Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic
Media and Government
The course traces the changes in American political culture in the 20th century, focusing on the way that mass media, along with advertising and public relations, have affected both the practice and the public understanding of politics and democracy. The readings and lectures are designed to integrate political and cultural history; political science work on campaigns, elections, and the presidency; and work in journalism and communications.
Journalism, Democracy, and the Public Sphere
The course explores the ways that the news media have figured in conceptions of American democracy and in constituting a public realm in American society. The first third of the course will include classic readings in political philosophy, including Rousseau, Tocqueville, Mill and Habermas. The next third will look at a series moments in American history and ask how people living at those times experienced democracy, again with special attention to the role of the press and public debate. The final weeks will take up more recent considerations of contemporary American democracy and the role the news media play in it.
The Holocaust in American Culture
When the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened in 1993, people asked why a “European” catastrophe was being memorialized alongside shrines to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. One answer is that in the years since World War II, the experience and memory of the Holocaust have deeply affected American culture. This course looks at a few of the ways the Holocaust and Nazism changed America: by fostering a distrust of the masses among intellectuals; by promoting civil liberties and religious toleration; by encouraging a view of the Soviet Union as equivalent to Nazi Germany; by making the imperatives of protecting human rights and stopping genocide central to foreign policy; and by providing a new focus for American Jewish identity. Through these and other topics students will analyze the role that the Holocaust still plays in American life.
Cold War Culture
The years just after World War II did much to define American politics and culture in the half century that followed. Although the 1950s seem more than a lifetime away, many of the concerns of those years—from the prediction of a war without end against a ruthless global enemy to domestic fears of repression and conformity—are pertinent to own day. Other issues—the mixed blessing of material abundance, the efforts by women and blacks to shatter constraining cultural bonds, a new aesthetic of spontaneity and informality in art—have scarcely disappeared since. In examining American culture from roughly 1946 to 1960, the course seeks to show the interconnectedness of politics, ideas, and culture; to complicate conventionally accepted clichés about the period; to locate the origins or cultural patterns that persist in our own time; and to appreciate as well the important differences of this era from our own.
History of the News Media
The course looks historically at the role that the news media have played in American politics and culture. Although the course proceeds chronologically, a series of different subjects within media history are explored, including politics, law, and technology. Underpinning the class is the assumption that the media have fundamentally shaped how Americans experienced their political and cultural life. As a graduate seminar, the course is somewhat historiographical in its intent. It aims to acquaint students with important books on a range of topics and help them situate those books in the contexts of their scholarly literatures.
“Cold Fusion: History Suggests an Obama-Clinton Ticket Could Work,” Slate, May 22, 2008 .
“Tribe of Scribes.” Review of White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters , by Robert Schlesinger, Washington Post , May 18, 2008 .
“The Age of Reagan.” Review of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008, by Sean Wilentz, Los Angeles Times , May 18, 2008 .
“Double Negative: The Return of Doughface Liberalism,” The New Republic, April 9, 2008 .
“The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Unplugged.” Review of Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America , by Allen C. Guelzo, Slate, April 7, 2008 .
“The Long Goodbye: It’s Too Early to Talk About Hillary’s Withdrawal,” Slate, March 5, 2008 .
“Zealots of Our Time.” Review of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, by Jacob Heilbrunn, American Prospect, March, 2008.
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Speeches,” New York Times, February 24, 2008 .
“Memo to Obama Fans: The Clinton Presidency Was Not a Failure,” Slate, February 12, 2008 .
“R, North Carolina.” Review of Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism, by William A. Link, New York Times Book Review, February 10, 2008 .
“Why Obamamania? Because He Runs as the Great White Hope,” Washington Post , January 13, 2008 .
“Media and Conservative Politics in Postwar America : A Response,” Policy History Conference , St. Louis University , St. Louis , MO , May 30, 2008 .
“Red vs. Blue—or Purple: Is America Really Polarized?,” at the symposium, “ The Hyperpartisan Era in Washington: Can Federal Bipartisanship Be Revived?” The New School, New York , NY , May 28, 2008 .
“Paths out of Dixie: A Response,” comment at the 20 th Century Politics and Society Workshop, Columbia University, New York, NY, April 17, 2008.
“George W. Bush and the War on Expertise,” for the conference “The Presidency of George W. Bush in Historical Perspective,” Princeton University , Princeton , NJ , April 12, 2008 .
“The Spinning of the President, 2008,” keynote address at the conference “Freedom of the Press,” St. Peter’s College, Jersey City , NJ , April 10, 2008 .
“Learning from Presidential Debates,” for the conference “The 2008 Road to the White House,” Hofstra University , Hempstead , NY , April 3, 2008 .
“History on the Internet,” talk at the conference “Comparing, Editing, Translating: Periodicals and Interdisciplinarity Today,” Institute for Comparative Literature and Society Annual Conference , Columbia University, New York, NY, March 28, 2008.
“Calvin Coolidge’s Legacy,” National Archives, Washington DC , February 13, 2008 .
“History in 1200 Words: Dumbing Down vs. Smarting Up,” American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Washington DC , January 6, 2008 .
“Redefining Liberalism in the 1980s,” American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Washington DC , January 4, 2008 .
Also of Interest
Boston Globe Ideas
Los Angeles Times
New York Observer
New York Times
Columbia Journalism Review
New York Review of Books
New York Times Magazine
Arts & Letters Daily
American Historical Association
American Memory (Library of Congress)
American President (Miller Center)
American Presidents (Henry Holt)
Center for History and New Media
Cold War International History Project
History News Network
History News Service
History and Politics Out Loud
Images of American Political History
Library of Congress
National Security Archive
New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Organization of American Historians
White House Tapes (Miller Center)