Political Violence in Modern America: An Intimate Portrayal

Weinberg historian Kevin Boyle featured scholar at November’s Science Café

By Roger AndersonNovember 13, 2018

Kevin Boyle often depicts history through the lives of everyday people. Examining past moments of political violence, he reveals how those individuals — perpetrators, victims, bystanders — and their actions connect with today’s racial tensions.

“Though events may take place hundreds of miles or decades apart, set side by side, they can show us something important about the roots of violent extremism in America,” says Boyle, who will discuss two particularly harrowing moments in early 20th century America at the next Science Café. “To say that violence is complex isn’t to excuse it. The events I’ll be describing are inexcusable, but it is important to understand how violence happens.”

Boyle’s research emphasizes the multiple ways in which people experience social change — sometimes in really honorable ways, sometimes in less-than-honorable ways. (Learn more how Boyle’s own personal history shaped his academic interests.)

As Northwestern’s William Smith Mason Professor of American History in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Boyle teaches undergraduate courses on modern US history, social movements, and racial violence. He currently is working on two book projects: The Splendid Dead, a micro-history of political extremism and repression in the early twentieth century; and The Shattering, a narrative history of the 1960s.

“Scholars like to say that there’s an intimate relationship between our research and our teaching, and in this case it’s literally true,” he says, noting that his lecture is informed by years of research and engagement in the classroom. “It can be tricky to draw lessons from the past, but the past matters. It shapes the present. And in the events I’ll be discussing, the connections between past and present are clear.”

Boyle will discuss his scholarship at this month’s Science Café event on November 28 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Firehouse Grill, 750 Chicago Ave. in Evanston. Northwestern’s Science Café is free to attend and open to the public.