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Contemporary United States History, 1940-Present
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                                                                                                                                                                                      Additional Resources for Writing Assignment

                                                                                                                                                                           Writing Assignment
The Contemporary United States: 1940-Present

   Your paper should be 5-7 pages, typewritten and double-spaced. Footnotes must be used to "indicate the source of particularly important facts and opinions, expressed either directly as quotations or as paraphrases, which are not original to the author." Failure to follow this rule may lead to charges of plagiarism. Papers are due November 30. Papers may be submitted in class or electronically. An automatic one-week extension will be granted upon request. However, any papers submitted after this date (without prior arrangement) will be penalized.

    (Note: Those students taking this course for graduate credit may have different requirements and options available to them. Please consult with me before beginning your assignment.)

   You have a choice of two separate exercises for your writing assignment. Choose ONE of the following options:

   I. Your first option is to follow the unfolding events of an important period of American history through the daily or weekly coverage in a newspaper or newsmagazine.

       In writing your paper, you should focus on the coverage of one of the following topics, and concentrate on what kind of information is being presented and what attitude is being conveyed. It is important that you should attempt as much as possible to “block” any pre-existing knowledge of your chosen topic. You should be trying as much as possible to replicate the experience of a reasonably well-informed reader of the time, and summarizing the impressions of that observer. For most options, you should present your summaries in a weekly format, and show how the coverage of the event is evolving over time.

    Although the main portion of your paper should be focused solely on media coverage, you should include a concluding section where you assess the ways in which the contemporary coverage of the given event was accurate, and the ways in which it was inaccurate or misleading. With the ability to look back on the event, what things were given too much or too little emphasis at the time?

    Ideally, you should choose one single source for your research on this paper. Obviously, there are many options for source materials in the Main Library, but the Internet offers several excellent sites for research as well. I will note some of the most potentially valuable archives:

All material published in the daily New York Times for the period covered by the following options is available through this link ( Login using your Hawk ID information.
All articles from Time magazine for the period covered by the following options are available through this link ( Due to the issue dates for a magazine like Time being out of line with actual events, you may have to look at editions slightly outside of the times listed in the following scenarios.
For options from 1968 onward, it is possible to view full editions of the NBC Nightly News at this link ( Again, login using your Hawk ID information.

An alternative link to the New York Times archives and the NBC footage is through this page (

   SCENARIOS: Select ONE of the following scenarios as the subject for your research. You may want to browse through the coverage surrounding several options before settling on a final choice. (Since this option is a new one, it is possible for other scenarios to be used for this option-please consult with me if you have a request.)

   1. Immediately following Pearl Harbor, questions arose over what, if any, stance to take toward Japanese-Americans, particularly on the West Coast.  Look at coverage on this matter from January 15 to February 19, 1942.

   2. In 1946, various labor disputes threatened the peacetime economy. Examine press reaction coverage on this issue, focusing on the potential railroad strike, from May 1 to May 25.

   3. North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. Examine press coverage of this event in the following days (June 25-July 25).

   4. Beginning in September 1957, controversy surrounded the plan to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Look at press coverage of the crisis from September 1 to September 24.

   5. The Berlin crisis once again flared in the summer of 1961, culminating in the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13. Study media reaction to this event from August 13 to September 13.

   6. The Tet Offensive raised new questions about the war in Vietnam and the future of American involvement. Examine media opinion on the situation in Vietnam from January 31, 1968 to February 29.

   7. After the existence of a White House taping system was revealed, the focus of the Watergate investigation became the acquisition of the relevant tapes. Look at media coverage of this process from October 1, 1973 to October 31.

   8. President Ford pardoned former President Nixon on September 8, 1974. Look at press coverage on this matter from September 8 to September 30.

   9. The U.S. embassy in Iran was seized on November 4, 1979. Examine media reaction to this crisis from November 4 to December 4.

  10. The 2000 presidential election was held on November 7, but the final results were debated through mid-December. Look at the press coverage of these events from Election Day through the resolution of the controversy.

   II. Your second option is an exercise in what is known in some circles as "counterfactual" history. The idea behind this concept is to assess the impact that one event has had upon the course of history by imagining that it had not occurred, and reasonably projecting the ways in which the "ripple" effect affected the future.

   The counterfactual option for your writing assignment reverses the usual speculative process. Instead of proceeding forward in history from one pivotal event, you will be presented with the "outcome" of alterations in the actual course of history, and proceed backward in history to explain how it came about. All facts and conditions as of the end of 1940 should be assumed to still be in place, so any developments which alter historical trends should occur between then and the present.

   Although this is not primarily a research paper, as in the case of option I, in order to present a plausible and convincing alternative account of this period you may want to consult secondary sources for more background information. If these sources are the basis for conclusions presented in your paper, you should denote this by the use of footnotes or citations. Otherwise, you are free to structure your "counterfactual" history in any manner you wish, whether in the form of a narrative as might be found in a history text or in a variety of other formats. For an example of how this exercise might be carried out, a particularly outstanding fulfillment of this option from a previous class ("The Robber Barons' Early Demise") will be posted on the course website.

   Your paper will be graded according to the level of plausibility that your paper demonstrates in detailing (within space limitations) how the imaginary world of the present came to be. Your account should, if possible, address developments through several decades of this period, not just over a short portion of time.

   Choose ONE of the following "counterfactual" headlines from the year 2011 as the starting point for "looking backward":

   1. United States and Southern States Alliance Sign Atlanta Accord; First Step Toward American Reunification
   2. Forty-Eighth Anniversary of Berlin Wall Marked; Eastern Europe Still Behind "Iron Curtain"; Cold War Continues
   3. “Third Party” Candidate Begins First Term in White House; Republicans and Democrats Adjust To New Political Landscape