Many current social issues have long histories, and many teens are expressing interest in understanding the historical context of contemporary politics. To become better informed, teens might want to revisit these issues as they played out in history to gain a deeper understanding of modern day events and attitudes. As teens learn more and judge for themselves how the past compares to attitudes today, it could also inspire a deeper understanding of human rights and our responsibilities as humans in today’s modern society.
While this author is not an expert on these topics, she hopes it will encourage teens and teen advocates to understand the past and how this could foster discussion on our current societal issues.
Rise of Nationalism vs. Rise of the Nazis
A number of countries have seen an emerging rise in nationalism, including the U.S for 2016. A quick search will sport numerous news articles on the topic. In some cases of both past and recent years, this nationalism has resulted in revolutions and independence for countries, for example, Great Britain’s “Brexit” decision to remove itself from the European Union. However, in the 1920’s through 1930’s, nationalism paired with discrimination and xenophobia resulted in the National Socialist German Worker’s Party and the rise of the Nazis. For more understanding about German nationalism during the Nazi era and those searching for social justice during that time, here are a few online and print resources to give a brief view into available information and viewpoints during that period.
- Rise of the Nazi Party Timeline by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, also linking to educational resource The History Place about Hitler’s election.
- Calvin College has also collected an online archive of examples of Nazi propaganda and speeches.
- United States Memorial Holocaust Museum also covers many topics:
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman
Two siblings formerly part of the Hitler Youth form a secret resistance group called the White Rose and distribute anti-Nazi materials.
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport (YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults – 2015)
A variety of profiles of Jewish people who defied the current climate to save others and are remembered in this detailed look, including some teens.
Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington (YALSA Nonfiction Award nomination 2014)
This overview documents changes in society with the rise of the Nazi Party, paying specific attention to treatment of homosexuals.
YA/Middle Grade Fiction:
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Best Books for Young Adults 2009, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2014)
A teen joins Hitler Youth but questions his teachings with those of his youth and comes to rebel by distributing underground information of news reports.
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
A close look at the rise of Adolf Hitler in the eyes of his niece who befriends a young reporter who transforms her views.
Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz
An Irish/British spy masquerades as a Hitler youth in this high stakes thriller.
Adult Nonfiction for further research:
Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazis Rise to Power by Andrew Nagorski
American journalists living in Germany gained a first-hand account of the Nazis rise to power.
The Third Reich in History and Memory by Richard J. Evans
An overview of the rise to power, height of dominance, and postwar era in history and memories.
Japanese Internment vs. Anti-Islam
A number of reports have been in the news lately both for the US and other countries against Muslims, especially Muslim refugees. Some reports have related a comparison of the Anti-Islam sentiment and the future possibility of a Muslim registry to the attitude against Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. At that time, West Coast Japanese Americans were considered potential enemies of the military and were sent through an executive order by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt into internment camps. Later this period was defined as a human rights violation and some reparations were made towards Japanese American survivors. A few resources following Japanese Americans during this period in history are found below.
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History – From Citizen to Enemy: The Tragedy of Japanese Internment
- US National Archives – Japanese Relocation During World War II
- Densho.org – Documents oral history of incarcerated Japanese Americans from World War II
- San Francisco Virtual Museum – collects news articles and resources pertaining to those Japanese Americans from San Francisco during the 1940’s
Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II written by Martin W. Sandler (YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist 2014)
Sandler introduces evacuees and their families and documents their experiences, including those Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. military.
Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper
A more extensive look at Japanese Americans in the military fighting during World War II.
Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim
A San Diego children’s librarian writes to her child-age and teenage patrons who were taken into Japanese American internment camps.
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
A Japanese American girl is sent to an internment camp on the Mojave Indian Reservation and finds that she and a Native American boy share some things in common.
Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
A brief story about a teen girl sent to Manzanar internment camp and its effect on her family.
Adult Nonfiction for further research:
Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves
A journalist traces a detailed and comprehensive history of Japanese American internment camps and the events by political leaders that led to the decision.
Silver Like Dust: One Family’s Story of America’s Japanese Internment by Kimi Cunningham Grant
Author learns and recounts her grandmother’s experience in a Japanese internment camp and comes to accept her heritage.
Latin American Politics
The recent death of Fidel Castro, leader/dictator of Cuba, has spurred talk of the era of Latin American dictators, whose practices and policies are still ongoing since Cuba still has a one-party dictatorship under Raul Castro with no opposition permitted. Additionally, recent news articles have compared certain political leaders to Latin American dictators in possessing a similar style in address and authority. Though there is less material published overall on these specific topics, especially in young adult literature, here are a few sources to explore.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica – Challenges to the Political Order and Latin American Since the Mid-Twentieth Century covers an overview of developments in Latin America from revolutions and military regimes to political changes and populism
- The Mapping History Project by the University of Oregon and Universitat Munster records the changes in the Caribbean, Central and South America from the end of the 19th century and the predominant oligarchies and flows into the late 20th century with notes about military regimes, juntas, and one-party states.
Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines (YALSA Nonfiction Award nominee 2010)
A memoir about life in Cuba at the beginning of the Communist revolution and immigrating to the United States as a teen.
Che Guevara: You Win or You Die by Stuart A. Kallen
A revolutionary who became friends with Castro and together they overthrew the dictator in Cuba but Guevara was assassinated.
Augusto Pinochet’s Chile by Diana Childress
Covers military leader Pinochet’s rise to power in a military coup and his control through a junta and naming himself president of Chile and becoming a dictator despite trying to save his country from Communism.
Note: Readers might find this particularly interesting as the president Pinochet overthrew was Salvador Allende, the uncle of author Isabel Allende, found below.
Latin American Fiction
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Three sisters are murdered and the fourth is left to tell their stories of life under the horrors of dictator’s rule in the Dominican Republic
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
A history of Latin America and Chile as seen through the tragic lives of the Truebas family.
The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The investigation into the murder of a South American dictator reveals his evolution from leader to dictator.
Adult Nonfiction for further research:
Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean by Alex von Tunzelmann
A history of three dictators of the Caribbean during the Cold War.
Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America by Alma Guillermoprieto
A series of essays in which the author describes Latin American politics and society of Colombia, Cuba and Mexico as well as references to Argentina and Peru.
Gringo: Coming-of-Age in Latin America by Chesa Boudin
A man travels through Latin America recounting his experiences in history and local political views.
Readers might be interested to know educational database JSTOR publishes some so-termed ‘scholarly news’ articles that relate history to current events; however, articles are written by a variety of authors with many points of view.
We welcome any informational contributions to these resource lists by commenting below!
—Kara Hunter, currently reading The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
3 thoughts on “Using History to Understand Current Social Issues”
This is excellent. I hope many teachers see it.
Great resource. Some other topics you might cover that are likely to come roaring back into political relevance:
-The civil rights movement
-GLBT history, AIDS, DADT
-The Cold War
Thanks for the suggestions!
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