The Good War? the United States in World War II (HIH1596)

StaffDr Matthias Reiss - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The Second World War is still regarded as “the Good War” by many Americans. In the popular imagination the first half of the 1940s was a period when country was united in a morally superior cause against evil foes who were subsequently defeated and transformed into model democracies and allies. Although historians have increasingly challenged this version of events the controversy around the Smithsonian’s “Enola Gay” exhibition in the 1990s and the conservative backlash against “revisionist” historians show that the Good War paradigm is still very popular.

This module will test the “Good War” thesis by focusing on how different groups in the United States experienced the Second World War and how their experience was represented or left out after the fighting had ended. This will be done with the help of a wide variety of different sources, such as travel accounts, court cases, letters, opinion polls, sociological studies, oral history interviews, memorials, movies, posters and newspaper advertisements.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Question simplistic interpretations of American society during the Second World War and realise the diversity of the war experience according to age, gender, race, class and occupation.
  • 2. Work critically with a wide range of written and visual sources for American history in the 1940s.
  • 3. Comment critically on orthodox as well as revisionist texts.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. bias, reliability, etc., and compare the validity of different types of source, e.g. social scientific investigations, literary sources, memoirs, oral evidence, statistics and politicians statements.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

A wide variety of primary sources will be used to explore how Americans experienced the Second World War. Students will be asked to study a propaganda film, travel account, U.S. Supreme Court cases, a sociological survey, an army memorandum and letters, oral history interviews, posters, advertisements, journal articles and memorials. Through these sources the module will address themes such as civil liberties, gender and race relations, wartime propaganda, the atomic bombs as well as how the war served as a reference point in American culture and politics after 1945.

The first seminar will consist of a short lecture which will provide a framework for the topics of the following weeks. After that you will be divided into groups. In Week 2 we will watch a movie and discuss it in class. Starting in Week 3 you will be asked to hand in source commentaries on the primary sources listed in this handbook (i.e. assignment one should be completed for the class in Week 3, assignment two for the class in Week 4 and so on). For your weekly assignments, you have to answer all questions listed in this handbook for the respective week. All assignments will count for your overall mark.

Each week one group will make a 20-25 minutes presentation in class based on that week’s assignment. All members of the group should participate in the presentation and contribute to it in equal manner. The rest of the class will then get together in their groups to determine for about ten minutes two questions to ask the presenting group. These questions will then be asked and answered, with discussions being allowed to develop on key points. In the light of the discussion and my comments, you will then self-assess your own work according to the pro-forma which will then be collected by me together with your essays for moderation.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 Seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing five source commentaries and an essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary) (15% per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period
1500 words1500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Adams, Michael C.C., The Best War Ever: America and World War II (Johns Hopkins UP, 1994).
Brinkley, David, Washington Goes to War: The Extraordinary Story of the Transformation of a City and a Nation (Ballantine, 1988).
Cooke, Alistair, The American Home Front: 1941-1942 (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006).
Jeffries, John W., Wartime America: The World War II Home Front (Van R. Dee, 1997).
Lingeman, Richard R., Don’t You Know there’s a War on? The American Home Front, 1941-1945 (Nation Books, 2003).

Rose, Kenneth D., Myth and the Great Generation: A Social History of Americans in World War II (Routledge: New York, 2008)

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