HIS311: Problems in American History

Spring 2002

MWF 12:30-1:20; SB206

Final Exam: Friday May 10 8:30-10:30am

Dr. Gayle V. Fischer

Office: SB 109B

Office Hours:



January 15, 2002


Dear Class,


Welcome to HIS 311: Problems in American History: History of Sexuality. In the late 1970s, American historians began to explore the notion that sexuality was not an unchanging biological reality or a universal, natural force, but was, rather, a product of political, social, economic, and cultural processes. Sexuality, that is, had a history. The primary concern of this class is sexuality in the United States and the history of the country's obsession with sex. Throughout the semester, we will explore the different meanings American women and men have attached to sexuality, and the changing political, economic, social, cultural, and ideological contexts in which those meanings have emerged. Our journey through the history of sexuality might differ from your previous experiences in high school and college history courses. With a little trust and effort on your part, I’m hopeful that you will enjoy the voyage and learn some history along the way.


I will begin by introducing myself. I’m Gayle V. Fischer and you may call me Gayle, Dr. Fischer, or Professor Fischer—I have no preference. However, you may not call me Mrs. Fischer. My undergraduate degree is from the University of Texas at Austin; I majored in Drama. My Ph.D. in US History is from Indiana University. My book, Pantaloons and Power, was published in spring 2001. In addition to being an historian and a professor, I am a wife and the mother of two boys. I am hearing impaired. Because of this impairment I wear two hearing aids. However, I also need you to speak clearly in class, perhaps a hair louder than your usual volume, and please do not cover your mouth when you speak. I’ve learned to live with this impairment but it can still embarrass me. The most embarrassing thing is when I think I’ve heard someone say something that they didn’t say and I start talking and everyone around me is clueless about what I am talking about. If you find that I’m going off in some weird direction please let me know, chances are I misunderstood something someone said. It is more embarrassing for me to keep talking than to have you correct me. Please be patient if I ask you to repeat yourself two, three, even four times—some days it is harder to hear than others. Over the course of the semester, I will not conceal my political views from you—including my detestation of war and militarism, racial and sexual inequality, the unfair distribution of the world’s wealth. However, I will attempt to be fair to other points of view and I strongly encourage you to disagree with me. I don’t expect my views to be your views but I want us both to think about why we hold the views we do. That is probably enough information for now since this letter is about our class, not about me.


The preceding two paragraphs should have clued you in, but if you haven’t figured it out yet, let me tell you that this class is different. It is different in a number of ways. First, the topic of the class—sexuality—is not a topic generally found in mainstream history classes.


Second, the choice of readings for the class; we will be reading both primary and secondary sources. The readings are: Kathy Peiss, Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality; Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, Gloria Jacobs, Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex; Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues; Beth L. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America; Patricia Foster, ed., Minding the Body. I know that this seems like a lot of reading but most of these books are quite short, interesting, and fairly quick reads. The books are available at the SSC bookstore, from your favorite bookstore, and from your favorite online bookstore. You may want to see if the titles are available through your local library—a cost-saving measure.


Third, we will be writing letters to one another. I’m always looking for new ideas to try in the classroom and an article by Toby Fulwiler, “Writing Back and Forth,” intrigued me so much that I just had to give it a try. I tried it in my HIS 204 Fall 2001 with great success. Essentially the exercise requires weekly letters—you write to me, I write back to you. I’ll have more details and the logistics later in this letter. I had thought about having the class produce zines on a regular basis. I consulted with several people in zine culture and they did not think the assignment would work since an essential ingredient to successful zines is passion and there is no way for me to insist that you be passionate. So weekly letters it is.


Fourth, the creative presentation. More details and the logistics later in this letter.


Fifth, attendance and participation are extremely important in this class. In fact, it is critical that you attend classes if you wish to earn a decent grade.


Finally, you will notice that there is only one exam—the final exam.



If you are like most of the students in my classes, one of your first concerns is “how will I be graded?” Well, quite simply 20% of your grade is based on attendance and participation, 20% of your grade is based on the weekly letters you submit, 30% of your grade is based on “History 311: A Reflection” essay, and 30% is based on the creative presentation and the final exam.


Let me explain each of the grading criteria in the order that I presented them above. Attendance and participation seem self-explanatory but there are a few fine points that I want to point out. I don’t just want your body in my classroom I want your mind there as well. That means for the fifty minutes that we’re together put aside thoughts of lunch, the babysitter, the boyfriend or girlfriend and think about the reading you’ve done and what your classmates are saying. In order to participate you must do the reading—most of our class sessions will be oriented around discussing the reading, if you haven’t done the reading, you can’t participate, and if you can’t participate, you earn a less than decent grade. It goes without saying that you can’t participate if you are not in class—so Attend. There are some factors that will result in the lowering of your participation grade, they are: coming to class late, leaving class early, talking while I am talking, passing notes, and being disruptive. I know this sounds picky but trust me, these things make for a disagreeable classroom atmosphere and really irritate me. For a detailed list see the attached “Participation and Attendance Grading Guidelines.”


Now for the weekly letters. Each week I invite you to write a letter to me about ideas related to our readings and class discussions. Make your letter honest, lively, and personal, while still addressing matters of intellectual and emotional concern to the history of sexuality. Twice you will include your classmates as your audience—you are responsible for making copies for the entire class (The first letter must be distributed by March 8; the second letter must be distributed by April 26). I will write a letter back to all of you (the whole class) each week, distributing it on Friday so that you will have read it by Monday. In this letter I will address some, but not all of the concerns you raise collectively in your letters to me. (In fact, I have written this syllabus as a letter to suggest a possible model for style and form—obviously given all the information that I have to impart to you this is a rather long letter, yours do not have to be this long.) The weekly letters are examples of “good-enough writing,” that is these letters are one-draft writings that make a good enough case and don’t need to be revised, edited, and worried to death. By now you are all wondering, “how is she going to count these letters?” I expect a letter each week (unless the syllabus indicates otherwise); but it’s the doing of them that counts, not their conventions, content, form, or style. Exactly what and how you write are your business that you write is mine. But, believe me, your reactions to the readings, class discussion, movie projects, as well as anything else related to the course helps me teach better. The only requirement in addition to writing the letters is that you submit a typewritten/word-processed letter every Monday (an occasional Wednesday) on paper. My experience is that e-mail letters differ greatly from paper letters and I want the letters for this class to be paper letters. Letters MUST be submitted the week that they are due; the letter due week 6 cannot be turned in week 9 and still receive credit. I will NOT return your letters to you; you MUST keep a copy of the letters you write or you will not be able to complete the “History 311: A Reflection” essay.


More on weekly letters: The letters I received last semester ran the gamut from awesome to disappointing. Students noticed this disparity in the letters their classmates distributed to the class. It worried some that awesome letters counted as much as poor quality letters and suggested grading letters to give those who took the assignment more seriously more credit. However, grading the letters undermines the point of the letters. For those of you who take the letter-writing assignment seriously take heart: poor quality letters produced poor quality final essays that in turn earned poor grades.


A further guide: you might consider these questions as you read and incorporating them into your letters:

1)   What is the major argument of each reading? How does the author support that argument?

2)   Does one reading help you understand another reading better? How?

3)   What are the contradictions or points of tension between the various readings? Can you explain these contradictions? (Mark passages that seem to be contradicting other passages.)

4)   Are there passages that are particularly interesting to you? Are there passages that are confusing or that you think require more explanation? What are they? (Mark them so you can find them in class.)

5)   How familiar or foreign does the world the readings describe seem to you?

6)   What additional questions do the readings raise for you?

7)   What would you like to talk about in the class discussion?


One more thing about weekly letters: I am trying to figure out a way to incorporate effectively the letters into class discussion. If any of you have any suggestions please suggest.  


Thirty percent of your final grade is based on “History 311: A Reflection” essay. In the “History 311: A Reflection” essay I expect to see more focused, deliberate, and crafted writing examining themes, patterns, and concerns of a semester’s worth of correspondence. For this assignment, re-read all of your letters, your classmates’ letters, and my letters, review your class and reading notes, look for recurring themes, patterns, and concerns. “History 311: A Reflection” reflects on what you have learned over the course of the semester using the various class letters as primary sources. You must quote and cite letters in your essay. Conventions, content, form, and style “count” in this assignment; see separate grading rubric You may turn in two or three pages of a draft of the essay on April 12 or before. I will not grade the draft but I will make comments that should help you improve the essay. “History 311: A Reflection” is due the last day of class, May 1, 2002.


The remaining thirty percent of your grade is based on the creative presentation and the final exam.

The final exam is scheduled for Friday, May 10, 2002, 8:30-10:30 am. The final exam question will be distributed on the last day of class and we will meet during our designated exam period to discuss your answers. If you have taken class from me before or have talked to others who have taken classes from me then you know I hate exams. However, I have come up with a really great final exam that will be interesting for me to read and for you to write—trust me. As long as you keep up with the class, the exam will not present any problems for you and you may even enjoy it.


The creative presentation assignment can be done alone or in groups (no more than three members to a group).

The format: The presentations will be 10-20 minutes in length--the number of presentations will determine length. The presentations can be in any format you desire--lectures, power point presentations, creating a web page and showing it to the class, putting on a "play," you are limited only by your imagination and the requirement that the class must learn something from your presentation. If you need special equipment for your presentation, give me enough advance notice so that I can have it available.

The topic: Feb. 22--Creative Presentation Topic DUE: Briefly record the topic you are researching, list members of the group if it is a group project, include any ideas about the form the presentation might take. The topic of the presentations is entirely up to you. Choose a topic that interests you. The only restrictions on the topics are that they must be historical and they must deal with sex and the United States. Some ideas: Condom advertisements; Christian sex manuals; Gay coming-out stories; Harlequin romance novels; Advice to teens on dating; Sex in music lyrics; Sex laws; Pornography; Erotica; The mainstreaming of S&M; Ethnicity and sex; Fetishism; Prostitution and the military.

Primary sources: The presentations must be based on primary sources only--a MINIMUM of five primary sources (per person for a group project) must be used. Primary sources are documents from the time being studied. Books, newspaper articles, magazines, clothing, furniture, letters, diary entries, movies, speeches or photographs can all be primary sources. The “Documents” sections of Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality are examples of primary sources.

The paper: There is no paper required for the creative presentations. However, you must turn in an annotated bibliography of your primary sources (one annotated bibliography for group projects). An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited. An annotated and evaluative bibliography means that you will list not just "bibliographic information," (author, title, source, publisher, date etc. or url), but also write a short summary (about 100-150 words) about the book or article and what is covered as well as an evaluation of the quality of the source.

The deadline: Creative Presentations will be staggered throughout the semester. We will draw dates to determine the time you are to present.


State law requires that I include the equal access statement in my syllabus: "Salem State College is committed to providing equal access to the educational experience for all students in compliance with Section 504 of  The Rehabilitation Act and The Americans with Disabilities Act and to providing all reasonable academic accommodations, aids and adjustments.  Any student who has a documented disability requiring an accommodation, aid or adjustment should speak with the instructor immediately.  Students with Disabilities who have not previously done so should provide documentation to and schedule an appointment with the Office for Students with Disabilities and obtain appropriate services."



Rather than placing our course schedule in paragraph form for convenience’s sake I have listed the assignments below. All assigned reading should be completed by Monday, unless otherwise stated. One additional note, you’ll notice that we breeze through the first three centuries of US history in a few weeks. I made this decision deliberately. I teach numerous surveys, classes in which I have to cover several centuries in fifteen weeks. This semester, I wanted at least one class in which I could meander through a century at a more leisurely pace and this is that class. Most of our classes, readings, and films will focus on the twentieth century and I make no apologies for making this decision. If you wish to learn more about the earlier centuries, I encourage you to focus your creative projects on that time period. Now on to the course schedule:


Week 1: January 14/16/18: Introduction & write first letter to Gayle

          Creative Presentation assignments distributed

          Read: Chapter 1 in Peiss, Major Problems be prepared to discuss the chapter on Friday


Week 2: January 23/25: Sexual Cultures and Encounters in the New World

No Class Monday January 21

Read: Chapter 2 in Peiss, Major Problems

Don’t forget to give Gayle letter #2 on Wednesday


Week 3: January 28/30; February 1: Regulating Sexuality in the Anglo-American Colonies

Read: Chapter 3 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #3 due on Wednesday

January 28—Library Research Day—begin researching creative presentation topics


Week 4: February 4/6/8:Love and Intimacy in Nineteenth-Century America

          Read: Chapter 6 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #4 due on Monday February 6

Friday February 8 Library Research Day—research creative presentation topics


Week 5: February 11/13/15: Prostitution and Working-Class Sexuality in the Early 20th Century

Read: Chapter 8 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #5 due on Monday

Have you written a letter to your classmates yet? Don’t put it off too long.


Week 6: February 18/20/22: Courting

Read: Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat—ALL including the introduction—discussion will begin on Friday

February 18: Holiday—No Class

February 20: Library Research Day—research creative presentation topics

February 22: Hand in Creative Presentation Topic paper.


Week 7: February 25/27 and March 1: Courting

Continue discussion of Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat

Letter #6 due on Monday


Week 8: March 4/6/8: The Politics of Reproduction

Read: Read: Chapter 9 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #7 due on Monday

Midterm attendance/participation forms/grades distributed

If you have not turned in your first letter to the class you MUST do so this week or you will NOT get full credit for the letter writing exercise


Spring Break March 11/13/15


Week 9: March 18/20/22: Heterosexual Norms and Homosexual Identities

Read: Read: Chapter 10 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #8 due on Monday

March 22: Creative Presentations


Week 10: March 25/27/29: Sexual Revolution(s)

Read: Read: Chapter 12 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #9 due on Monday (include comments on creative presentations in your letter)

Have you written a second letter to your classmates yet? Don’t put it off too long.

March 29: Creative Presentations


Week 11: April 1/3/5: Sexual Revolution(s)

Read: Ehrenreich, Hess, Jacobs, Re-Making Love--ALL

Letter #10 due on Monday (include comments on creative presentations in your letter)

April 5: Creative Presentations


Week 12: April 8/10/12: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Read: Read: Chapter 13 in Peiss, Major Problems

Letter #11 due on Monday (include comments on creative presentations in your letter)

Optional: You may turn in 2 or 3 pages of a draft of “History 311: A Reflection.”

April 12: Creative Presentations


Week 13: April 15/17/19: Women’s Bodies

          April 15/Patriots Day/No Class

Read: Foster, ed., Minding the Body--All

Letter #12 due on Wednesday (include comments on creative presentations in your letter)

Have you written a second letter to your classmates yet? The semester is almost over.

April 19: Creative Presentations


Week 14: April 22/24/26: Women’s Bodies continued

Read: Foster, ed., Minding the Body; Ensler, The Vagina Monologues--All

Letter #13 due on Monday (include comments on creative presentations in your letter)

If you have not turned in your second letter to the class you MUST do so this week or you will NOT get full credit for the letter writing exercise

April 26: Creative Presentations


Week 15: April 29/May 1: Wrapping Up Loose Ends

April 29: TBA

“History 311: A Reflection” DUE May 1

Final Exam question distributed May 1


Final Exam: Friday May 10 8:30-10:30am


As you can see, we have a full schedule for this semester.







Participation and Attendance Grading Guidelines


Much of the work we do in the classroom in History 311 depends upon you and your active participation. You must:


1.    Be prepared for class


2.    Be on time for class


3.    Contribute to a positive atmosphere in the classroom by including and working with others and encouraging open discussion


4.    Participate actively in class discussions by asking relevant questions, sharing personal experiences, and listening to the viewpoints of others


5.    Help maintain the focus of the class and group focus


6.    Demonstrate an understanding of course information


7.    Take risks in presenting personal opinions, original ideas, and asking questions


8.    Go beyond the minimum requirements for assignments


9.    Maintain a usable notebook containing assignments, due dates, relevant class information, etc.


10.                       Accept and give constructive criticism


11.                       Demonstrate a respect for the physical environment of the classroom


12.                       Attempt to grow personally by demonstrating academic growth based on class learning activities


13.                       Take personal responsibility for absenteeism—anticipating problems, making up work, etc.


14.                       Attend and actively participate with thoughtful questions when classmates present their creative projects


          Grading:     Proficiency in all….A 

                             Proficiency in eleven….B    

                               Proficiency in nine….C

                             Proficiency in seven….D


Creative Presentation Evaluation


Student Name: _________________________________________________


Topic:  ____________________________________________________________


Date:    ____________________________________________________________



Annotated Bibliography

1. Used Primary Sources                          Yes             No


2. Number of Primary Sources:               15+            15-10                   10-5           1-5   


3. Annotation:                                  Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor



4. Correct Citation format:                      Yes             Somewhat           Not at all


5. Information Accurate                  Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor


Creative Presentation

6.Topic Relevance to

the History of Sexuality:       Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor


7. Ancillary Materials:           Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor

          (visuals, other)


8. Format:                              Lecture       Web page   Play            Other: ______


9. Stimulates Class Response:        Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor


10. Displays originality                   Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor

and creativity


11. Observed assignment specifications Yes             Somewhat           Not at all

          (ie., stayed within time allotted)


12. Overall Organization:               Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor


13. Overall quality of presentation Excellent    Very good  Adequate     Weak        Poor


14. Prepared to present                             Yes             No


Additional Comments:


January 15, 2002


Dear Gayle,


“I, ______________________________(your name), give you permission to use my name and to quote me in the letters you write to the class.  When I write passages too private for publication I will write “not available for publication” and make it clear which passages are not available for publication.


Introduce yourself in the space below and please comment on why you are taking the history of sexuality.