US History Readings


The historical significance of the 14th Amendment, radical reform to the American system that has largely failed to live up to its promise. LINK

A summary of Eric Nelson's analysis of the American Revolution and Constitution, The Royalist Revolution, which argues that the Constitution represented a triumph of monarchists over democrats, and that the American system of government is uniquely fragile and unstable. "This is a system that requires a particular set of political norms, " Nelson said, "and it can be very dangerous and dysfunctional where those norms are not present." An ominous statement in the age of Donald Trump. LINK

The former archivist of The Nation "explains how our political system, often described as rigged, has in fact been rigged from the start" to favor the wealthy over the working classes. LINK

A website for resources for classes looking at ratification of the Constitution by "Teaching American History." LINK

The Marbury v. Madison decision established the principle of judicial review, giving the Supreme Court the final say on all legislation, all policies of the government. What if the court's opinions are out of sync with the public? This New York Times article reviews times when that was disastrously the case and argues that we are heading there again. In The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court, Cliff Stone offers a detailed history of the case.

The African American Freedom Struggle

In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings rode the streetcar of her choice, in an early civil rights protest that led to desegregating public transportation in NYC. LINK

Unsuccessful African American protests during the dark time of the "nadir" (1890s to 1940s), was an essential precursor to the eventual successes of the Civil Rights movement. LINK

A journalist's role in protecting a black student who was trying to integration Little Rock High School in 1957. LINK

Martin Luther King, Jr. was despised by liberals during the last years of his life. He was too radical for them. They saw him as an extremist. LINK

War of 1812

Did Canada burn down the White House? No. And not only that, the war was caused by a conflict over trade. And maybe, in the long run, that conflict was good for the US. LINK

Jacksonian America

If you're appalled by Donald Trump, take a look at Andrew Jackson, the "first great American populist. And Donald Trump couldn't polish his boots." LINK

Henry David Thoreau

In case you thought he was a lazy bum, think again: read about common misconceptions about Thoreau.

Slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction

Slave Voyages is a comprehensive database which traces the dispersal of Africans across the Atlantic world.

In the modern imagination, work is a source of pride, but early labor unions regarded hourly toil in industry as "wage slavery." Read More. And here is a conservative argument against the notion that working for wages was akin to slavery.

Who freed the slaves? We tend to credit Lincoln, "The Great Emancipator," but others played a role too. Adam Gopnick reviews a book that gives more of the credit to Congress and the Radical Republicans. The book is Congress at War: How Republican Reformers Fought the Civil War, Defied Lincoln, Ended Slavery, and Remade America, by Fergus M. Bordewich. Read the review here.

The New York Times ran a celebrated series of articles on slavery, upon the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African Americans in the British colonies of North America, in 1619. LINK. For and overview of the controversy, begin with this Wikipedia page. Critiques of the series appeared in various places, including the Times Letters to the Editor column by a group of historians, the Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal and Jacobin. But you can find lots more on the Wikipedia page.

Historian Steve Hahn argues that we should think of the Civil War as the largest slave revolt in history. LINK. Or watch this video of Prof. Hahn explaining his argument. This is one part of Slate's series on the history of American slavery featuring articles by leading historians. LINK.

New research suggests that a health crisis with massive casualties followed emancipation for the newly freed slaves. LINK

Monopolies, Trustbusting and the origins of the regulatory state

This Wall Street Journal article argues that trustbusting and corporate regulation in the Gilded Age and Progressive era did more harm than good. LINK

Immigration & Borderlands

Anglo-Americans stole an estimated 187,000 acres of land from people of Mexican descent in Texas between 1900 and 1910 according to this fascinating piece about border wars in the years leading up to World War I. LINK

How Italians Became ‘White’: LINK

Anti-immigrant nativism is nothing new. This article examines the historic echoes of President Trump's immigration ban. LINK

The author looks at how the Jewish religion evolved to adjust to the American context in the 19th century. The result is a dramatically different version of Judaism in the US than in Israel and one that tends to embrace a liberal politics. LINK

The New Deal

In Why the New Deal Matters, Eric Rauchway argues that FDR's goal in the New Deal was less to revive the economy and save capitalism than to save Democracy. The book is a rousing defense of the New Deal against it's detractors, including Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who was largely responsible for Joe Biden's defeat of Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina Primary in 2020. NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie wrote in agreement with the book. In this interview with In These Times, Rauchway offers a defense of the New Deal against those who argue that it was bad for Black Americans. See also, Rauchway's interview on the Know your Enemy Podcast.


A very critical review of Ken Burns' Vietnam War film by my Grad school friend Michael Foley (who also has a new book out on Johnny Cash. LINK

LBJ knew Vietnam was unwinnable, but persecuted it nonetheless. Michael Beschloss presents excerpts from the transcripts of Johnson's taped conversations as he made key decisions to escalate America's involvement. LINK

The 1970s

The Kent State shootings inspired the creation of Devo, one of the oddest rock bands to emerge in the 1970s, and which has just been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. BTW, I saw these guys live somewhere in the Boston area back then. LINK


George F. Will makes the case for the conservative candidacy of William Howard Taft in the election of 1912. LINK

The American Left

Historian, activist and Dissent editor Michael Kazan, discusses the prospects of contemporary left-wing movements like Democratic Socialists of American and the success of leftist political leaders like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the context of the history of left movements like populism, the New Deal and the radical movements of the sixties. LINK

Gender and Feminism

From Anita Hill to #MeToo, Sexual assault, sexual harassment, and partisan polarization. LINK

The Environment

The history of the campaign against litter tells us a lot about corporate power and individual responsibility. LINK

Zinn, Howard

Assessments of his approach: LINK. See also: Dissent Magazine left critique of Zinn. Critiques by the liberal magazine, The New Republic and the socialist periodical. In These Times show that Zinn's influence on the left has waned. Interestingly, though, the somewhat conservative Boston Globe columnist (and PEA alum) Alex Beam thinks Zinn still has something to offer students of US history. GLOBE LINK

Primary sources: Women's history: UMichigan archives

Materials related to the slave trade: