The University of Southampton

HIST1015 McCarthyism

Module Overview

‘I have here in my hand a list of 205 names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in that State Department.' With these words, asserting both the existence of an internal communist menace and the government failure to act against it, Senator Joseph McCarthy thrust himself into the centre of US national politics. His inquisition into communist subversives and spies lasted from 1950 to 1954. But ‘McCarthyism' as a phenomenon was more deeply-rooted, more enduring and much broader in scope than the career and campaigns of a single politician. This module explores the causes, course and effects of McCarthyism writ large, from the end of the Second World War through to the late 1950s.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• broaden and deepen your understanding of the phenomenon of McCarthyism and the various historical contexts into which it can be placed • stimulate your awareness of the diversity of approaches and source materials that can be used in the study of the past • augment and refine the range of skills you have which will be useful to you in life after university.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the historiographical controversies surrounding McCarthyism
  • the key historical forces that produced McCarthyism
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate oral communication skills at a standard appropriate for Level 1 study
  • write fluently and effectively, preparing assessed work independently
  • find, assimilate and analyse diverse and complex information
  • formulate arguments that are clearly reasoned and based on evidence
  • manage your own learning and your time effectively, meeting deadlines.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify the key characteristics of McCarthyism
  • describe and assess the various approaches taken by scholars in the study of McCarthyism, and classify the sort of source materials used in those approaches.


• Introduction • Biography: McCarthy the man • Espionage and the CPUSA • McCarthyism and the US Congress • McCarthyism and the executive branch • Anticommunism in its local contexts • The domestic Cold War • The Invasion of the Body Snatchers • Antecedents of McCarthyism: American conservatism, the Populist tradition and the Paranoid Style • What sort of Americans supported McCarthyism and why?

Special Features

Lectures will provide you with an introduction to the key approaches used by scholars in the study of McCarthyism. Seminars will allow you to explore these, and the sources on which they are based, in more depth, as well as developing your oral communication skills through class discussion. You will be given the opportunity in your essays to identify, develop and sustain an argument at length using the available evidence, in coherent prose and with close attention to the presentation of your work. The examination will test the same skills under pressure of time.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures (1 hour per week) • seminars (1 hour per week) You will be expected to discuss the issues raised by the lectures and your own reading, and to analyse primary and secondary materials in small and large groups. We will supply you with a course booklet, with a lists of seminar topics, essay questions and relevant books, articles and sources. Learning activities include • intensive reading, guided by annotated reading lists, by the lectures, and by active participation in seminars.

Independent Study125
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Ellen Schrecker. Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. 

Ellen Schrecker. The Age of McCarthyism. 

M.J. Heale. McCarthy’s Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935-1965. 

Ted Morgan. Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth Century America. 

Athan Theoharis. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counter-Intelligence but Promoted the Politics of McCarthyism in the Cold War Years. 

David Caute. The Great Fear: the Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower. 

Richard Hofstadter. The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback ? you will be given informal feedback on your oral contributions and essay planning during the course of the module ? In this option module you will be assessed informally on oral and group skills; communication skills form an important part of your learning and will be developed through interactive teaching and learning activities. ? Formal assessment of these skills will be carried out in the core modules at each level.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Examination  (1 hours) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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