You should use this list in two primary ways: first, as a reference when completing the second part of your weekly Wednesday Reports, and second, to review your notes and think about how new reading assignments and lectures might help you to answer some of these questions.

The questions we came up with during our first two weeks were drawn from class discussions and the Google doc we created in Week One. That document still contains other topics that might be good sources of questions, but I’ve selected the ones that are most clearly historical in nature. If you don’t understand why a question from the Google Doc was left off this list, ask!

Throughout the semester, this list of questions will grow and change as we:

  1. Come up with new questions based on assigned readings and lectures.
  2. Determine which of the questions we have some basis for answering from the material we have learned and uncovered.

Once we decide that a question has been at least partially addressed or answered by readings, lectures, or discussions, I will call it out with a “bullet” point on this page. Periodically we will revisit the list to see if there are other questions that we have at least begun to answer.

NEW: Questions on Lincoln and Suffragists

Your Wednesday Reports for the Readings for April 3 were almost unanimous in the new questions they proposed. Almost all of you wrote new questions either about Document 2 or Document 5. Here are two of the most frequent questions raised:

  • Given that President Lincoln would soon issue the Emancipation Proclamation, what factors would lead him to overturn General Hunter’s emancipation edict and propse more gradual schemes of emancipation?

  • Why did the advocates of suffrage for women split with advocates of enfranchisement for Africam Americans in the debates over the Fifteenth Amendment?

Guns and Gun Control

How have American gun culture and perceptions of guns changed over time? Have changes in weapon technology or portrayals of gun violence in video games and movies contributed to these changes?

  • How have gun lobbyists and gun lobby arguments changed over time?

How have changes in gun policy affected rates of violent crime?

Given that some states have chosen restrictive gun laws, why didn’t others?

  • Why did the NRA mention concerns of a foreign invasion in 1963? Was this a concern most Americans at that time shared? And why was a concern for national security in 1963 replaced by a concern for personal security by the time the NRA spoke in 2012?

Gay Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

  • How did the modern conception of American “family values” develop over the last century?

  • How has the view of same sex relations changed over time? Has the change been gradual or were there pivotal moments where things changed rapidly?

How have religious groups’ views on same-sex marriage changed over time, and have these changes shaped the gay rights movement?

  • What factors explain the shift in same-sex activist groups from advocacy of simple recognition and social respect to the advocacy of legal marriage rights and civil equality?

  • Why did early same-sex advocacy groups like the Daughters of Bilitis begin in California instead of elsewhere?

Taxes, Debt Ceiling and the Fiscal Cliff

  • How did the current debt crisis or fiscal cliff develop?

Given that tax reforms and new Social Security taxes were passed in the 1980s, what has changed to make bipartisan legislation on fiscal policy so difficult to pass in Congress? Given that split Congresses under Reagan still passed fiscal legislation without coming to a stand-still over the debt ceiling, what has changed to make debt ceiling debates so partisan?

  • What motivates Republican arguments for tax and spending cuts given that deficits and the national debt increased under the Reagan administration’s similar policies?

How does the current economic crisis compare to others faced by the United States in the past?

  • Given widespread hostility to taxes after Reagan, how and why had tax rates and government spending reached such high levels by the time Reagan took office?

Social Movements

Given that the streaking “craze” of 1974 was widely cited as a mutated continuation of the rebellious movements of the 1960s, were the events of the sixties predicated by a similar rebellious social movement in previous decades? How has social rebellion developed in American popular culture over the last 150 years?

  • From the 1960s to the 1970s, what caused streaking to overtake disruptive political demonstrations as students’ way of expressing their First Amendment rights?


  • How did the rise of talk shows like Firing Line and other media contribute to the neo-conservative cause—did they merely give an already existing group a voice, or play a key role in the creation of the group itself?

  • If the conservative movement did not just spring out of nowhere in the 1970s, but instead had begun to organize in the 1950s and 1960s, when and why did it originate?

  • Did the galvanization of elements such as members of the Civil Rights movement, student group, and more liberal politicians against the Vietnam War contribute to an increasing response from conservative or hawkish elements in favor of the war?

  • If the radicalism of 1960s did not create the conservative movement, did it at least change the kinds of arguments that conservatives made or focused on?

  • The “conservative movement” by the 1970s was a big tent encompassing both cultural conservatives like the evangelical Jerry Falwell and secular “small government” conservatives who disliked social spending and high taxes. What made this motley assortment of activists choose to stick together? Is there a fundamental conservative position that was capable of uniting disparate anti-liberal groups in the postwar period, other than simply being “against” liberalism?

Politics and Partisanship

  • How has the overarching conception of “big government” developed over the last century into the negative term used by President Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union address?

  • What role did the evolution of the media play in the development of bipartisanship, and how has the media affected the polarization of the two parties?

Though suffrage has been granted to everyone over the age of 18 after long political issues, when and why has voter turnout declined? Has political apathy increased over time, and if so, what/who is to blame?

How have events such as Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal and Bill Clinton’s impeachment affected citizens’ levels of trust in the government? Does this mistrust have any impact on the political gridlock the government deals with today?

Has the power of the President increased or decreased since 1848?

  • The clips from Firing Line present a reasonably balanced set of opinions, with liberals and conservatives making their points in turn during the debate. This stands in stark contrast to today’s media landscape, which involves substantially less debate and substantially more partisanship. What circumstances produced this shift over the last four decades? Did changes in regulation or the emergence of media conglomerates contribute?

Foreign Policy

How have past American interventions in the Middle East affected the U.S. relationship with the region today?

  • In what situations in the past 150 years has America acted as the “world police” and in what situations have we been more isolationist, and how have our actions affected those countries’ attitudes towards us?

How has the United States’s relationship with China changed over time?

How has the world’s view of the United States changed since World War 2?

Given that the Vietnam War, a prime example of American interventionist policies, was such an unpopular war both in the United States and Vietnam, why did it take so long for the United States to withdraw from the war?

  • Why did the United States insist on continuing battle in Vietnam after France ultimately wanted back out of the war?

  • Given the general attitudes toward Communism in the 1950s and 1960s, why was the Vietnam War, a war to prevent the spread of Communism, so unpopular?

Crime and Criminal Justice

Given that ‘fifty armed deputies and twenty policemen’ attempted to prevent the lynching of Allen Brooks, as seen in source two, yet a passive authority did not prevent a lynching in the Ossian Sweet case in the 1920s and Rodney King was beaten by police over seventy years later and affect did the authorities view of race relations change within this period, and how did it differ between the states, especially in response to mob mentality?

In what ways did the American experience with the lynching of minorities develop modern views on the death penalty? (Looking Forward)

Given that “fifty armed deputies and twenty policemen” attempted to prevent the lynching of Allen Brooks, yet Rodney King was beaten by police over seventy years later, how did the authorities’ view of race relations change over time, and how did it differ between states?

How has the history of the “war on drugs” affected the US prison system and incarceration rates?

What explains why some states have legalized marijuana while others have not?

Why do some states have a history of enforcing the death penalty, and not others?

Why was marijuana made illegal in the first place?

How has public perception of marijuana and other drugs evolved over time? What are the differences between modern views and that of the early 20th/late 19th centuries?

How have views on the death penalty changed over time?


How did the immigration boom coming through Ellis Island during the 1890s and early 1900s lead to changing perspectives on sexual health such as those held by Margaret Sanger given that she worked extensively with immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York in the 1910s? (Looking Backward)

Did infrastructure developments, like the development of tenements and overcrowded factories, associated with the immigration patterns and the war effort led to the unprecedented destructiveness of influenza in the 1910s? (About 1910s)

How have changes in the main countries of origin of immigrants to America contributed to changes in immigration policy?

Women’s Rights

Given that the strike for better and safer working conditions for women failed before that Triangle Factory Fire, how did the fire impact the feminist movements afterwards?

Sanger was able to travel and study English Methods of Birth Control, Dutch Methods of Birth Control, and Magnetation Methods of Birth Control. Given that these countries would presumably have a much stronger religious influence, why was the suggestion of birth control so suppressed in the United States?

Given that contraception was legal in the U.S. during the early 19th century, and given there was considerable desire/demand for the re-legalization of contraceptives in the early 20th century, what factors contributed to the ban on contraceptives implemented in the late 1800s?

Why was there such resistance from governmental authorities and public opinion to Margaret Sanger’s ideas about birth control?

Was the Triangle Factory Fire of 1911 responsible for the institution of the protective laws for women that Eleanor Roosevelt and Phyllis Schlafly cited for their opposition to the ERA, or were these laws instituted as a result of other mechanisms?

Given that women’s rights arguments gained momentum in the 1960s-1970s with the ERA debate, why did this concern for women’s rights outside of the home not occur until then given that a sizable portion of women were already working in unacceptable conditions (Triangle Shirtwaist Factory)?

Given that Margaret Sanger supported the use of contraceptives as early as 1914 and claimed that there was “widespread agitation in favor of birth control” after her return from Europe, what explains the decades-long delay in support for contraceptive use that seemingly emerged overnight in the 1960s?

Given that women’s rights gained momentum in the 1960s-1970s with the ERA debate, why did concern for women’s rights outside of the home not occur until then given that a sizable portion of women were already working in unacceptable conditions like those at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?

  • Given that Esther Peterson was a longtime advocate of equal rights for women, why was she reluctant to support the ERA until 1971?

  • How have views or definitions of feminism changed over time?

  • There was a large amount of polarization within NOW with respect to the Equal Rights Amendment. Some members believed that the strategy and timing was not right to attempt to pass it. Given that the proposal was originally written in 1923, why did it not pass Congress until 1972?

  • How popular was Phyllis Schlafly’s campaign against the ERA and NOW, and what effect did it have on the women’s movement in the 1970s? Did Phyllis Schlafly’s campaign actually benefit the feminist/women’s movement by rallying more women to support its goals? Or does her campaign show that the increase of radicalism in the women’s movement in the 1960s had sparked a broader backlash?

How did events in the 1970s affect the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade?

How have legislation and attitudes towards women’s health and reproductive rights changed since Roe vs. Wade?

Given that the sexual revolution of the 1960s was spurred on by the availability and social acceptability of contraceptives while such products were illegal in the early 1900s, what caused such a dramatic shift?

  • Given that the image of the traditional, heterosexual housewife trapped in the suburbs was not universally true in the 1950s, why did activists as different as Schlafly and Friedan promote this image as typical of the period?

  • Did the suburban prosperity that grew after World War 2, making possible things like the purchase of multiple cars per family, actually make it easier for women to engage in political activism than before?

Science and Technology

Given that Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in the 19th century, why did the “Great Textbook War” in West Virginia occur almost a century later? How has the American relationship with science in education developed—or decayed—over the last 150 years?

Given that computers were being used extensively by university and the government by the mid-twentieth century, why did it take so long for personal computing to become marketable?

Has the advent of the Internet stimulated unusual levels of concern about the protection of copyrights?

Energy and the Environment

How has the oil industry changed since 9/11?

How have perceptions of nuclear energy as an alternative energy source evolved since the mid-20th century (when atomic bombs were first used)?

Space Program

If space exploration was considered so important earlier in time, why has its budget been cut in recent years? Did the end of the Space Race with the Soviet Union contribute to this shift in the funding of NASA and the space program?

Privacy / Domestic Surveillance

Given that privacy was a key issue of Roe vs. Wade, how have government-backed cultural interventions like the “V-chip” over the last century developed the modern conception of an individual’s right to privacy?

  • How have Americans’ views of being under surveillance by the government changed over time?


How has the role of religion in the United States changed since 1848?

Given that significant religious protests in 1974 were involved with local school textbooks, how do we explain the shift of religious activists to protests on national issues like abortion or same-sex marriage?


How did the cultural and political environment of the US reach the point where citizens were capable of the lynchings of African Americans in 1918 in the South?

Given the lynchings of African Americans were occurring in the South in the early twentieth century, how did the rest of the country compare? Did groups like the KKK find success and popularity outside of the South?

Given that less than a decade after the lynchings of the 1910s Ossian Sweet successfully defended himself in court, what explains vast dichotomy in Northern and Southern systems of justice?

What resulted in the atmospheric shifts that created the lynchings in Georgia and the fear of the black population present in the Birth of a Nation clip, or perhaps had this atmosphere been cultivated for a longer period of time and only become more obvious because of the new film media and more pervasive journalistic coverage?

To what extent did the extreme violence against African Americans, like the cases documented by Walter White and the postcards, work to change views of racial discrimination? In other words, did the acts of violence work against themselves by creating support for civil rights?

  • Given that Louisville began to integrate its public schools in 1956, and did so peacefully, why did the court-mandated busing in 1975 result in the sometimes-violent Louisville Busing Riots? What was so different about the court-mandated integration in 1975 from the integration in 1956 that caused people to protest?

  • Given Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against the Vietnam War, he says that a few years prior to his speech, there was a shining moment of hope in the movement of civil rights. Therefore did the buildup in the Vietnam War in the 1960s have a negative impact on the Civil Rights movement during that time?

  • Given that racial, religious, and gender discrimination was rampant long before the 1960s, why was an attempt at equality only made in 1961? What was the turning point that led to President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 in 1961?

What were some of the causes of the tension between African Americans and Korean Americans in Los Angeles before the riots?

  • How have affirmative action policies affected race relations or perceptions of racial discrimination? Did they contribute to the rise of a black middle class?

  • What were the catalysts leading to the University of California’s decision to reverse their standing on affirmative action?

Have affirmative action policies affected different groups in different ways—for example, was the experience of black college students the same as those of inner city dwellers like those in Los Angeles?

  • Given the success of African Americans like Barack Obama, who was elected to the Harvard Law Review presidency, in higher education in the early 1990s, why did some African Americans like Ward Connelly oppose affirmative action?

  • What role did the reach of media and the changing ethos of the reporters play in public perceptions of stories about race, like the Rodney King beating or the Los Angeles riots? Were there incidents of similar natures that were over- or under-reported, and if so why did they not result in the same chain of events?

  • How have views of race and/or methods of racial discrimination changed over time?

  • Given that support for Affirmative Action programs has risen and fallen since its conception thirty years ago (as evidenced by the actions of the UC Regents in 1995), how have the justifications—legal and moral—for the programs developed over time?

  • Given that affirmative action was viewed as necessary immediately after the Civil Rights movement, what changed in society to make universities consider discontinuing it?

  • Given Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against the Vietnam War, he says that a few years prior to his speech, there was a shining moment of hope in the movement of civil rights. Therefore did the buildup in the Vietnam War in the 1960s have a negative impact on the civil rights movement during that time?

After the events of the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement, Why would African Americans like William Brown and Ward Connerly oppose affirmative action or policies supported by other African Americans? Was there a longer tradition of black conservatism that shaped and predated their arguments?

  • How have affirmative action policies affected race relations or perceptions of racial discrimination? Did they contribute to the rise of a black middle class?

Military History

How have strategies of combat and means of warfare changed since the advent of nuclear weapons, and what role have nuclear weapons played in those changes?

  • How have changes in combat affected American society?


Both Democratic and Republican politicians in the 1990s emphasized the need to strengthen America’s families. As the prevalence of nontraditional families has increased, how have politicians revamped their views and policies to fit changing social conceptions of the family?

How has popular music evolved, and how have changes (e.g., in the content of lyrics) affected crime rates or social values?

What cultural changes explain why the adoption of the “V-chip” was important to President Clinton by 1996?

  • How have views of comic books changed over time, and why?


How have views of socialism in the United States changed over time?

How did struggles for workers’ rights and occupational safety change over time, and what role did disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire play in catalyzing change?

Given that both women and Puerto Ricans were found in substandard work conditions in the 1910s, was the minority status of these groups or the economic times more causal to the work situation? Why do we not see white or male workers in these same types of situations?

Given that the Triangle Factory Fire was preceded by a “great strike” by the female workers one year earlier, how successful were labor groups in improving their working conditions throughout the American Industrial Revolution? Are there more events similar to the Triangle incident that show that working conditions actually improved throughout the era?

Did the Triangle Factory Fire have any influence on Esther Peterson’s opposition to the ERA on the grounds that women needed specific rights and protections in the workplace? (Looking Forward)