1.The study of history tends almost naturally to compartmentalize events or trends as we’ve seen: Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, the Roaring Twenties, etc. But be that as it may, select one the periods we’ve examined this semester that you believe was the most difficult and trying one for the American people and their government. How well do you believe that they coped with challenge? Could anything have been done differently? Who were the leading and most outstanding personalities of the period that you’ve selected?
2.From Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama, a variety of men have held the office of President of the United States. Some of them have been enormously popular, others have been ineffective, low key, or simply maintained a lower profile. One thinks of Republican Calvin Coolidge during the 1920’s. Which one of them stands out from the others, and why? What were his particular achievements or failures? Does the American public ever expect more than any president can realistically deliver?
3.It’s often said that we live in the “information age” – we can hit “enter” on our computers and almost any information, from NFL scores to a biography of James K. Polk is instantly available. Yet in reality, the “information age” also turns out to be the “uninformed age:” in recent years, a number of surveys repeatedly confirm that present-day American college graduates, even from top-tier schools, know much less about U.S. history than their counterparts of earlier generations did. Why should this be the case? How could earlier generations – who, like the instructor’s parents, simply read books with few illustrations, had no TV or internet or online history courses- have been so much better informed than the “information age?” Having studied the past in which they lived, during our course this semester, what were they doing right at that time that we seem to be doing wrong? Or is this all simply longing for “good old days” that never were? What do you think?
4. American history, as we’ve seen, is often punctuated by periods of reforms, sometimes on a pretty grand scale, all of them claiming to be “progress” of one kind or another. Yet good intentions do not necessarily equal good results, as the recent repeal of the No Child Left Behind school reform indicates. In looking back on the reform movements we’ve surveyed this semester, which of them would you say was the most successful? At the same time, which was the least successful or wrong-headed? Why do you believe this was the case? Did the reformers miscalculate in some way? Did they underestimate their own abilities to make positive change? Or was their own perception of “the problem” they sought to address inaccurate or incomplete?