Hist 246, Spring 2024

History of American Capitalism
Hist. 246
Class location: Speech and Hearing Science 205
Tuesday-Thursday, 3:30-4:45am

David N. Gibbs, Professor of History
Office: Chavez 338 ​​​​
Email: dgibbs@arizona.edu
Office hours: Monday and Wednesday, 9-10:30am

 ** Class Announcements **
Students should check the announcements page regularly.


This course provides a long-term historical perspective on the origins and development of American capitalism, combining three interrelated thematic fields in U.S. history: economic history, business history, and labor history. The overarching theme of the course is the historical development of inequality of income and wealth in America from 1929 to the present. 

This is a General Education Building Connections course (new system) and also a General Education Tier Two Individuals and Societies course (old system).


Course Objectives:

(1) Students will learn about major transformations in the American economy through multiple perspectives including diverse workers, business and finance, government policy makers, and economists, using sources that reflect each of their viewpoints.

(2) We will interpret and critically analyze historical economic data as it emerges over time, with an emphasis on statistics collected by the U.S. government about economic growth, inflation, unemployment, and other important measurements.

(3) A significant emphasis on the reading and interpretation of primary source material will allow students to empathize with the perspectives of participants in the U.S. economy at all levels and to learn how to construct better historical arguments using source evidence.

(4) A further emphasis on the reading and critical analysis of founding documents such as the U.S. Constitution and key Supreme Court cases will enable us to better understand how they have shaped the development of American institutions.

(5) We will place our present-day and future economic problems in the context of historical developments that have created and transformed the U.S. economy. 


Learning Outcomes:

(1) Students will demonstrate the ability to utilize multiple perspectives and make meaningful connections across disciplines and social positions, think conceptually and critically, and solve problems.

(2) Students will demonstrate competency in working with numerical information by critically analyzing quantitative information, generating ideas that are supported by quantitative evidence, assessing the relevance of data and its associated implications in a variety of contexts, and communicating those ideas and/or associated interpretations using various formats (graphs, data tables, equations, oral presentations, or written reflections).

(3) Analyze primary sources for the history of American capitalism in light of their historical context, audience, and author’s intent.

(4) Students will demonstrate knowledge of American institutions: how the history of the United States continues to shape the present, the basic principles of American constitutional democracy and how they are applied under a republican form of government, the U.S. constitution and major American constitutional debates and developments, other founding documents and how they have shaped the nature and functions of American institutions of self-governance, significant Supreme Court cases and their effects on law and society, civic virtues for effective citizenship and civic participation, basic economic knowledge for critically assessing public policy options.


Class grades will be based on the following four assignments, weighted by percentages as noted:

Midterm exam 1 (short paper) -- 25 percent;
Midterm 2 (in-class) -- 25 percent;
Midterm 3 (short paper) -- 25 percent;
inal exam (in class) -- 25 percent. 

The two short papers will each be on assigned topics, and each will be 2-3 double-spaced pages (600-800 words). 

Class Attendance

Note that the following circumstances constitute legitimate reasons to miss a class assignment without penalty: illness, death in family, religious holiday, or mandatory military service. Students who present such reasons must be prepared to present documentation, such as a note from a doctor, clergy, or commanding officer. Students are expected to arrive in class on time. Please do not come late on a regular basis, as this is disruptive.

Students with Disabilities

I will be happy to arrange the assignments in any reasonable way that is consistent with the student's needs, in cooperation with the UA Disability Resource Center. It is the student's responsibility to find out what the Center requires, to fill out the forms, and to undertake the necessary "foot work" for special arrangements. The student is responsible to make sure that all deadlines are met.


The following texts are required: 

  1. Herbert Stein, Presidential Economics: The Making of Economic Policy from Roosevelt to Clinton. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1994. Available through Open Library, click here
  2. Nomi Prins, All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power. New York: Nation Books, 2014. Available through UA Library, click here

Several articles listed below are available through one of several electronic databases.


January 11

First Day of Class.


Week of January 16
The Great Depression and the New Deal

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chaps. 5, 6.

John Steinbeck, "Death in the Dust [originally written in 1936]," Guardian, February 1, 2002. For full text, click here


Week of January 23
The Economics of World War II

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chaps. 7, 8.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "State of the Union Message to Congress," Feburary 11, 1944, Roosevelt Presidential Library, full text click here


Week of January 30
America's Rise as Economic Superpower

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chap. 9.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Farewell Address," January 17, 1961, section IV. For full text, click here.


Week of February 6
The Class Compromise

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chap. 12.

Stein, Presidential Economics, chap. 3.

First short paper assigned Febraruy 8; due February 15


Week of February 13
Vietnan and the Rise of Inflation

Stein, Presidential Economics, chap. 4.


Week of February 20
Revolt of the Rich

Lewis F. Powell, Jr., "Attack on the Free Enterprise System: Confidential Memorandum for the US Chamber of Commerce," August 23, 1971. For full text, click here.  

In-class midterm exam, Feburary 22. 


Week of February 27
The Politics of Middle East Oil

Amin Mirzadegan, "Nixon's Folly: The White House and the 1970s Oil Price Crisis," Yale Historical Review 5, no. 2, 2016. For full text, click here


March 4-8, Spring Break


Week of March 12
The Rise of Free Market Economics

Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javonovich, 1980, pp. 9-37. Full text, click here


Week of March 19
eligion and Money

Rev. Billy Graham, "Inaugural  Prayer,” January 20, 1969, from Billy Graham Evangelical Association. Full text, click here

Darren E. Grem, "Christianity Today, J. Howard Pew, and the Business of American Evangelicalism," Enterprise & Society 15, no. 2, 2014. Download fulltext from JSTOR, click here. 


Week of March 26
The Turn toward Wealth Concentration

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chaps. 13.

Stein, Presidential Economics, chap. 6


Week of April 2
Deregulating Capitalism

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chap. 15.

Stein, Presidential Economics, chap. 7.


Week of April 9
America's Economy after the Cold War

David N. Gibbs, "Washington's New Interventionism," Monthly Review 53, no. 4, 2001. For full text, click here

Second short paper assigned April 11; due April 18


Week of April 16
Populist Backlash 

Prins, Presidents' Bankers, chaps. 16.

Tim Lau, "Citizens United Explanined: The 2010 Supreme Court Case Further Tilted Political Influence toward Wealthy Donors and Corporations," December 12, 2019, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University. For full text, click here


Week of April 23
The Political Economy of War in Ukraine

John J. Mearsheimer, "Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West's Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin," Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2014. For full text, click here.


April 30
Last day of class

No reading


Final Exam: May 8, 3:30pm.




The UA’s policy concerning Class Attendance, Participation, and Administrative Drops is available at: http://catalog.arizona.edu/policy/class-attendance-participation-and-ad….

The UA policy regarding absences for any sincerely held religious belief, observance or practice will be accommodated where reasonable, http://policy.arizona.edu/human-resources/religious-accommodation-policy.

Absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean Designee) will be honored. See: https://deanofstudents.arizona.edu/absences.

University policy regarding grades and grading systems is available at http://catalog.arizona.edu/policy/grades-and-grading-system.

Classroom behavior policy: Students are expected to behave themselves at all times. 

Information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.

The University is committed to creating and maintaining an environment free of discrimination; see http://policy.arizona.edu/human-resources/nondiscrimination-and-anti-ha…

Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work/exercises must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to the UA Code of Academic Integrity as described in the UA General Catalog. See: http://deanofstudents.arizona.edu/academic-integrity/students/academic-….

The UA Threatening Behavior by Students Policy prohibits threats of physical harm to any member of the University community, including to oneself. See http://policy.arizona.edu/education-and-student-affairs/threatening-beh…