What’s Your Summer Reading? | Teaching American History

Summer’s here! Time to do that reading you put off during the school year. We asked teacher friends what they plan to read during the summer vacation. Most will delve into the complex and fascinating American story, reading books that will enrich their teaching for next year. If you are still looking for good reads, here are some ideas.

Some MAHG students and graduates of the program now have time to read books recommended by fellow students and professors. Tina Boudell will read American Colossus by HW Brands, which chronicles the rapid industrialization of America in the latter half of the 19th century and Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era, by Thomas Leonard. David Widenhofer will read The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party by Michael Holt. Professor Jeremy Bailey called it “the definitive work on the Whigs,” Widenhofer recalls, “and of course it will be loaded with lots of Henry Clay. Who needs another reason?” he asks.

Jody Glass is reading Gilbert Kings’s Devil in the Grove, a riveting account of Thurgood Marshall’s experience defending four young black men in Groveland, Florida, falsely charged with rape. “A friend from the MAHG program referred the book to me after many discussions on civil rights activism from Reconstruction to the modern Black Lives Matter movement we see today,” she said.  

Several teachers are reading in preparation for summer teacher institutes. Both Kymberli Wregglesworth and Kelly Steffen will attend an NEH workshop at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, site of a World War II Japanese detention center. They are reading Shirley Higuchi’s Setsuko’s Secret and Sam Mihara’s Blindsided, among other books. In preparation for the 2024 Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute in Richmond, VA, Amy Livingston is reading Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust.

Amber McMunn will attend an NEH institute on the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the effort that brought northern college students to Mississippi to help register African Americans to vote. She is reading Bruce Watson’s Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy and John Dittmer’s Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi.  Tyler Nice, who will be attending an institute on the Civil War and Reconstruction at the University of Virginia, is reading The American War, by Gary Gallagher and Joan Waugh, and Remembering the Civil War, by Caroline Janney.

Many teachers will pursue answers to Civil War-related questions. Both Adena Barnette-Miller and Jason Berling are reading The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson, an account of the early days of the Civil War. Barnette-Miller, who now teaches a college course on West Virginia history, will also read Daydreams and Nightmares: A Virginia Family Faces Secession and War by Brent Tarter, which tells the story of George Berlin, delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861 (which triggered the events leading to West Virginia statehood).  Berlin began as an outspoken opponent of secession yet ultimately voted in favor of it. George Hawkins will read Thaddeus Stevens, Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice by Bruce Levine, along with Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s collection of The Classic Slave Narratives.

Greg Balan has been working toward a PhD at Liberty University. For a course on “The Development of Western Freedoms,” he’s reading Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom and Eicholz’s Harmonizing Sentiments, two books that he says attempt to define “the West” as a locus of political thought. Looking ahead to a dissertation on the origins of Southern pro-slavery arguments, he’ll be reading Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South by Keri Merritt and reading through the work of John C. Calhoun and James Henley Thornwell.

Great biographies, especially of presidents, always fascinate. Lucas George plans to read Ron Chernow’s biography of Grant “to enrich my classes with his Civil War experience” and consider “how his legacy has changed over time.” Brian Milliron will read An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life & Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford byRichard Norton Smith.

Brett Van Gaasbeek plans to read Tip and the Gipper, by Chris Matthews, which recounts the amical relationship between House Speaker Tip O’Neil and President Reagan “during the 1980s, when it seemed that politics didn’t need to be so combative.” Van Gaasbeek will also check out Stephen Knott’s The Lost Soul of the American Presidency, to see what this MAHG professor he admires really “knows about the presidency.”

Speaking of books by beloved MAHG professors, Professor Marc Landy has co-authored with Dennis Hale a book that carefully considers criticisms of the US Constitution throughout our history yet finds good reasons to defend it: Keeping the Republic: A Defense of American Constitutionalism.

“Border policies are a hot topic in the election year coming up,” Robin Deck Davis notes, so she will be reading Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzales. Spanning five centuries of Latino experience in the US, the book will enrich  her knowledge of American history as a whole.

With this year marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Milliron and Berling look forward to reading about the challenges faced by those who fought in World War II.  Milliron will dig into Forgotten Fifteenth: The Daring Airmen Who Crippled Hitler’s War Machine, by Barrett Tillman. Berling plans to read C. S. Forrester’s The Good Shepherd, an historical novel about a battleship captain trying to protect a convoy of ships from German U-boats during an Atlantic crossing. Meanwhile, Miles Matthews plans a trip into some of America’s most enduring and revealing narrative myths: The Western: Four Classic Novels of the 1940s and 50s, published by the Library of America.

Both Nancie Lindblom and Anne Walker will read books exploring the influence of the Greek and Roman classics on the founders. Lindblom will read Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers by Carl J. Richard; Walker will read The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America by Jeffrey Rosen. Vince Bradburn intends to immerse himself in one of those classic texts the founders read, Plato’s Republic. He also plans to read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  “I’ve chosen these two classics to revisit some essential questions on how best to organize society as well as order my individual life,” Bradburn wrote.

Carrie Huber recommends that everyone read Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes. The book delves into the earlier “history of resistance for the Oceti Sakowin of the Upper Midwest. The discussion of dams on the Missouri River and dislocation of Native peoples was both heartbreaking and fascinating.” Sonja Czarnecky will be slowly and carefully rereading a book she read quickly during her winter break: The Rediscovery of America by Ned Blackhawk. “During my graduate study I kept wondering how encounters between white colonials and native Americans shaped the founding era and the later development of the United States . . . .This book attempts to tell that story,” she writes.

Even during summer, teachers continue thinking about their classrooms. Some look for insights into what is happening inside students’ heads. Berling will read The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt, which discusses the effects of cell phones, social media, and internet access on young people. Lindblom will read Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church. The book elaborates a set of “thinking routines” that can be used across disciplines and age levels to reveal how students think, guide their learning, and deepen their understanding.

Happy reading to all!

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