Reflection on historical scholarship … Daniel Lucks on the Cold War and Civil Rights

In this blogpost we responded to requests for book reviews linked to a teacher subject knowledge reading list. It’s a resource that we can keep expanding as #obhd. Please send additions when you find them.

We are also keen to share colleagues’ thoughts about useful books they have read. How has a book changed your thinking? How has a book given you new ideas for future practice?

In this series of daily blogposts, teacher trainees reflect on a book that they read and discussed with their mentors. The purpose of this reading was not necessarily for use directly in teaching, rather to emphasise to trainees the importance of continuing to update their subject knowledge and the value of discussion with colleagues. Sometimes the reading has led directly to specific teaching ideas for a particular class or to a change in practice, but the posts also illustrate the different ways in which reading and discussing historical scholarship can support continuing professional development – for experienced teachers as much as for trainees.

Today’s reflection is on Daniel S. Lucks (2014) Selma to Saigon Chapter 10: The Cold War and the long Civil Rights movement and is written by Laura Stewart

What the chapter was about?

The chapter focuses on the impact the Cold War had on the Civil Rights movement. It concentrates on the question of whether the Cold War hastened civil rights advances or narrowed the parameters of dissent by taking the issues of economic justice and peace off the table in exchange for piecemeal progress on civil rights.

Was it helpful?

The key takeaway we got from the text is that it is too simplified to think of the civil rights struggle in isolation from the other major events of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, as they were all so intertwined. The fact that many reformers of the 1930s & 1940s were made ‘quiet’ by the Cold War is an interesting idea: the thought that nationalism trumped liberation and equality. This points perhaps to the strength of feeling aroused by the Cold War – and/or to the level of propaganda they had to face. It was also interesting to see the impact that Cold War policy had on civil rights in the US. A key point discussed with my mentor was how artificial the GCSE course is in comparison. Treating civil rights in the 1950s/60s, McCarthyism and the Vietnam War as separate topics misses the key point made by the author.

How might you use it with students to inform what you do with students?

As classroom practitioners, we could use portions of this to show the ‘bigger picture’. How there is an interconnected narrative combining multiple different aspects and ideas. In the past the school have used the enquiry question ‘How equal was America by 1973?’, but perhaps this chapter points to the value of a subtler question ‘How equal did America feel by 1973?’.

I think passages of this chapter could be used as reading for students, though it would have to be carefully scaffolded so that they could access it. However, it would really help them understand History as an interpretation, and help them build on the skills they need for paper 1 for AQA.

Please do share more examples of reading, thinking and discussing historical scholarship as blogposts by sending them to enquiries@history.org.uk.

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