About Us

David  Johnson

David Johnson

David Johnson
Associate Professor


Office: SOC 263
Phone: 813/974-6245
Email: davidjohnson@usf.edu



Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2000


I teach a variety of courses that explore politics and culture in the modern US. I offer courses on “Cold War Culture,” “Consumer Culture,” “the 1960s in American Memory,” and “Modern American Social Movements.”

In my popular “US Since 1945” class, I use a variety of images and primary source documents to give students a feel for the era and encourage debate about the origins of the Cold War, suburbanization, civil disobedience, Vietnam, the rise of conservatism, and other topics. This experience helped me produce, The U.S. Since 1945: A Documentary Reader (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), an anthology of speeches, cartoons, letters, manifestos, and government documents I co-edited for classroom use.

My classes in “History of Gender and Sexuality” and “Gay and Lesbian US History” offer in-depth explorations of the origins and evolution of debates over sexual politics. After reading about the golden age of 19th century prostitution, romantic friendships, and the medicalization of sexual deviance, students begin to see how historical forces impact areas of life previously imagined as entirely natural and therefore beyond culture. It turns out that the very notion of “sexuality” has a history.

In all of my teaching I encourage students to learn to think critically and to understand how their world has been historically constructed—how contemporary American society is the end result of a series of choices and power struggles. Ultimately, I hope this knowledge gives them the power to enter into current debates and make historically informed choices about how to reshape their world.

Several of my former students have turned class papers into published articles. One wrote about Florida’s McCarthy-era “Johns Committee" and another on a 1895 adultery/murder scandal in Tampa—both were published in the Florida Historical Quarterly. An undergraduate student received the Tampa Bay History Center’s Leland Hawes Prize for a paper on the political battle over a 1991 Tampa gay rights ordinance. They have gone on to PhD programs at Purdue, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern, and UC-San Diego.


My research interests focus on the crucial role that notions of gender and sexuality have played in American politics in the late 20th century.

In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, journalists were shocked to discover that “moral values” was the single most important factor in voter decision-making, according to surveys. My research demonstrates how moral values and debates over gender and sexuality have been at the forefront of U.S. politics since the 1940s. My first book, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, is an investigation of Cold War hysteria over national security and the introduction of “family values” into American politics. Like my teaching, The Lavender Scare stands at the intersection of American history, gay and lesbian studies, and social movement studies. This book garnered three awards: the Herbert Hoover Book Award (for mid-20th century U.S. history); the Randy Shilts Award (for gay non-fiction); and a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award (for the study of bigotry and human rights). A documentary film version of The Lavender Scare is currently in production. Watch the film trailer here: thelavenderscare.com

My new research project also looks at the intersections of politics, culture, and sexuality but through the lens of consumer culture. I’m looking at how, in the 1950s and 1960s, the availability of paperback novels, physique magazines, greeting cards, and other consumer items targeted to a gay audience and available through mail order catalogs affected the emergence of a gay community. And how did efforts by the US Post Office to suppress them encourage resistance? This research has been supported by grants from Cornell University Library’s Human Sexuality Collection and USF’s Humanities Institute. The Journal of Social History published the preliminary results of this research in 2010 as “Physique Pioneers: The Politics of 1960s Gay Consumer Culture.” Read the article

I also have an abiding interest in Public History, or history outside the academy. In the past I worked for History Associates, Inc., a firm that provides historical and archival research services to corporations and government agencies. I have also served as a consultant to the Human Rights Campaign and the Jewish Women’s Archives.

Here at USF I helped found the Florida LGBT History Initiative within Special Collections at the USF Library—the first scholarly effort to document and publicize the history of the gay and lesbian community in the Tampa Bay area. With other departmental colleagues, I have also initiated an alliance with the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office to help them document and display more than one hundred and fifty years of local law enforcement efforts.

Click here for the LGBT & Feminist Collections

Specialty Area

20th Century U.S.; the Cold War; history of sexuality; gay and lesbian history