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US & the Modern World, 1890-Present

HIST 403/404

US & the Modern World, 1890-Present

  • Course ID:HIST 403/404
  • Semesters:2
  • Department:History
  • Course Rank:College Level
  • Teachers:Mark Grannis

Description and Objectives

This course will guide students toward a deeper understanding of the historical trends that have shaped the modern world through “the American century.” Having completed foundational courses in world history prior to 1789, and in U.S. history through World War II, Heights students should be ready to think independently about these distinct and sometimes countervailing currents that have combined to make our world the way it is. These are the trends they will need to understand as they become responsible adult citizens.

One of the most distinctive features of this history course is that it is only secondarily chronological; the primary organizing principle is thematic. Why has the struggle for racial equality been so fraught with difficulty and conflict, from the late nineteenth century to the present? How has industrialization shaped our lives, for better and for worse, from the late nineteenth century to the present? In what ways, specifically, have we become more “globalized” than our forebears, and what have been the consequences for the movement of people and goods across national borders? Thus, instead of marching through the twentieth century decade by decade with an ever-shifting focus, we will examine eight important narratives that have shaped the modern world and trace each from its origins in the nineteenth century to its significance in the present day.

Outline of Topics Covered:

  • Unit 1:  Racial Equality
  • Unit 2:  Industrialization
  • Unit 3:  Socialism and Communism
  • Unit 4:  Progressivism
  • Unit 5:  Global Exchange
  • Unit 6:  Global Conflict
  • Unit 7:  Cold War
  • Unit 8:  Nationalism

Woven throughout these units will be a number of seminar discussions in which we collect, assess, and reformulate arguments on issues of current interest.


Our only textbook will be Wilfred M. McClay’s Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (2019), which we will distribute in class. We will rely more heavily, however, on primary sources and other supplemental readings that Mr. Grannis will select and discuss with the students in class.

In addition, each student will have the inestimable opportunity to read up to three more substantial historical works (per semester!) that delve more deeply into the periods covered by our survey. Because these books vary greatly in length, we will divide them roughly into small, medium, and large, and each student will be able to choose one large, one small plus one medium, or three smalls. Naturally, this is a floor, not a ceiling.

Course Requirements

Students should expect daily reading assignments, frequent low-stakes quizzes, and two or three unit tests per quarter. We may also incorporate seminars at the end of some units.

Students will be able to find all the daily reading assignments posted online in Schoology. Students alone are responsible for doing the reading, reflecting on the important issues raised, and engaging thoughtfully and constructively with their peers during class discussions.

The low-stakes quizzes will be designed to keep all students familiar with the basic facts we will need to support robust classroom discussion. The unit tests will require deeper thought across different historical periods. All unit tests will be open-note, so take good notes.

Successful Students

The successful student will develop and exhibit curiosity about the world in which he lives and the times when it was different. He will grow both in knowledge and in understanding as he acquires more information about the past.

In general, grades will be based the low-stakes quizzes; the unit tests; the mid-term and final exams; any oral examinations; and class participation. With class participation (as with many things), too much is as bad as too little; like Goldilocks, we are aiming for “just right.”