HIS-371 The United States of Conspiracies

From the "Great Moon Hoax" to the grassy knoll, countless Americans have devoted their lives to the pursuit of truths that lie just outside the edge of reality. This course takes seriously what everyone else considers marginal and delusional: the content, contexts, and consequences of conspiracy theories in the United States. We will excavate the historical moments when conspiratorial thinking was most powerful, and we'll sort through the vexed relationship that conspiracy theorists have to the mainstream media and to electoral politics. Finally, we'll consider explanations of secretive power that were once viewed as conspiratorial but are now accepted as truth. Rather than framing the study of US politics as elite versus popular or Left versus Right, this course uses the lens of conspiratorial thinking to tie together landmark events in US history (abolition and the "Slave Power," the Satanic panic, the 2016 election) and key strains in American intellectual history (i.e., Richard Hofstadter's "paranoid style"). By the end of the course, students will be well-versed both in the history of conspiracy theories and equipped with the tools to confront them today.


3 credits