American History

National Emergencies and the Rise of Presidential Unilateralism

Benjamin Ginsberg— President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to help provide funding for a border wall has touched off a furious controversy with many commentators pointing to what they see as another abuse of power by Trump. Unfortunately, though, President Trump is merely following the well-worn path of unilateral

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The 50th Anniversary of Portnoy’s Complaint

Bernard Avishai— Irving Howe famously said that the cruelest thing one could do with Portnoy’s Complaint was “read it twice.” But why reread it when the first time was unforgettable? Back when the book was published, exactly 50 years ago, I knew people who sat around in coffee shops, student unions,

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Political Tribalism: The Art of Divide and Rule

Michelle Baddeley— How did Donald Trump manage to become president? If we look to psychology for an explanation, we can understand Trump as the populist leader of a modern-day tribe of voters. These voters define themselves according to a specific set of attitudes. On social media, they have a level

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Standing Rock

Thomas Grillot— The mobilization against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the winter of 2016-2017 has made headlines throughout the world. In the first days of September 2016, the challenge raised by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to the unbridled exploitation of natural resources in their region and

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A History of Servers: From Lazy Suzan to Alexa

Markus Krajewski— When Amazon introduced the world to a black, cylindrical cartouche with built-in ears and a female voice that answers to the name of Alexa in 2015, more than a few people have been looking forward to its promising and, more importantly, affordable services as a so called virtual

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The Original Constitution of the United States: Religion, Race, and Gender

Many who declare that Americans in 2018 should stick to the original words of the United States Constitution, ratified in 1788, fail to acknowledge that in reality the nation has been ruled by a substantially different Constitution for the past 150 years.  The Union victory in 1865, and the amendments

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Harvey Milk’s Jewish Identity

Lillian Faderman— The Jewish identity of Harvey Milk—arguably the most famous gay man in modern history—was as important to who he was and what he did as his gay identity. In San Francisco where he became a prominent gay leader and politician in the 1970s, he often introduced himself as

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The Hero and the Madman: Two American Myths

Mary Stockwell— Even the most hidebound analytical historian can’t resist the archetype of the hero. The hero comes forward  at the beginning of great events, sets out on a quest, often against a terrifying foe, and in the process wins glory for himself. At the founding of the United States, one

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Surviving English Colonialism

Jenny Hale Pulsipher— By the end of the seventeenth century, the Native people of what we now call New England were overwhelmed by a rapidly growing, land-hungry English colonial population and the repeated onslaught of epidemic disease. A bold attempt at resistance—King Philip’s War (1674-1678)—led to a devastating defeat. Thousands

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What Happened to Enlightenment?

Caroline Winterer— What happened to enlightened ideas after the long eighteenth century? As more scholars are placing ideals of enlightenment in their global contexts, we are learning that the conventional understandings of the fate of enlightenment no longer hold. Enlightenment did not end with the movement called Romanticism, its ideals

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