Journal Articles

“Counting Crime,” Marquette Law Journal, Fall 2013

When I received the invitation to this conference about a year ago, I was surprised at the fortuitous timing: I was actually sitting at my computer writing about the Wickersham Commission—an unusual moment for such an obscure historical subject. So of course I said yes right away. The other reason that I very much wanted to come here is that, thanks to the work of historian Athan Theoharis, Marquette is one of the country’s great repositories of historical FBI documents. I am currently writing a biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director. Anyone who writes about this subject owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Professor Theoharis, whom you’ll be hearing from later on today. Read the rest.  ...

Up for Debate: “The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists,” Labor, Fall 2012

Timothy Messer-Kruse's The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age (2011) provides ample grist for a larger discussion of Gilded Age labor, radicalism, and the contemporary system of justice. Messer-Kruse's close examination of the full trial testimony and his twinned conclusions that there was likely a conspiracy to commit violence among the accused and that most of the guilty verdicts should be considered “fair” by the standards of the day are two aspects that set his treatment apart from others. While generally giving the author credit for changing the grounds of the Haymarket debate, our own jury remains skeptical. Richard Schneirov returns to the scene of the crime with his own lawyer-like disputation of the guilty verdicts. Kevin Boyle cautions against using courtroom testimony “with such assurance.” Beverly Gage regrets the lack of larger context, including the viciousness of reactions aimed at the larger labor movement and the radicals themselves. Comparing Haymarket to the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson trials, Janice L. Reiff likewise points to key elements of reception that are left out of Messer-Kruse's account. In conclusion, the author treats his critics with clemency. Read more....

“Deep Throat, Watergate, and the Institutional Politics of the FBI,” Journal of Policy History, Spring 2012

On May 31, 2005, former FBI associate director W. Mark Felt revealed that he was “Deep Throat,” the shadowy high official whose leaks to the Washington Post helped to provoke the Watergate crisis and topple the Nixon presidency. Felt’s confession ended one of the capital’s longest-running guessing games; the hushed phone calls and parking-garage trysts of All the President’s Men , co-author Bob Woodward confirmed, were based on encounters with Felt. Media outlets framed the revelation as a drama of individual derring-do, assigning Felt the role of noble whistleblower or despicable traitor, liberal ally or conservative nemesis. As a result, they missed an opportunity to reconsider the larger story of Watergate, perhaps the most mythologized political scandal of the twentieth century. This article argues that Felt’s actions—and, by extension, Watergate itself—must be understood in the context of a long-standing institutional conflict between the Nixon administration and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Read the rest....

“Terrorism and the American Experience,” Journal of American History, June 2011

In 1970, just months before his death, the historian Richard Hofstadter called on U.S. historians to engage the subject of violence. For a generation, he wrote, the profession had ignored the issue, assuming that consensus rather than conflict had shaped the American past. By the late 1960s, with assassinations, riots, and violent crime at the forefront of national anxieties, that assumption was no longer tenable. Everywhere, Americans seemed to be thinking and talking about violence, except within the historical profession. Hofstadter urged historians to remedy their “ inattention ” and construct a history of violence that would speak to both the present and the past. Over the last four decades, the historical profession has responded to that challenge. Studies of racial conflict, territorial massacres, gendered violence, empire, crime and punishment, and war and memory make up some of the most esteemed books of the past generation. Yet on the subject of “ terrorism, ” the form of violence that currently dominates American political discourse, historians have had comparatively little to say. Read article. Read round-table. Review teaching resources. Listen to the podcast....




“Why Violence Matters,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism, January 2007

In his 1966 article "Violence in American Labor Disputes," Philip Taft laid out a paradox for American history. On one hand, he wrote, class relations in the United States have been among the least ideological in the world. On the other hand, American labor conflicts have been among the world's most violent. "It may appear anomalous," Taft commented, "that the United States, a country in which class feeling and class ideology are almost entirely absent, has experienced a considerable amount of violence in labor disputes." He resolved this anomaly by arguing that class violence in the United States was mainly an adaptation to structural circumstances: In conflicts where vital interests, especially union recognition, were at stake, workers and employers tended to resort to brute force. By this logic, the intense violence of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era fit quite comfortably within the exceptionalist narrative of the United States as a nation largely free from ideological conflict. Read the rest....

“American Violence,” Reviews in American History, June 2005

On a warm July night in 1919, a gang of whites dragged a black man off a streetcar in Washington, DC, and beat him in full view of the evening crowd. Ossian Sweet, then a medical student at Howard University, happened to be walking by. He watched in horror as the beating continued: "the sickening sound of fists and boots slamming against bone, the victim curling his body into the fetal position to avoid the blows, the stream of blood filling the cracks in the cement," as Kevin Boyle imagines the scene in his wonderful new book on the unrelated court case that would soon make Sweet a political martyr (p. 97). Read the rest....