21H.207 | Fall 2010 | Undergraduate

The Energy Crisis: Past and Present


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


This course will explore how Americans have confronted energy challenges since the end of World War II. Beginning in the 1970s, Americans worried about the supply of energy. As American production of oil declined, would the US be able to secure enough fuel to sustain their high consumption lifestyles? At the same time, Americans also began to fear the environmental side affects of energy use. Even if the US had enough fossil fuel, would its consumption be detrimental to health and safety? This class examines how Americans thought about these questions in the last half-century. We will consider the political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and technological aspects of the energy crisis. Topics include nuclear power, suburbanization and the new car culture, the environmental movement and the challenges of clean energy, the Middle East and supply of oil, the energy crisis of the 1970s, and global warming.


This class explores an ongoing challenge in recent American history: how Americans have faced energy challenges. In putting together the course, I sought to provide a broader context for the rise of American energy consumption, the changing attitudes toward energy and the environment, and the complex geopolitics of energy supply. By appreciating the historical dimensions of these aspects, we gain a better understanding of contemporary debates over energy.


The class will be conducted as a discussion-based seminar. Each week we will discuss a different topic. The purpose of the readings is to give you a historical background to the energy crisis and introduce you to the many different ways that Americans have thought about this challenge. Along with the assigned readings, you will assemble a primary source journal of historical documents on each topic we study. Those documents will facilitate our class discussions. In addition to our weekly readings, you will produce an original research paper.


Class participation 25%
Primary source journal 25%
Research paper 50%


Winkler, Allan. Life Under A Cloud: American Anxiety About the Atom. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780252067730.

Rome, Adam. A Bulldozer in The Countryside. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780521804905.

Merrill, Karen. The Oil Crisis of 1973-74, A Brief History with Documents. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. ISBN: 9780312409227.

Walker, J. Samuel. Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective. Berkeley, MA: University of California Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780520246836.

Horowitz, Dan. Jimmy Carter and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. ISBN: 9780312401221.

Farber, David. Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780691127590.

Goodstein, David. Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2005. ISBN: 9780393326475.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2010