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Summertime Fun for History Buffs

Authored By: 
Ian Rusten, History teacher

The end of the school year is upon us again! I have been eagerly making plans for my summer adventures and slowly gathering a stack of books that is getting taller and taller. As I have said before, summer reading does not have to be a compensatory list of books that students dread reading and save for the last possible second.  Summer can (and should be!) a time to really dig deep into a topic of interest. I highly recommend choosing one topic (say, the rising polarization of politics in America) and reading and watching many different texts on the topic. Since, in the fall, we will be racing toward the midterm elections, I wanted to think of a question to drive my thinking, reading, and listening this summer that might connect to the elections. The question that really came to mind is: How did American politics become so polarized? I compiled a few readings, videos, and podcasts on this topic. If you choose to dig into this topic with me, let me know what you think!  


“What It’s Like to Live in a State Run by Politicians You Disagree with” by Elizabeth Djinis

In this article, Djinis explores what it is like for young people who are living in states where they do not agree with the politicians in charge.


“The Threat of Tribalism” by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

Chua and Rubenfeld look at how the Constitution used to unite the country, but now due to a rise of partisanship, they argue that the Constitution is instead being used as a force of division: “Americans have come to view the Constitution not as a statement of shared principles but as a cudgel with which to attack their enemies.”


“America Is Living James Madison’s Nightmare” by Jeffrey Rosen

Rosen looks at the initial safeguards that Madison and other founders of the Constitution put in place to protect against mob rule. However, he argues that they failed to anticipate the strength and power that the “mobs” would gain in the U.S., thus leaving us with a drastic rise in mob rule or ruling of the many by the few.


“How Did Politics Get So Polarized” by Elizabeth Kolbert

Kolbert explores the question of how American politics became so deeply polarized and asks whether, in the age of “hyper-partisan identities,” there is anything that can unite us as a nation.


“America Is a Republic, Not a Democracy” by Bernard Dobski

In this Heritage Foundation report, Dobski argues that America is a republic and not a democracy, and that “[t]he contemporary efforts to weaken our republican customs and institutions in the name of greater equality thus run against the efforts by America’s Founders to defend our country from the potential excesses of democratic majorities.”


“America’s Great Divide”: A Frontline Documentary

This two-part documentary investigates the growing, powerful and increasingly toxic politics that have divided our country. 


“Blue States, You’re the Problem” by Johnny Harris and Binyamin Appelbaum

In this Op-Doc from the NYTimes, the authors explore why blue states have failed to enact meaningful legislation even when in power.


“Americans Aren’t as Polarized as the New Makes it Seem” FiveThirtyEight Podcast

This podcast interviews political strategists Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan about their new book, “The Other Divide.” They challenge the focus that many have on the liberal/conservative divide and instead ask listeners to consider focusing on the huge gap between Americans who are politically engaged and those who are not.