University of South Florida
College of Arts and Sciences
Contribute to our future
David K. Johnson
Office: SOC 263
Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2000
I am a historian of the twentieth century United States, with an emphasis on politics and culture since World War II, the history of gender and sexuality, and LGBT history. I offer a variety of courses on the history of the Cold War, Modern America Social Movements, Consumer Culture, the AIDS pandemic, and the US Since 1945.
Using images, primary sources, and historical accounts, I strive to give students a feel for the past while encouraging debate about contemporary issues such as the proper role of government, balancing security and liberty, and the competing American ideals of freedom and equality. They begin to see how their world is impacted both by structural forces and the choices made by historical actors. By learning how our current society is historically constructed, they acquire the tools not only to understand it but ultimately to change it. Along the way they learn to construct concise and persuasive arguments based on factual information.
I work with graduate students at the M.A. and Ph.D. level on a variety of topics at the intersection of modern American culture and politics— heavy metal music, standardized testing, nudism, the religious right, and the war on drugs, to name a few.
I’m interested in the crucial role that gender and sexuality have played in American politics in the late 20th century.
My first book, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, chronicles how McCarthy era hysteria over national security impacted sexual minority communities and introduced “family values” into American politics. Winner of three national book awards, The Lavender Scare became the basis for a documentary film that was broadcast nationwide on PBS. Watch The Lavender Scare film trailer here.
My most recent book, Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement, explores the relationship between commerce and politics in the development of an LGBTQ community in the U.S. It shows how an extensive gay consumer culture network of magazine publishers, mail order businesses, book clubs, and pen pal services developed well before Stonewall. It highlights how these commercial enterprises played a crucial role in the rise of a national gay consciousness and in winning First Amendment victories. Shortlisted for the PROSE Award in U.S. History, the Hagley Prize in Business History, and the Randy Shilts Award in gay studies, Buying Gay won the Smithsonian's award for scholarship on the significance of the postal service in American life.
I helped found the LGBTQ Collections within Special Collections at the USF Library—one of the first scholarly efforts to document the history of the LGBTQ community in Florida. Preserving photographs, newspapers, and organizational records, it has become an important resource for students, scholars, and community members alike.
A nationally recognized authority on LGBT history, I have been interviewed on CNN, PBS, and CBS Sunday Morning and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Foreign Policy. I’ve served as a consultant to the National Park Service in its survey of LGBTQ sites of historical significance and contributed to legal briefs documenting a history of LGBTQ discrimination in order to expand federal civil rights protections. You can find me on Twitter @GayHistoryProf
20th Century U.S.; the Cold War; history of sexuality; LGBT history; history of capitalism