The history of the FBI: 1908-1976
Time: 19:00 - 20:30
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HAH51
Duration: 5 sessions (over 5 weeks)
What is the course about?
The course 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 identify how Hoover, as a peerless bureaucrat, established the Bureau as the world’s leading criminal investigation organisation. The course will also examine the relationships between Hoover and the presidents he served. The course will conclude with how Hoover’s legacy is indelibly tarnished by the numerous illegal investigations and operations that were designed to quell political dissent within the United States.
The course 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. The course will then analyse how Hoover maintained the Bureau’s standing through a number of positive relationships with the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations. The course will then 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 it was stained by the Bureau’s decades-long counterintelligence programs that infringed on the civil liberties of US citizens.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
The course is split into two distinct parts: the first, examines the ascension of Hoover into an individual of immense power and influence in the United States, whilst the second, looks closely at Hoover’s 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. The initial sessions 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. The mini-lectures 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 class discussions will investigate whether the liberal administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson should be held responsible for the illegal and immoral campaigns against Martin Luther Jr., the New Left, and Black Nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party. The course 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.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
- Identify and explain the main issues associated with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover and the broader subjects covered in the course
- Appraise critically the primary sources and historical interpretations of the subject and their relevance to the topic.
- Understand how the FBI grew in power and influence and the impact it had on American politics, culture and society in the 20th century.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
This course is available to learners of all levels - beginners, intermediate and advanced.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course be taught online and will consist of mini-lectures and discussion of primary and secondary sources, such as speeches, letters and diaries. Those sources discussed in class will be available in advance of the online session through Google classroom, although there is no requirement to read them before the class.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
There are no other costs or requirements, although a pen and paper might prove useful should you wish to take notes.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please have a look at our range of American history courses for autumn.
Dafydd Townley is a lecturer in American History at the University of Reading where he teaches courses to undergraduates and graduates on the FBI, protest groups in 1960s America, and race and ethnicity in the United States, as well as broad survey modules on US history. His research interests include American national security policy, the US intelligence community, cybersecurity policy, US grand strategy and US domestic counterintelligence operations. His research has been supported by University of Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute, Columbia University, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the Institute for Historical Research and the Royal Historical Society. His work has been published in History, the Journal of Intelligence History and his monograph, The Year of Intelligence in the United States: Public Opinion, National Security and the 1975 Church Committee will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in June, 2021. His current research focuses on the long-term development of US cybersecurity policy.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.