Protest against racial integration of Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas, August 20, 1959 (photo by John T. Bledsoe)
In recent years, there has been an explosion of scholarship on the history of modern conservatism in the United States. In contrast with liberal scholars of the 1950s and 1960s who paid scant attention to conservatism or derided it as marginal and even pathological, historians today take conservatism seriously as a (perhaps the?) dominant force in American political life.
Focusing mainly on the twentieth century, this Master’s level course from Professor Tami Friedman explores the ideas and actions that have animated the conservative movement, along with the larger historical developments that have broadened (or limited) the movement’s appeal.
Along the way, students will learn about the key strands of conservative thought (economic libertarianism, traditionalism, anticommunism, anti-statism); the ways in which race, ethnicity, gender, region, and religion have intersected with conservativism across time and place; and the processes of institution-building, grassroots mobilization, and party realignment that help explain how and why the Right became – and remains – such a powerful force.
course content from Professor Friedman
“I developed this course because of Donald Trump.
He’s such a larger-than-life, polarizing figure that many believe he has almost singlehandedly shaped U.S. politics, society, and culture since the leadup to his election as president in 2016. Of course top political leaders play a pivotal role in shaping history, but as a social historian, I’m more interested in how their leadership interacts with the lives of ordinary people and in how they got the power they wield.
We can’t make sense of where we are right now if we don’t understand what came before.
The main goal of this course is to show that the Trump phenomenon didn’t come out of nowhere. It comes on the heels of a much older history of conservatism, including racist demagoguery and the avid promotion of unregulated capitalism, that has very deep roots in the United States.
The course starts in the late nineteenth century, when dramatic changes were taking place in the United States that upended longstanding ideas about economic power, race relations, and the role of government.
We look at how the people who formed the core of conservative ideology (not easy to define in this earlier era) struggled to respond to various upheavals throughout the twentieth century and tried to refine ideas about individualism, personal responsibility, and white domination that have very much left their mark on today’s political scene.
At the same time, we look at how anticommunism in the post-World War II era gave shape to a particular kind of conservative movement that really took off in the 1960s and is also pivotal to understanding how we got here.
Some historians argue that we need to understand conservatism as a social movement, not just something that comes from the top. I think that’s a wise approach.
By the end of the course, I hope students will recognize, first, that virtually all the hot-button political issues playing out today in the United States have a long history; second, that despite what looks like continuity, conservatives have grappled with these issues in different ways depending on changing historical circumstances; third, that conservatives were very strategic in developing their movement but also faced a lot of setbacks – in other words, their success wasn’t inevitable; and fourth, that we can’t just frame conservatism as the result of manipulative leaders at the top convincing a gullible rank-and-file to act against their own interests – that’s not just historically inaccurate but also totally obscures what’s really going on.”
Grad students outside of History who are interested in the course are welcome to contact the Professor.
meet the professor
Professor Tami Friedman teaches 20th-century U.S. history at Brock, including the post-1865 U.S. history survey and courses on U.S. foreign policy, the Cold War, the 1960s, women in North America, and class and capitalism in the United States.
Dr. Friedman is actively engaged in all levels of discussion surrounding American politics and their impact on Canadian society. Read and listen to her most recent interviews below.
On the Capitol insurrection:
- Radio: Segment on U.S. Capitol insurrection, The Tom McConnell Show, CKTB Radio (610 AM, St. Catharines), January 8, 2021
On the last two US presidential elections and voter suppression:
- Print: “Brock Experts Weigh in on Upcoming Election,” Brock News, Oct. 29, 2020
- Radio: “Voter Suppression – U.S. Election.” Niagara in the Morning with Tim Denis, CKTB Radio (610 AM, St. Catharines), November 4, 2020
- Print: “Upcoming Brock Panel Tackles Intricacies of the U.S. Election Campaign,” Brock News, October 26, 2016:
On the reversal of abortion rights:
- Print: “The complicated history and significant ramifications of potential Roe v Wade decision,” Brock News, May 4, 2022
- Print: “New strategy needed for pro-choice Americans following Roe v Wade decision: Brock expert,” Brock News, June 24, 2022
- Podcast: “Roe v Wade: What the controversial ruling means for Canada,” Inside the Village, June 29, 2022
- Print: “Analysis: How Roe v. Wade was overturned, and what it may mean for Canada,” Voice of Pelham, July 8, 2022
- Invited presenter (virtual): “The end of Roe: causes and consequences,” Women in Leadership, Brock University, August 16, 2022