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The University of Southampton

HIST2222 Ragtime! The Making of Modern America

Module Overview

For the United States, the turn of the twentieth century was a turbulent, transformative time: an age of embattled political parties and insurgent Populists, mass immigration and overseas war, millionaire capitalists and impoverished farmers, all set to the ragged rhythms of African-American popular music (otherwise known as Ragtime). If this sounds familiar, it is because it is: the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries set the template for American life as we know it. The turn of the century witnessed the rebirth of a nation devastated by bloody civil war. In this module, we will look at some of the most important issues of the day, including the wars waged against guerrilla fighters in the Philippines and American Indians in the West, the fight for women’s rights and the campaign for prohibition, the rise of populist politics, the growth of mass consumerism, the segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South, and the emergence of black ghettoes in the North. Proceeding thematically, rather than chronologically, the module looks at the period 1877 to 1920 from a number of different angles, considering the ways in which ideas of class, gender, and race helped to shape the rebuilding of the United States. Throughout, we will examine the impact of this process of national reconstruction upon American life and thought. Americans were troubled and excited in equal measure as small towns, Victorian values, and comforting familiarity gave way to big cities, political radicalism, and the fevered squall of the jazz trumpet.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The key primary sources which permit an understanding of the topic
  • The difference between consensus and conflict-oriented approaches to the study of history
  • The impact of industrialisation and urbanisation on American politics and thought
  • The impact of the Progressive Era on the twentieth century
  • Comment fluently on complex historical and theoretical debates, with appropriate use of evidence and terminology in argumentation.
  • Undertake rigorous comparative analyses.
  • Draw upon your acquired knowledge in seminar debates as well as the module’s essay and timed examination
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time on complex tasks
  • Display effective time management
  • Interact purposefully, productively and confidently with both your tutor and peers
  • Make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • Write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • Read and summarize complex material
  • Write in a mature and sophisticated style, with graduate-level prose and presentation
  • Apply the skills acquired during the module to problem-solving and policy making
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Collect, analyse, synthesize and interpret a wealth of data along with primary and secondary textual sources
  • Comment fluently on complex historical and theoretical debates, with appropriate use of evidence and terminology in argumentation
  • Demonstrate a range as well as a depth of knowledge and insight about non-Western cultures and societies in relation to large-scale historical processes
  • Exhibit an understanding of the differences between national, transnational, international and global fields of analysis
  • Show mindfulness of intercultural and philosophical differences about what constitute better or worse outcomes in history
  • Undertake comparative and counterfactual analyses with rigor
  • Draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays, role play and under timed conditions


Examples of the topics that will be explored include: • The first US ‘empire’: the Cuban-American and Philippine-American wars and the question of territorial expansion • The Indian Wars and life on the Reservations • The Robber Barons and the Knights of Labor: the emergence of industrial capitalism and the Trade Union movement • Barnum’s humbug: popular culture in the progressive era • Progressive reform: temperance, immigration and assimilation • Black life in the United States: Jim Crow and the origins of the Great Migration • Women’s rights: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and the fight for suffrage • The original Populist movement and the challenge to traditional authority • The myth of the ‘Old South’ and its role in sectional reconciliation • The First World War

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • One lecture per week to provide students with an introduction to the topic • One seminar per week, during which students will have the opportunity to undertake close reading of sources • Student-led teaching through individual presentations and group discussions and debates in seminars. • One-on-one appointments to provide guidance and feedback on research and writing • Essays and timed examinations Learning activities include: • Analysis and interpretation of selected primary documents • Consideration and comprehension of seminal debates in late nineteenth and early twentieth US history • Substantial preparatory reading and personal study • Individual participation in seminars and group work on seminar themes • Intensive individual research and writing • Engagement in debate and group presentations

Completion of assessment task30
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Edward L. Ayers (1992). The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction. 

Alan Trachtenberg (1982). The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. 

Robert H. Wiebe (1980). The Search for Order, 1877-1920. 

T. J. Jackson Lears (2010). Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920. 

Matthew Frye Jacobson (2000). Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917. 

Leslie Butler (2007). Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform. 

Barbara Epstein (1981). The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism, and Temperance in Nineteenth Century America. 

Kristen L. Hoganson (2000). Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. 

Matthew Hild (2007). Greenbackers, Knights of Labor, and Populists: Farmer-Labor Insurgency in the Late Nineteenth-Century South. 

Eleanor Flexner (1959). Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. 

David J. Silbey (2008). A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. 

Vincent P. De Santis (2000). The Shaping of Modern America, 1877-1920. 

David W. Blight (2001). Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. 

Dee Brown (1970). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. 

Jean H. Baker (2006). Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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