This is the syllabus for an upcoming course being taught at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UM (MOLLI) January 15 through February 19, 2019 titled “The Economic Interpretation of History and Understanding American Politics Today”.
With the publication in 1913 of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles Austin Beard (1874-1948) became one of the most famous, influential, and controversial historians in America. The enormous success of this book initiated a trend that for two generations became dominant in the way American history was written and taught. The thirty-seven books that he wrote during his legendary career—some of them with his historian-wife, Mary Ritter Beard—sold in the millions of copies. He was esteemed and reviled for arguing that from the country’s very beginnings and at every turning point in its history, including the Second World War and the aborning Cold War, American politics had to be understood mainly through the motives and world view of economic elites. The purpose of the course is two-fold: to analyze the origins and development of the economic interpretation of history for which “Beardianism” became a synonym in American historiography; and to determine the extent to which Beard’s still controversial ideas illuminate the American politics of today, including the country’s foreign policy and wars.
Lectures and Readings
Week 1 15 January Introduction: The Beard Phenomenon Begins
Recommended Reading: Charles Austin Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States
Week 2 22 January An Economic Interpretation of World War I
Recommended Reading: Charles Austin Beard and Mary Ritter Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (selections)
Week 3 29 January The 1930s: The Golden Age of the Economic Interpretation of History
Recommended Reading: Charles Austin Beard and Mary Ritter Be Charles Beard, America in Midpassage (selections)
Week 4 5 February An Economic Interpretation of the Second World War
Recommended Reading: Charles Austin Beard, Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels
Week 5 12 February The Economic Interpretation of History Under Attack
Recommended Reading: Charles Austin Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: A Study in Appearances and Realities (1948)
Week 6 19 February The Economic Interpretation of History as a Way of Understanding American Politics Today
Recommended Reading: Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945; William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy
Recommended Readings will be available on the Reserve Shelf of the Mansfield Library.