HIST 2402A: History of the United States from 1865
Winter 2025

Instructor: Professor Andrew M. Johnston


This course offers a broad survey of the history of the U.S. starting at the end of the Civil War (c. 1865) and taking us to the present. It starts with the dramatic transformation of what had been a predominantly rural and mostly Protestant society into an industrial, urban, and culturally diverse society beginning in the 1880s, while at the same time the former Confederacy clawed back its lost power and installed a system of racial segregation collectively known as “Jim Crow”. Its purpose was to disenfranchise recently freed Blacks, creating a vast structural apparatus of discrimination. At the same time, the economic modernization of the US—corporate capitalism, labour organization, mass consumer society—produced a revolution in values. A sudden interest in overseas imperialism (was it different from “westward” expansion?) posed questions about American “exceptionalism”, while the emergence of new forms of cultural life (“modernism”), was followed by the First World War, the Jazz Age of the 1920s (including the Harlem Renaissance), the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s controversial (for some) New Deal of the 1930s. The economic triumph following the Second World War fed postwar suburbanization and urban segregation; the Cold War (the first real signs of the national-security state we know today) masked but also contributed to a new reckoning with Civil Rights. That struggle for Black equality meshed with postwar feminism, the Vietnam War, environmentalism, the 1960s counterculture, to spur a conservative restoration, marked by the Watergate scandal and the emergence of neoliberalism. The end of the Cold War and the triumph of “globalization” spurred new “culture wars” of the 1990s, along with the prospects for a “new American century” after 9/11. The failure of the Iraq War, and the election of Barack Obama divided the country again, which brings us to Donald Trump as a symptom of the nation’s discomfort with the very liberal globalism it brought to the world.

Class Format

We meet weekly and in person for one two-hour lecture, and one hour of Discussion Group time.

Aims and Goals

Of course we want students to come away with a rich and nuanced understanding of the modern United States, but also to understand how historical arguments are made and how the past has become so contested. You will spend time looking at historical artefacts (primary materials) and learning how to read them in their context. You will also look at how and why historians disagree on the interpretation of these materials.


Students will write two 5-page papers, one on historiography (why historians disagree on the interpretation of evidence) and one on a primary document (the evidence we disagree on). There are three short online quizzes, and participation expectations in the Discussion Group. The bulk of your assessment (instead of a final exam) involves writing online, weekly comment on the course text through a portal called Perusall. This is an online social annotation platform that allows us all to read and think about the text together.


Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, vol. 2 (New York, 2023), Inquiry Edition.