Bruce J. Schulman
- HIS 407, Fall ’13 Hours: On leave
William E. Huntington Professor of History
B.A., Yale University; M.A., Ph.D., Stanford University
20th-century U.S. history
Bruce J. Schulman is the William E. Huntington Professor and Chair of the History Department at Boston University. He is the author of three books and editor of two others: From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1991); Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994); and The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Politics, and Society (N.Y.: Free Press, 2001). The New York Times named The Seventies one of its Notable Books of the Year for 2001. An anthology of essays, co-edited with Julian Zelizer, entitled Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, was published by Harvard University Press in March 2008, and another, The Constitution and Public Policy, by Pennsylvania University Press in 2009.
A contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications, Professor Schulman has appeared as an expert commentator on many television and radio programs and has consulted on productions by the History Channel, PBS, and ABC-News.
Schulman has held research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Marjorie Kovler Fund of the Blum-Kovler Foundation, the University of California Faculty Development Awards, and the Mabelle McLeod Lewis Memorial Fellowship in 1987. In 1989-90, Schulman served as Director of the History Project in California, a joint effort of the University of California and the California State Department of Education to improve history education in the public primary and secondary schools. For his efforts, he received a letter of commendation from the State Department of Education. He currently leads a Teaching American History (TAH) Grant program that partners Boston University with the Boston Public Schools. In 1993, as Associate Professor of History at UCLA, Schulman received the Charles and Harriet Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award and the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching. In January 2004, the Organization of American Historians appointed him to its Distinguished Lecturer program. In January 2006, the American Historical Association conferred on him the Nancy Lyman Roelker Award for graduate mentorship. In December 2007 he was named the United Methodist Scholar/Teacher of the Year.
Schulman is currently at work on a volume for the Oxford History of the United States covering the years 1896-1929. He lives with his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Schulman’s teaching and research concentrate on the history of the modern United States, particularly on the relationships between politics and broader cultural change. His first book, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980, analyzed the effects of federal economic policy in transforming the American South from the time of the New Deal until 1980. Decrying the South’s economic backwardness and political conservatism, the Roosevelt Administration launched a series of programs to reorder the Southern economy. A generation of young liberal southerners entered the national government to preside over these policies. After 1950, however, the national security state supplanted the social welfare state as the South’s principal benefactor. The book contrasted the diminished role of national welfare programs in the postwar South with the expansion of military and growth-oriented programs, analyzing the federal government’s contributions to the South’s remarkable economic growth and to the excruciating limits of that prosperity. Ultimately, he related these developments to southern politics and race relations. By linking the history of the South with the history of national public policy, he attempted to unite the two issues that dominate the domestic history of postwar America–the emergence of the Sunbelt and the expansion of federal power over the nation’s economic and social life.
Schulman’s second book pursued this interest in the role of the federal government in transforming postwar America by focusing on the career and contributions of Lyndon B. Johnson. The book narrated the major events of Johnson’s life, but primarily used Johnson’s career to analyze the triumph and agony of postwar American liberalism. Johnson, he maintains, embodied liberal, activist government in the United States, during an era when Americans overwhelmingly shared his faith that the federal government could solve the nation’s problems. In Johnson’s career, he traced the trajectory of modern American liberalism—the path beginning with the New Deal, culminating in the Great Society and the Vietnam War, and pointing, finally, toward the conservative backlash of the 1970s. This interpretive thrust largely distinguished his brief biography from many extant works concentrating on analyses of Johnson’s character. Schulman used Johnson to interpret the major events of the 1960s—the Vietnam War and anti-war movement, the Civil Rights Revolution, the War on Poverty—in the light of the broader sweep of post-war history.
Schulman’s next book, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics, argues that the Seventies formed the defining moment in recent U.S. history—the seedtime of contemporary America. For better and for worse, most of the struggles and achievements of modern American life began taking shape in the Seventies: the growing distrust of the public sphere and increasing reliance on private associations and the marketplace to address the nation’s problems; career women in the workplace and sensitive men in the home; the ascendancy of the Sunbelt in American politics and American culture; the fascination with identity—racial, ethnic and all sorts of others—that dominates our social, artistic, and cultural life; the revival of religion and spirituality in all its guise; and the development of an outrageous, in-your-face cultural style. The era, he asserts, witnessed a fundamental change in latitude—a southernization of American politics and American culture. Over the course of the Seventies, the nation’s center of gravity shifted South and West. These changes in latitude encouraged broader changes in attitudes. Around the globe, the 1970s witnessed declining faith in government programs, skepticism about large-scale public efforts to remake the world. Americans developed a deeper, more thorough suspicion of the instruments of public life and a more profound disillusionment with the corruption and inefficiency of public institutions. Seventies Americans also developed an unusual faith in the market. More and more, they turned to the private sphere, relying on business rather than government to provide essential services and even to construct the spaces where ordinary Americans would meet, shop, and socialize. Increasingly, all sorts of Americans, even those with dreams of radical reform, looked to the entrepreneur and the marketplace—rather than the activist or policymaker as the agent of national progress and dynamic social change. Richard Nixon uncovered this sentiment in 1972, when he began his push for a new conservative American majority. Ronald Reagan completed it in 1984 amid the celebrations of the Los Angeles Olympics, the first staged entirely without public support.
The focus of Schulman’s current research is a book for the Oxford History of the United States, the series that features volumes by Daniel Walker Howe, James McPherson, David Kennedy, Gordon Wood, and James Patterson. While offering a reasonably comprehensive and accessible narrative history, Schulman’s volume, covering the years between 1900 and 1929, attempts a substantial reinterpretation of that crucial era. The early decades of the twentieth century pointed toward the consolidation and transformation of an American nation—the creation of truly national markets and audiences and constituencies. But although the era laid the foundations for the liberal state, for modern consumer capitalism, for a polyglot nation, for global leadership, and for the familiar landscape of celebrity, advertising, and mass culture, powerful ideas and potent social forces resisted and slowed each of those processes. Americans took the fateful steps into the twentieth century, but never wholeheartedly—often attempting to incorporate new developments into inherited frameworks, refusing to grasp the full implications, or accept the consequences of the decisions they made.
Schulman has also directed the research of 21 doctoral students, who have produced among them fourteen books and occupied faculty positions at Columbia, San Francisco State, UMass-Boston, UCLA, Cal State Bakersfield, Armstrong Atlantic University, Tougaloo College, Bryant University, Salem State University, and several others. In recognition of that work, the American Historical association named him the 2006 recipient of the Nancy Lyman Roelker Award.
His interest in teaching has led Schulman to join in a major curriculum reform project in California. In 1989-90, he served as Director of the History Project in California, a joint effort of the University of California and the California State Department of Education to improve history education in the public primary and secondary schools. Over the past several years, he has also served as the Principal Investigator on three separate collaborations between Boston University and the Boston Public Schools under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching American History (TAH) grant program.
As much as he values teaching and original research, Schulman believes that scholars have an important role to play in public debate. In his writing and speaking, he has tried to lend a historical perspective to discussions of contemporary issues. Over the past decade, he has authored numerous opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the International Herald Tribune, and the San Jose Mercury News, as well as websites such as Politico and Huffington Post.
Schulman also directs the Institute for American Political History at Boston University. The Institute seeks to establish Boston University as a leading center for the study of America’s political past. Drawing on the strength of existing faulty (both in the History Department and other departments), the objective is to create an intellectual hub that will benefit undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and alumni of Boston University as well as the wider Boston community. The Institute organizes a monthly seminar, as well as an annual graduate student conference and the annual International Political History Conference, co-sponsored with Clare College, Cambridge University and Princeton University.