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Topics in U.S. History: Free Speech in America

The freedom of speech and the press occupies an ambiguous position in the firmament of U.S. culture, politics, and law. On the one hand, the right to express one’s thoughts and opinions is enshrined not just in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution but in the constitutions of all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Politicians, journalists, and other commentators of every political and ideological stripe write and speak routinely about the importance of the freedom of speech and the press to U.S. society and politics. On the other hand, Americans have frequently tolerated, sometimes demanded, the introduction and enforcement of restrictions on ideas, texts, or even entire categories of speech that they find offensive or dangerous. This seminar offers students the opportunity to examine how people in the United States have understood the freedom of speech and the press at key points in their history, including the Colonial and Founding Eras, the Civil War, World War I, and the Civil Rights Movement. Class meetings revolve around the discussion of a mixture of primary and secondary sources that for the most part addresses the legal evolution of speech and press rights in the United States. Students will also conduct a semester-long research project that will culminate with a 20- to 25-page paper that explores how the freedom of speech and the press shaped the lives of ordinary American men and women. This class (HIST-382) is taught by Chad Frazier as a Doyle Seminar (small upper-level classes that foster deepened student learning about diversity and difference through research and dialogue).

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