conservatism” if the intent is to explore future directions, or branches, or conservative thought, then I’d point the professor to these two articles on “evolutionary conservatives.” The first article defines the term and the second article, towards the end, expands a bit on the definition.

Over the course of the 21st Century, as we learn more about human nature we should expect this knowledge to inform out political philosophies. The Right is beginning to grapple with the issues (Creationists and Darwinists under the same tent) but the Left’s core principles are predicated upon a Blank Slate view of humanity which is incongruous with what we’re learning about the human condition. I find it plausible that questions arising from science will change, to some degree, the political philosophies we subscribe to. The “is” informs, and constrains, the “oughts.”

As added reading on what the future of conservatism portends the professor may find World on Fire, written by Yale law professor Amy Chua, a former IMF official, to be material that can be used as a jumping off point to address how conservatives should balance free market principles against ethnic diversity. In short, it’s unlikely that conservative principles of the past can be maintained in a future characterized by different constraints.

#2 Comment By David On January 11, 2007 @ 9:05 pm

I don’t think that a history class should have much, if any, material that isn’t, you know, about history. So, I feel the whole topic of 21st century conservatives is vaguely suspect, unless this is just a fancy way of referring to the history of the last 6 years.

I don’t see how the topic of “evolutionary conservatives” has any bearing on a history course explaining the rise of the right in America.

#3 Comment By Loweeel On January 11, 2007 @ 9:35 pm

On the New Deal sections, I might suggest adding a selection from Ken I. Kersch’s masterful “Constructing Civil Liberties”.

For “Intellectual and Religious” roots of the Right, I’d also add some Hayek (maybe “Why I am not a Conservative”), maybe a short piece of Rand’s nonfiction (but it appears that the classical liberal and libertarian movements are outside the scope of the course).

For “Communist Menace” I would definitely add Rand’s testimony before HUAC.

On Conservative Political Identities in the 60’s and 70’s, I think it’s incomplete without some information on (1) Fusionism and (2) The libertarian/economist strand {Hayek, Von Mises, Rand, Rothbard}

For 21st Century I cannot recommend Ryan Sager’s “The Elephant in the Room” highly enough, which argues the Republican turn towards big government threats its electoral success. I think Bruce Bartlett wrote something similar.

#4 Comment By TangoMan On January 11, 2007 @ 10:34 pm

So, I feel the whole topic of 21st century conservatives is vaguely suspect,

That may be so, but my comment was predicated on the section title, so if the good professor wants to provide 11 weeks of historical analysis and then ask the class to extend the topic into the unknown future, I think my suggestion provides interesting case material and plenty of opportunity for debate.

Let’s not forget that we study history not just for an appreciation of the past but also to provide us with a grounding as we move towards the future. I don’t see anything particularly out of order with a one week section of future trendlines.

#5 Comment By David On January 11, 2007 @ 11:55 pm

Agreed. I just think (hope?) that the purpose of that week is only to talk about 2000 to 2006, not to speculate beyond that.

One minor quibble I have is with some of the authors selected, or rather a concern for the authors missing. There is nothing wrong with getting your history from people like Bill Keller, Kevin Phillips and Susan Faludi, but I do not see in the syllabus writers from the “other side.” Now, obviously, Bill Keller is someone who we should read, but shouldn’t we read others as well?

I don’t want to make too much of this since it is highly likely that the Paul Boyer excerpts from Reagan as President cover such ground. But relying on just folks like Luker, Faludi and Fitzgerald would be problematic. Some of my best friends are Democrats, but I want to get my history, especially the history of the Right, from both Democrats and Republicans. Who in this syllabus would be the natural matches to these three?

Again, I don’t want to overstate this concern. I’d bet that the matches can be found in the Boyer anthology. And, judging from the Amazon reviews, the Carter, Goldberg and Carroll books all seem extremely wise choices. Yet my concern is less with what is there than with what is missing. More soon.

#6 Comment By David On January 12, 2007 @ 12:27 am

I find the title of the course, “Race, Region, and the Rise of the Right” to be problematic. Why is there a focus on race and region to the exclusion of other key factors behind the rise of conservative/libertarian ideas and the Republican Party? Race and region obviously played a part, but I am not even sure that it was an important part, much less the only part in this history.

Perhaps I am making too much of this. Perhaps race and region are just included in the title because Professor Merrill likes alliteration. But it seems like race and region belong in the title because the course does focus on these topics, while downplaying (ignoring?) the economic forces at play. How can you understand the rise of the Right without talking about taxes, without mentioning the California’s Proposition 13, the start of the Right’s fight against high taxes.

Again, I assume that this topic is covered in the Boyer anthology. But note the overview to the class provided by Professor Merrill in the syllabus:

While drawing on European ideas that were emerging in reaction to fascism and communism, conservatism also had its American origins in a backlash against the New Deal, particularly in the South and the West, and particularly to liberals’ growing belief that the federal government should expand its powers to protect the rights of African Americans and working-class Americans.

This is a reasonable framework to consider the rise of the Right. But is it the only framework? Are William students well-served by a course that claims, from the start, that the Right is primarily (only?) a reaction against the federal governments efforts to “protect the rights” of US citizens.

I don’t think so. In fact, I think that this phrasing presumes an answer that is, at the very least, debatable.

Again, these are all minor quibbles. If smart student like Nishant says HIST 357 is a great course, then it must be a great course.

I took Rise of American Conservatism with Karen Merrill and she is a great teacher. Also very even handed. I remember she refused to tell us what her political views were and I am not sure anyone could have guessed by the end of the semester.

Still, this is a little naive. No Republican or Conservative would ever describe the rise of the Right in the way that Professor Merrill does in her syllabus, would ever fail to mention, say taxes and anti-Communism as being at least as important as a “backlash” against federal attempts to “protect the rights of African Americans and working-class Americans.” This may be a true description, but what it leaves out is more important than what it includes. Nishant might not have been able to guess Professor Merrill’s political leanings, but I could just from the opening paragraph of her syllabus.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

#7 Comment By Nishant On January 12, 2007 @ 2:02 am


You are jumping to conclusions here. When I took the class with Prof. Merrill in 2001 (she was visiting then), the course title was “The Rise of American Conservatism.” Thats it. Not that we didn’t discuss religion or race, but it wasn’t the focus of the class.

First time anyone has called me naive though. Usually its cynical or evil.


#8 Comment By q On January 12, 2007 @ 10:43 am

Who cares what you think? Merrill is an accomplished and widely respected historian of the West. Of course she will bring a regional perspective into this course: that is what she does, and does so well. You, on the other hand, are a narrow ideologue setting up the inevitable and continuously repeated conclusion you always push here: because she is not a “real” or complete conservative, Williams needs affirmative action for conservatives. How inane! No wonder your many lurkers do not bother to comment. It is all so predictable and narrow-minded.

#9 Comment By David On January 12, 2007 @ 11:42 am

Who cares what you think?

Well, Merrill told me that she was interested in reading what people thought about the syllabus, so perhaps she does.

Merrill is an accomplished and widely respected historian of the West. Of course she will bring a regional perspective into this course: that is what she does, and does so well.

Merrill is obviously an excellent scholar and I could imagine that her background would lead her to emphasize a regional perspective. Moreover, no one would deny that a regional perspective is important. Look at the patterns on blue and red on election night!

My issue is not with what Merrill includes but with what she leaves out.

You, on the other hand, are a narrow ideologue setting up the inevitable and continuously repeated conclusion you always push here: because she is not a “real” or complete conservative, Williams needs affirmative action for conservatives.

I never said that, nor do I believe it. Williams may need more ideological diversity in its faculty. It may need less. But this conversation is only about HIST 357, what is good about it and what might be made better.

How inane! No wonder your many lurkers do not bother to comment. It is all so predictable and narrow-minded.

Where are the lurkers?

Also, could Nishant (or someone else who has taken the course) comment on the workload, both in absolute terms and relative to other 300 History classes? I seem to remember doing much more reading back in the day . . .

#10 Comment By David On January 12, 2007 @ 11:58 am

Again, I do not know this topic as well as I should, nor have I read these books, but some of the Amazon reviews suggest that Professor Merrill has selected some excellent books.

Dan Carter, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics

Every year I teach this book for about 125 undergraduates in a course called “Race and American Politics from the New Deal to the New Right.” Though it is a course that welcomes controversy, one thing that virtually all of my students agree upon is that this is a GREAT book. Carter, the dean of Southern historians, is a masterful storyteller with a matchless eye for detail and a balanced political judgment. He shows how Wallace, far from being just another Southern demogogue, opens the way to the transformation of American politics and the rise of a new conservatism whose wellsprings are the rage and fear of white Americans in the face of the civil rights revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a brilliant, absorbing book and every year when I read it again I am struck by the rich craft of Carter’s prose and the deep thoughtfulness of his assessments.

Robert Goldberg, Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater was probably the most important loser in the history of American presidential elections. Although Lyndon Baines Johnson easily defeated him in the 1964 race, Goldwater fundamentally reshaped politics in the United States. As biographer Robert Alan Goldberg shows, Goldwater helped Republicans cut their demographic and financial ties to the Northeast and pushed their influence to the South and West. More important, however, he ushered in the modern conservative movement as a genuine political force.

Goldberg, a professor of history at the University of Utah, writes as a political liberal who holds deep sympathies for Goldwater. During his 1964 campaign, a popular Goldwater slogan was: “In your heart, you know he’s right.” Goldberg isn’t trying to convince readers of this, but it’s hard to come away from his book without thinking he still could teach his country a thing or two.

Great stuff. These seem like exactly the sorts of texts that a course like HIST 357 should be centered around. Kudos to Professor Merrill for what seem like excellent choices.

#11 Comment By Rory On January 12, 2007 @ 7:28 pm


The overview is clear–ideas of anti-communism were part of the rise but the class is focusing on the issues of race and region.

It’s not a difficult concept: to speak of the rise of american conservatives is to speak of a lot of different factors, Professor Merrill has chosen two she finds particularly important. Considering the Southern Strategy, it’s hard to deny their importance.

#12 Comment By ~ On January 12, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

re: “4) Is it just me or does the workload seem a little light, especially for a 300-level class.”

The dates cited may be a little light, but one of the classes (2) I took with Prof Merrill (History of the American West) included what was probably the heaviest reading load out of any class I have ever taken. The assignments for those particular meetings that were cited do not seem typical of her assignments.

#13 Comment By David On January 13, 2007 @ 8:31 am


There are two different interpretations for the design of the class. First, Professor Merrill intends to cover all the factors behind the rise of the Right. She thinks that, while other factors (like economics) were present and are mentioned in proportion to their importance, race and region are the dominant factors and are, because of this dominance, the focus of the class and, therefore, merit mention in the title. This is my interpretation.

Second, you seem to argue that there were several factors behind of the rise of the right, among them race, region, economics, social issues and so on. You make no claims that any of these factors are more or less important than the others. You think that the class focuses, for whatever reason, on race and region to the conscious exclusion of other factors just because race and region are the topics of the class.

I agree with you that it would not be unreasonable for a class such as this to pick just two factors to focus on, although I would find such hyper-specialization a little sub-optimal. If a colleg like Williams is going to offer a class on the rise of the right (and I am glad that it does!), then the class ought to cover all aspects of that rise, not just two of them.

I don’t think that this is what Professor Merrill is doing. I think that she is covering in this class all the factors behind the rise of the right, more or less in proportion to their importance.

My objection is to her judgment of the relative importance of the different factors. (Again, I could easily be wrong in this judgment since I can’t be sure which readings are in the reading packet, e.g., Boyer.)