American History

Social Order in the New World

J. H. Elliott— Family and hierarchy were the twin pillars supporting the social structure of Early Modern Europe. The ordered family, under the control of the head of the household, patterned the state in microcosm, just as the state, under royal government, was a microcosm of the divinely ordered universe

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The Paradox of Democratic Reforms

Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro— Since the 1960s, powerful movements across the democratic world have pursued reforms meant to bring politics closer to the people. Many political parties have adopted primaries, local caucuses, and other decentralized ways of choosing candidates. Districts have been redrawn to ensure selection of racial

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Coming to Terms with the Catholic 1950s

Leslie Woodcock Tentler— The streets of my suburban childhood were peopled by two religious tribes—the Catholics, who were in the majority, and the Protestants, a quasi-tribe to which every non-Catholic belonged. (This was back in the 1950s, when suburban Jews generally settled among their own and “nones” were an endangered

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“Mr. Miles His Negro No Hope of Life”

John G. Turner— One of the best parts of being a historian is spending time with hard-to-read sources. Admittedly, it’s terrible for the eyes, but we slow down and pay attention to documents that we might otherwise skim too quickly when handwriting is difficult to decipher.  A few years ago,

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Donald Trump and the Great Gatsby

Greil Marcus— The following advertisement appeared in Elite Traveler, Spring 2013: The Trump International Hotel & Tower New York pays homage to The Great Gatsby—the film adaptation of the iconic novel coming out this May—by inviting guests to plunge into the Roaring Twenties with their very own Great Gatsby experience.

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Ben Hecht’s First Day

Adina Hoffman— Ben Hecht was always falling in love—though he never tumbled harder and faster into that ecstatic state than he did when he met Chicago. “The city of my first manhood,” he called it. The place enthralled him with its blur of rooftops and chimneys, its signage and streetcars,

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Trump, Sanders, and the Historical Mantle of “Populism”

Gregg Cantrell— In the current American election campaign, the headlines invoking “populism” just keep coming. “Trump and Sanders lead competing populist movements, reshaping American politics,” trumpets a typical piece from the Washington Post. Such headlines beg the question: What is this thing called “populism?”   Clearly it’s not a political ideology, for few

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The New Populism

William A. Galston— Because populism embraces the republican principle of popular sovereignty, it faces the question inherent in this principle: Who are the people? Historically, right-leaning populists have emphasized shared ethnicity and common descent, while left-leaning populists have often defined the people in class terms, excluding those with wealth and

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How Europe’s and China’s Cold War Exits Shape Today

Kristina Spohr — It is striking that hardly anybody in East or West in the late 1980s foresaw or imagined the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, let alone the demise of the USSR itself. Instead, the public discourse of the time, especially in America, was dominated by predictions of an impending

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Did Houdini Really Die after Being Sucker Punched?

Adam Begley— When I tell someone I’ve written a book about Harry Houdini for the Yale Jewish Lives series, usually the first thing they say is, “I didn’t know Houdini was Jewish.” Well, he was; in fact, his father was a rabbi. The next thing I’m asked is whether it’s true that

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