The Beat Begins: America in the 1950s

For about ten years, my friend Michael Hall and I taught this course in the Honors College at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The seminar on America in the 1950s covered the period from the end of World War II until the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. We looked at the fifties from a variety of angles -- we read and discussed a novel (Jack Kerouac's On the Road); several short stories (James Baldwin's collection Going to Meet the Man); several essays (by Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Irving Howe, and others); a play (Arthur Miller's The Crucible); several poems (by Allen Ginsberg and others); as well as two substantial books about American culture in the 1950s (David Halberstam's The Fifties and Dan Wakefield's New York in the Fifties). We watched and discussed four classic movies -- The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Seven Year Itch, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Rebel Without a Cause -- and a few episodes of 1950s television (The Twilight Zone, e.g.). We listened to and talked about a lot of great music. And we examined the early years of many things we now take for granted and probably cannot imagine living without (television, fast food, advertising, and a national obsession with "homeland security").

This website contains most of the materials used in the course: selected bibliographies; some supplementary materials covering some of the events and issues we discussed; and a substantial list of links to remote websites relevant to the course; and links to a bunch of student projects from previous semesters. If you're curious, you can read the longer description that appeared in the Honors College course booklet.


Syllabus (Spring 2007)
Class schedule, course requirements, links to paper assignments, etc.

Class projects (1997-2007)
Student projects from previous offerings of the course.

Supplementary readings
Additional (mostly short) pertinent readings.

Online resources
Some 1950s web resources, organized by subject matter.

Bibliography: The 1950s
A short list of general histories of the postwar period.

Bibliography: The atomic bomb
Books and articles about the Atomic Bomb and related issues.

Bibliography: The cold war
Books and articles about the Cold War years.

Bibliography: The Beats
Books and articles about the Beats and their work.

Bibliography: 1950s jazz
Books and articles about the jazz scene in the 1950s.

Filmography: Movies of the fifties
A selected list of American movies and directors from 1946 to 1964.


Caveat lector: This course is no longer taught, consequently the bibilographies have not been kept up to date.