Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
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Welcome to the Jungle: America after Vietnam

     Historians are uncomfortable with the study of recent history; to them it is current events. As a U.S. History teacher, to ignore the last thirty years is to leave my students unprepared to deal with their complex and challenging world. Last year we took on the 1960s, a era of facination to young people. The images, music, violence, passion, extremes of dress, polarization of ideas, the iconic personalities, and the stories told by their baby boomer parents fueled an interest in the era. For this year we have logically chosen to follow up with a topic that is less clear in their minds, the seventies to the nineties.

     Television and movies have helped to encapsulate some of this era for my students. The seventies have become the disco era, a time of John Travolta, extreme polyester clothing, and words like groovy. The eighties have been imortalized as an era of synthesizer pop, big hair, and bright colors. By the ninties, an era of their own youth, the images are less clearly set although it is likely that in their minds everyone was wearing a mullet hairstyle. If recent history has less iconic imagery and has not yet been compartmentalized by historians, it nevertheless speaks more importantly to this generation than the sixties or any earlier era.

     Recent American history is a new world, a jungle if you will, which has cast aside much of what had defined the twentieth century. The end of the Vietnam War and the shocking end to the Cold War have left us searching for a new definition for our role on the world stage. The rise of the Pacific rim and the Middle East have brought consternation and a reorietation of our more familiar eurocentric world. Domestically the post-Watergate era has led to a dramatic swing both to conservative politics and to a reversal of the century long commitment to government activism. We have sought to redefine our image in terms of diversity, that once meant Anglo-Saxons versus Italians, Protestants versus Catholics, and blacks and whites, now refers to Asians, Latinos, Middle Easterners, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, gay, straight, male and female. Finally the world of today is a world of interdependence economically and interconnectedness technologically that could not even be imagined thirty years ago. It is our quest in this book to explore, or at least hack through, this new world by taking a look at recent scholarship.

     Led by a dedicated group of seven editors, we divided the period stretching from the administration of Gerald Ford to the end of the Clinton presidency. Major themes were selected and the students of my two A.P.U.S. History classes were allowed to choose a topic then seek a contemporary historical work on that subject. After reading the book, they would write an eight page analysis of the work that would follow a particular pattern : introduction, summary, analysis (of thesis, historiography, and would include professional criticism), and finally a set of common questions. The consistency of structure is intended to create a sense of continuity to a book containing such a diversity of topics. I am amazed at the enthusiasm and dedication of both my student writers and my extraordinary group of editors. Led by their fearless leader Stephanie Spencer, my staff has organized the entire project, read and edited at least twice every paper, encouraged every author, designed every page and selected every picture or illustration in this book. I am astounded by and grateful for their countless hours of dedication to this project


Steve Sewell
Irvine High School, 2007

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