The Age of Irony: U.S. History in the 20th Century

Fall 2018, Winter 2019, and Spring 2019 quarters

Taught by

English literature
labor studies/history, industrial relations

Irony describes the emotion, whatever it is, occasioned by perceiving some great gulf, half-comic, half-tragic, between what one expects and what one finds . Paul Fussell, My War: How I got irony in the infantry

We will frame this study of 20th Century American history and literature by looking at the ways that the U.S. emerged as a global power, beginning with the Spanish American War in 1898. Has our democracy been in tension with increasing American hegemony over the past 120 years? The “Great War,” World War I, was called “the war to end all wars.” The irony is evident in the naming. The whole century presented a “great gulf” between what Americans expected at the beginning of the century and the reality that we found by century's end. We will examine the pivotal roles of wars and social movements as shapers of American life and thought, especially the development of our sense of irony as reflected in politics and culture. The historical context will inform our understanding of American cultural experience.

We will think historically about a variety of topics and learn to do history by practicing historical research, analysis, and interpretation, culminating in students' own projects. Students will write articles based on their research and will publish them in a program web-zine. 

Our reading will include, among many other texts, Paul Fussell’s Wartime , Akira Iriye’s The Globalizing of America, 1913–1945 , Alan Dawley’s Changing the World , bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: from Margin toCenter . During spring quarter’s exploration of American culture, we will read classic American novels whose authors see the U.S. through an ironic lens—Sinclair Lewis’s Babbit , James Baldwin’s Another Country , and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, among others.

This is an all-level program, ideal for returning and transfer students, especially those pursuing the Upside Down program. It is a broad liberal arts program designed for students who want to improve their historical knowledge, research skills, and (multi)cultural literacy.

Anticipated credit equivalencies include American history, American literature, cultural studies, and research and writing.

Program Details

Fields of Study

american studies history literature

Preparatory For

teaching, public policy and administration, and advanced studies in humanities.


Fall Open Winter Open Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

Wednesdays, 6-9:30 and five Saturdays per quarter, 9-5, plus 4 hours online weekly

Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning 25 - 49% Delivered Online


$15 fee per quarter for entrance fees.