Violence in American Society

Becoming White: How Mass Warfare Turned Immigrants into Americans

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How do groups on the social periphery assimilate into the social core of a nation? I develop a theory of cultural assimilation that highlights the way in which mass mobilization around warfare can reduce ethnic stratifications by incorporating low-status ethnic groups into the dominant national culture. To test the theory, I focus on the case of World War I in the United States–a period that closely followed a massive wave of immigration into the United States. Using an instrumental variables strategy exploiting the combination of the exogenous timing of the war and features of the draft system, I show that individuals of foreign, European nativity–especially, the Italians and Eastern Europeans–were more likely to assimilate into American society after serving in the U.S. military. I also provide evidence of backlash against Germans despite their service for the United States in World War I. I then go onto to show using a regression discontinuity design exploiting variation in exposure to compulsory schooling laws that mass education–a different nation-building strategy–has minimal explanatory power in explaining immigrant assimilation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of American history. The theory and results contribute to our understanding of the ways in which states make identity and the prospects for immigrant assimilation in an age without mass warfare.

War, Women, and the Violent Origins of Gender Equality

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States make war, but can war also reshape a state’s citizenry? In this article, I develop a theory of how mass warfare can lead to lasting cultural legacies especially as they relate to gender. I argue that mass warfare reshapes the gendered nature of labor markets by pulling women into the labor force. Complementarities between labor markets and attitudes suggest that increasing the public role of women in the labor force should have social spillovers into egalitarian beliefs around gender roles. These beliefs can persist through processes of vertical and horizontal transmission. To test the theory, I use the United States’ involvement in WWI by combining data on mobilization rates with historical census and contemporary public opinion data. Using an instrumental variables identification strategy, I establish that historical war mobilization caused individuals today to become pro-choice, liberal, and identify with the Democratic Party. Results from a series of auxiliary tests provide evidence consistent with the causal mechanisms. At least in the United States, the march toward gender liberalization has bloody origins.

Distributive Politics, Presidential Particularism, and War

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(with Jon Rogowski

American presidents are the only official elected by a national constituency — a fact presidents routinely emphasize and which motivates calls for institutional reforms to delegate more authority to the president. A more recent perspective, however, argues that presidents disproportionately direct federal resources to valuable electoral and favored partisan constituencies. We argue that particularism varies across political contexts, with presidents having have less incentive to favor particularistic goals when national interests are at stake. We test our argument using county-level data on defense contracts issued by the War Production Board during World War II. Consistent with our argument, we find no evidence of presidential particularism; instead, defense contracts were largely concentrated in areas based on the availability of infrastructure. Our findings raise questions about the conditions under which presidents balance their electoral and partisan incentives against their role as the chief steward of the national interest.

Works in Progress

  • An Economic and Social History of the American Revolution (with Amy Uden)
  • Was Rosie Already a Riveter? WWI and the Rise of the Working Woman
  • The U.S. Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Politics of Collective Memory
  • Labor Militancy during the Gilded Age