Spring 2018

The History of Higher Education in the United States

Listed in: American Studies, as AMST-255  |  History, as HIST-255


Leah N. Gordon (Section 01)


(Offered as AMST-255 and HIST-255 [US])  This course explores the history of higher education in the United States from the nation’s formation to the present.  Four themes are woven thought a roughly chronological structure.  First, readings outline the competing purposes Americans envisioned for colleges and universities.  Students analyze debates between proponents of broad training in the liberal arts and supporters of more narrow occupational preparation as well as disagreements over the appropriate relationship between research and teaching.  Second, the course explores student life, institutional access, and debates over the relationship between excellence and equity.  Readings highlight patterns of exclusion based on race, class, ethnicity, religion, and gender that have marked the history of American higher education since its earliest days while also exploring the varied forces that eventually diversified student populations.  How universities served as sites where class was both produced and contested in American culture will be a particular focus of analysis.  When addressing this theme, we will consider the post-World War II democratization of American higher education, the politics of college admissions, and stratification within and between post-secondary institutions.  Third, the course raises questions about the power universities came to hold, in the half century following World War II, as centers of knowledge-making networks.  We will examine how federal and philanthropic investment altered the role of the university in the twentieth century United States and created new types of expertise while also exploring how ties between the federal government, philanthropy, and the university affected late twentieth century social thought.  Finally, the course explores universities as political sites, with a particular focus on the consequences of student activism in the 1960s and 1970s and today.  We will ask how university administrators responded to student critiques of the “multiversity”; how African American, Latino, women’s, and ethnic studies programs emerged; and how the demands of student activists altered research priorities, student life, and academic culture.    

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester.  Lewis Sebring Visiting Professor L. Gordon.

If Overenrolled: Priority to History and American Studies majors, juniors and seniors in these departments (and students interested in Education Studies).


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019