TO THE FIRST EDITION
Historians constantly struggle with the problem of periodization, and historians of the most recent past confront the toughest problem of all. Without benefit of hindsight normally available to students of the past, it is difficult to sort the years into “eras” with any degree of confidence.
Not long ago, the term “postwar America” was unambiguous, synonymous with “the United States since 1945.” In most American colleges and universities, this period was treated inadequately by the survey course, if at all. If covered, the era was viewed as an entity, dominated by the Cold War, the baby boom, suburbia, and a loosely defined “post-New Deal” political consensus.
As the end of the twentieth century nears, such an approach to the study of half of the century begs important questions. How can the teacher—or student—of history claim any degree of analytic understanding while lumping together as “postwar America” such disparate events as summitry, the Little Rock school desegregation crisis, voters' eight-year-long love affair with Dwight Eisenhower, the anti-Vietnam War protests, detente, Watergate, the frustrations of the Carter presidency, and the “Reagan revolution”? If periodization is justifiable at all in the study of history, then surely the time has arrived to attempt some sensible division of the nation's recent past.
Even in the case of time periods in the more distant past, particular decisions on periodization are open to question and criti