Course: Radical West: The Culture and Politics of the American West during the Sixties and Seventies

HC 223H

Professor: Casey Shoop

What does it mean to think regionally about American culture and politics in the sixties and seventies? In this research seminar we will trace the genealogies of both the New Left and the New Right to the West Coast in the 1960s. From the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley to the rise of Reaganism in Orange County, from the Black Panthers in the East Bay to the growth of tech libertarianism in Silicon Valley, the West Coast becomes the unique site of historical conjuncture and contestation during this period. By the mid-sixties, America’s longstanding national narrative of manifest destiny in the West had produced not fulfillment but fragmentation, not a consensus view of liberalism but a profound crisis in the meaning and interpretation of that national ideology. 

We will be particularly interested in the manifold frontiers of minority activism and culture that arise in the American West during this period to contest the hegemony of the nationalist “New Frontier.” Although the course surveys a broad cultural landscape, focus will be given not only to the discrepant modes of articulation and representation by these various advocacy groups (from Black and Chicano Power on the Left to the John Birch Society on the Right), but also to the ways in which various minority discourses participate in a specifically regional critique of status quo politics and culture during the period. 

Through close attention to literary works like the radical autobiography of Angela Davis, the personal essays of Joan Didion and Maxine Hong Kingston, the postmodern novels of Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Ken Kesey (among many others), we will explore how and why the West coast becomes the site of so many disparate radical energies at the end of the sixties. 

After our class research community explores the primary and secondary documents of this “Radical West,” students will develop their own independent research projects on one of its many aspects.