Peter Losin

Class texts (available at University Book Center, Maryland Book Exchange, Borders, etc.)
  1. James Baldwin, Going to Meet the Man. New York: Vintage, 1995. Originally published 1965. ISBN 0679761799.
  2. Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act. New York: Vintage, 1995. Originally published 1964. ISBN 0679760008.
  3. Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights. Originally published 1956. ISBN 0872860175.
  4. David Halberstam, The Fifties. New York: Fawcett Books, 1993. ISBN 0449457990.
  5. Jack Kerouac, On the Road. New York: Penguin Books. Originally published 1957. ISBN 0140042598.
  6. Arthur Miller, The Crucible. New York: Penguin Books. Originally published 1953. ISBN 0140481389.
  7. Dan Wakefield, New York in the Fifties. New York: St. Martin's, 1999. Originally published 1992. ISBN 031219935X.
Class meets Thursday evenings, 6:00-8:30, in Anne Arundel 0120
January 25
Introductions, housekeeping, etc.

Film: Great Day in Harlem (1994, directed by Jean Bach)
February 1
Stage Setting, Part 1: The staid, conservative 1950s.

Reading: Wakefield, Introduction (pp. 1-9); Halberstam, chapters 1-22 (pp. 3-307). This is a lot of reading, but you have two weeks to do it.
Film: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956, directed by Nunnally Johnson). [Prompts].
February 8
Stage Setting, Part 2: Overview of the 1950s.

Reading: Wakefield, Introduction; Halberstam, chapters 1-22 (pp. 3-307).
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit essay due.
February 15
The Red Scare and its Effects.

Reading: Arthur Miller, The Crucible; Halberstam, chapters 1 and 3 (pp. 3-19, 49-61); Wakefield, Chapter 9 ("From Joe McCarthy to Jean-Paul Sartre"), pp. 244-74.
February 22
Science and the Popular Imagination in the 1950s.

Film: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, directed by Robert Wise) [Prompts].
March 1
The Bomb, the Cold War, and Technology in the 1950s.

Reading: Halberstam, Chapters 2, 6, 24, and 41 (pp. 20-48, 87-100, 330-58, 607-28).
Video: "The Shelter" (1961), from The Twilight Zone.
The Day the Earth Stood Still essay due.
March 8
Hollywood and the Ethos of the 1950s.

Reading: Halberstam, chapters 19-21, 37 (pp. 254-94, 563-76).
Film: The Seven Year Itch (1955, directed by Billy Wilder) [Prompts].
March 15
New York, Jazz, and Drugs.

Reading: Wakefield, Chapter 5 ("In Spanish Harlem"), pp. 91-115; Chapter 11 ("Graduating to the Five Spot"), pp. 298-318.
Music and Video: Selections by Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and others.
The Seven Year Itch essay due.
March 22
No Class -- Spring Break.
March 29
New York, Jazz, and Race.

Reading: James Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues" and "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon" (pp. 101-93 in Going to Meet the Man); Wakefield, Chapter 7 ("Home to the Village"), pp. 116-59).
April 5
Jazz and Culture in the 1950s.

Reading: Ralph Ellison essays (in Shadow and Act): "Living with Music" (187-98), "The Golden Age, Time Past" (199-212), "On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz" (221-32), "The Charlie Christian Story" (233-40), "Remembering Jimmy" (241-46), "Blues People" (247-58).
Music and Video: Jimmy Rushing, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and others.
April 12
Growing Up in the 1950s.

Reading: Halberstam, Chapters 31-34, 37, 42-43 (pp. 456-520, 564-76, 629-66); Wakefield, Chapter 8 ("Roses, Dreams, and Diaphragms"), pp. 195-243.
Film: Rebel Without a Cause (1955, directed by Nicholas Ray). [Prompts]
April 19
The Beat Movement, Part 1.

Reading: Allen Ginsberg poems (from Howl and Other Poems): "Howl" (9-28), "America" (39-43), others; Wakefield, Chapter 2 ("Lions and Cubs in Morningside Heights"), pp. 24-47.
Video: Ginsberg interview, reading from "Howl" and other poems.
Rebel Without a Cause essay due.
April 26
The Beat Movement, Part 2.

Reading: Jack Kerouac, On the Road; Wakefield, Chapter 7 ("What Rough Beats?"), pp. 160-94.
May 3
Race and Civil Rights: Beginnings in the 1950s.

Reading: Halberstam, Chapters 28-30, 36, 44 (pp. 411-55, 539-63, 667-98).
May 10
Race and Civil Rights, Part 2.

Reading: Irving Howe, "Black Boys and Native Sons" (handout); Ralph Ellison essays (all in Shadow and Act): "That Same Pain, That Same Pleasure" (pp. 3-23); "Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity" (24-44); "The World and the Jug" (107-143); "The Art of Fiction" (167-83).
May 17
Final Exam (probably take-home).

Questions will be distributed several weeks before May 17.

Policies, Requirements, Expectations, etc.

Because of the small size of the class and the infrequency of class meetings, your attendance is very important. In addition, this is a seminar: your participation is essential to the success of the course. So we expect substantial and well-informed participation from each member of the class. Your attendance and participation (in class and online) will count as 15% of your grade for the course.

A word about cell phones, blackberries, and related technologies. Turn them off when you come to class, and leave them off unless you're on a break. These devices are distracting to us and to those around you, and they interfere with the class. This should not need saying, but in the past few semesters there have been students who needed to be told that it was not appropriate for them to be texting or reading e-mail in class.

There is an e-mail reflector for HONR 269J to facilitate class participation, and we'll use it throughout the semester. The address is

Send a message to that address and it will go to everyone in the class. I'll use the reflector to disseminate course materials, but also to promote ongoing discussion of issues raised in class. I'll periodically post questions or topics for discussion to the reflector, and your contributions will be taken into account as part of your class attendance and participation grade.

One of our windows on the 1950s is film, and we'll be watching and talking about four commercially successful films in the course. You'll be asked to write a short review essay (2-3 pages) on each film we watch. Before each film, I'll give you a couple questions about it; after you've watched it and we've discussed it in class, you'll write a short essay on one of the prompts. Each of these essays will be worth 10% of your grade for the course. The prompts will allow you to analyze the film and connect it to issues raised in the readings.

You must write essays on three of the films we watch during the course, but you may write on all four, in which case I'll use only the three best of your grades in figuring your final grade for the course.

I'll return your essays the following week. Since the class is scheduled to meet only once a week, and since our schedule demands that we move quickly through our texts and authors, no late film reviews will be accepted. Feel free to send your essays to me by e-mail to save the hassle of printing it.

There will be a cumulative final exam, to be taken during the scheduled final exam period (6:00-8:30pm, May 17). If the class prefers, we can make it a take-home exam to be turned in at that time. The questions will ask you to draw together what you've learned and to address some large questions about America in the 1950s. The questions will be handed out well in advance of the 17th, and you'll be allowed to use books and notes during the exam. The exam will be worth 25% of your grade for the course.

In addition to the short essays and the exam, everyone will complete a substantial term paper (12-15 pp.). The idea is to allow you to explore one of the many aspects of the 1950s that we can't highlight this semester. I can't predict your own special interests and areas of expertise, but I want to allow those of you who have such interests to explore them. Some papers from previous semesters are available elsewhere on the course website: see the Student Projects page.

Your project must be firmly anchored in the 1950s, so I'm expecting all of you to spend some time in the archives -- perhaps in the McKeldin or Hornbake Library, but not necessarily there. To get you started, after you've read the first big chunk of David Halberstam's The Fifties, I'd like you to choose some event, person, or issue that you're interested in and find at least TWO contemporary articles, reviews, essays, etc. about your subject. Then you'll write a short (2-3 pp.) essay describing your sources and putting them in context. This work will serve as the basis for your class project. Here are a couple examples to show what we have in mind.

Suppose Halberstam piques your interest in the 1954 security clearance hearings of physicist Robert Oppenheimer. You might go to the stacks in McKeldin library and find articles about the hearings in Time magazine or the New York Times; or you might find a copy of the Atomic Energy Commissions's Findings and Recommendations, published in May 1954 after the hearings concluded; or you might look for journalistic responses to the hearings, e.g. Joseph and Stewart Alsop's We Accuse!: The Story of the Miscarriage of American Justice in the Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer, published in 1954. You don't have to pick the perfect sources at this point -- what matters is that they are contemporary with the subject you've chosen. Then in your essay you might try to answer questions like: Why did you chose these sources? How do they describe your subject? Do they purport to be objective? Are they polemical? Did they provoke a response?

Or suppose, after reading Halberstam, you're intrigued by William Levitt's large-scale housing project, Levittown. You could find articles about Levitt in magazines like Fortune or Harper's, or look for ads for Levitt houses in contemporary newspapers. As Halberstam points out, Levitt's housing projects were controversial, so you might try to find essays by some of his contemporary critics (Lewis Mumford, e.g.). Then in your essay you could begin to articulate the reasons for Levitt's popularity, the sorts of criticisms he received, and so on. Again, the important thing is that your sources are from the 1950s -- you're not just looking at Levittown, but you're looking at it from the contemporary perspective.

These short preliminary-essays-on-sources are due on February 22. It's important to find a project topic early in the course, so that you can refine and focus your topic and have enough time during the semester to do it justice. I will work with you to help you find a manageable topic. The absolute last day you may turn in your paper is May 17 (the scheduled date for our final exam), but I strongly encourage you not to wait until then. I'm happy to read and comment on a preliminary draft if you have one earlier in the semester. You can then revise your paper in advance of turning it in for a final grade. This project will be worth 30% of your course grade.

Whether it's a short film review or a semester project, it's important to proofread your papers for mistakes of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. These are very distracting, and it's very hard to keep them from interfering with the judgment of the overall merits of what you're trying to say. How you say what you say matters. How you spell what you say matters, too. In this era of spell-checking and grammar-checking word processors, these sorts of mistakes are pretty close to inexcusable.

Your papers should be your own work and your own words. If you owe any of the ideas you incorporate in your papers to something you read, be sure to indicate this. If you quote someone's words or ideas, indent the quotation or put it in quotation marks, and in either case indicate the source. Not to do these things constitutes plagiarism. The consequences of plagiarism can be serious.

Finally, I recommend that you keep a copy of the work you turn in, since papers sometimes get lost.

Since I'm just an adjunct member of the faculty and don't reside on or near campus, I don't have scheduled office hours. But I'm available either before or after class meetings, and can always be reached by e-mail.

All University of Maryland Honors syllabi are required to include information about Academic Accommodations, Religious Observances, and Academic Integrity. That information is available here.

So here's how your course grade will be figured:

Assignment Due Date(s) Weight
Short Film Essays (best 3 of 4) Feb 8; Mar 1; Mar 15, Apr 19 10% each
Class Project Feb 22; May 17 30%
Final Exam May 17 25%
Attendance/Participation Ongoing 15%