HS3T87-Degrading a Free Society: The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover 1908 - 1976

Module Provider: History
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Mr Dafydd Townley

Email: d.townley@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

The module will assess the impact of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the leadership of its first Director, J. Edgar Hoover, on US politics, society and culture. The study will cover the period from the creation of the Bureau of Investigation in 1908, to the revelations of the 1976 Senate investigation into the Bureau’s illegal surveillance during the Cold War. It will analyse how Hoover directed programmes designed to stifle the campaign for racial equality in the United States. It will identify how Hoover, as a peerless bureaucrat, established the Bureau as the world’s leading criminal investigation organisation. The module will also examine the relationships between Hoover and the presidents he served. It will conclude by assessing Hoover’s legacy. How far was this tarnished by the illegal investigations and operations that were designed to quell political dissent within the United States?


The module will ask why the creation of the Bureau was deemed as essential, and how it was intended to reflect the values of the society it protected. It will identify how Hoover used bribery, manipulation of the press, and an intense, prolonged propaganda campaign to increase the power and international reputation of the Bureau. It will analyse how Hoover maintained the Bureau’s standing through a number of positive relationships with the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations. It will also examine how Hoover’s tenure and position were put at risk during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. The course will finish by looking at the legacy of Hoover’s directorship, and how far the Bureau’s decades-long counterintelligence programs that infringed the civil liberties of US citizens.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able to:

  • identify and explain the main issues and events studied

  • acquire a detailed knowledge of the events through extensive reading in specialized literature

  • locate and assemble information on the subject by independent research

  • appraise critically the primary sources and historical interpretations of the subject

  • organize material and articulate arguments effectively in writing, both under timed conditions and in assessed essays

Additional outcomes:

The module also aims to encourage the development of oral communication skills and the student’s effectiveness in group situations. Students will also develop IT skills by use of relevant web resources.

Outline content:

The module is split into two distinct parts: the first examines the Hoover’s ascent to a role of immense power and influence in the United States, whilst the second looks closely at his efforts to remain in his position as the Director of the FBI, and his eventual decline before his death in office. The opening weeks focus on the creation of the Bureau and the early career of Hoover at the end of the Progressive Era in the United States. We shall examine the consequences of the Palmer Raids in 1919 and 1920, and Hoover’s initial appointment to the Bureau’s Radicals Division, before the focus turns to the Hoover’s leadership and reforms of the Bureau. Subsequent sessions show how Hoover’s successful PR campaign through film and the printed press, the Lindbergh case and federalisation allow the Bureau to become a part of the political establishment. We shall also identify how Hoover’s position as the president’s most important national security advisor allowed him to take advantage of the Second Red Scare and to crusade against what he perceived to be sexual deviancy. The second half of the module looks at the Bureau’s operations against political dissent, especially Hoover’s resistance to racial equality within American society. The seminars investigate whether the liberal administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were deliberately and secretly undermining their apparently pro-civil rights moves by encouraging the FBI to undertake illegal campaigns against Martin Luther King Jr., the New Left, and Black Nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party. The module concludes by looking at the revelations of the Church Committee, the 1976 Senate investigation into the FBI, and how the findings affect the present-day reputation of the Bureau.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The three weekly hours will be divided into 1 hour of lecture and 2 hours of seminars. Lectures will present factual knowledge, so as to contextualise problems and questions, and also introduce students to historiographical debates. Seminars rely on structured group discussion and may also include seminar papers by students, discussion of evidence, team-based exercises and debates. Students are expected to carry out self-directed revision in the Summer term. Staff will be available for consultation if necessary.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 20
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 50

Summative assessment- Examinations:

One two-hour paper requiring two answers to be taken at the time of Part 3 examinations

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students will write one essay of not more than 2,500 words, to be submitted electronically via Blackboard by 12 noon on the Monday of week 9 of the term. Five marks will be deducted if the coursework essay exceeds 2,625 words (i.e. 5% over the word limit)

Formative assessment methods:

1,000 words or 2 pages of A4 maximum to include, at the module convenor’s discretion, an essay plan, bibliography, book review or other preparatory work towards the summative essay.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Re-assessment will be by the same method as the module’s original requirement, subject to variation by the Examination Board where appropriate.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 10 September 2018


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