FYS Conspiracy Theories in American History

This course will cover both real and imagined episodes of conspiracy, ranging from the colonial period to the present, including well-known examples such as the slave revolt of 1741 in New York City and the Watergate affair. It will investigate whether American society is peculiarly susceptible to actual conspiracies and/or to believing conspiracy theories. In other words, is there something about a relatively open political and economic system that allows for conspirators to operate and for suspicions about the workings of nefarious cabals to grow?   In most cases, conspiracy theories in America revolve around the political system, yet other actors, including businesses, religions, and cultural groups often are supposed to have been part of the plots. Thus, the course will cover topics in political science and economics, but will also investigate the sociological and psychological underpinnings of group behavior. Furthermore, the ability of conspiracy theorists to take their case to the public, in different forms at different times, speaks to communication theory and history.

The flowering of conspiracy theories in contemporary society also opens up avenues of investigation that will allow students to analyze the process as it happens, especially within the context of internet information sources, presenting a number of interesting possibilities for individual and group research that can be directed toward larger audiences. In addition, this approach will enable students to see how historical roots speak directly to current circumstances.