Making Sense of the Sixties: the USA 1954-1974


"The Sixties will probably be spirited, articulate, inventive, incoherent,

turbulent, with energy shooting off wildly in all directions. 

Above all, there will be a sense of motion, of leadership, and of hope."

--Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., 1960

Organised thematically and chronologically, this course examines the history of the 1960s in the United States. Several ideas shape the way we approach this historical topic.

  • The decade of the 1960s was "pivotal" for the United States, a decade when some fundamental changes occurred which marked the end of one era and the beginning of another
  • The idea of the "long sixties" is used, dating from the Civil Rights Movement’s victory with the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown Board of Education to the end of US military involvement in Vietnam and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon after the Watergate scandal by 1974
  • The era was not only an important period for political liberalism and radicalism but also for conservatism
  • The 1960s cannot be seen simply as a decade of decline, with the early "good" sixties devolving into the late "bad" sixties; this "declension model" only fits some developments during the era and misses many others
  • All of the key conflicts in American history re-emerge in the 1960s—individual versus community, state’s rights versus federal power, ideals of equality versus reality of inequalities by race, class, gender and sexuality, and the US as a peace-seeking versus warmongering nation—thus making this era one of the most significant in US history

Overall, the course aims to shed light on why the 1960s were so important in the USA and on today’s polarised scholarly—and political—debates about the larger meaning and legacy of "the sixties". 

This course is taught concurrently with HISTORY 341, and students share a lecture time. However, HISTORY 241 differs from HISTORY 341 in that students have separate tutorials and different assessment. 

 Learning Outcomes and the BA Graduate Profile

This course offers students the opportunity to develop key capabilities in the BA Graduate Profile and toward employability, including advancing disciplinary knowledge and practice in history, critical thinking, communication and engagement, and social responsibilities.  From this course, you will gain a strong understanding of the significance of social and political action to effect positive, constructive change, which will contribute to your ability to exercise rights and fulfill responsibilities as informed, ethical, and engaged citizens in Aotearoa New Zealand and the world.  Specifically:

  • Students will gain greater knowledge and understanding of the history, meaning, legacy of the ‘long 1960s’ in the USA.
  • Students will further develop the skills of the historian, including thinking historically, using and distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, and develop proficiency in writing argumentative essays.
  • Through essay research, reading, and writing, students will find, critically evaluate, and manage information.
  • Participating in the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1968 game will hone students' written and oral presentation skills, as well as ability to communicate, work, and strategise collaboratively in teams.



Coursework plus Exam

For full course information see the Digital Course Outline.

Digital Course Outlines are refreshed in November for the following year. Digital Course Outlines for courses to be offered for the first time may be published slightly later.

Availability 2024

Not offered in 2024; planned for 2025


Coordinator(s) Dr Paul Taillon
Lecturer(s) Associate Professor Jennifer Frost

Recommended Reading

Terry H. Anderson, The Sixties.


HISTORY 241: 15 points


15 points at Stage I in History and 30 points passed