Summer Reading

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One of the best parts of summer for me is that I have time to catch up on reading. Oftentimes the choices I make in the summer months are works that I hope to share with my students in some way during the academic year. I try to revisit at least one work of fiction that I truly love. As I’ve blogged about before, consistently my first choice is Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1991), which combines my interest in two areas – the First World War and the history of mental health care. This summer I followed Regeneration with a favorite of mine from high school, The Great Gatsby (1925). My son, an aspiring writer and filmmaker, and I watched the 2013 Baz Luhrmann version and I felt immediately compelled to reverse the screenwriters’ changes to Fitgerald’s masterpiece by re-reading the original text, which never disappoints me. 


As much as I’ve worked during my twenty-plus years of teaching American history to add diverse perspectives to my US History II survey, there is something timeless about Fitzgerald’s window into 1920s’ white wealth and privilege that I believe still has lessons for our 21st-century students. For this reason I’m planning to reintroduce the book in my spring 2023 US History II classes after a several year hiatus. I’m hoping that my students will find in Fitzgerald’s 1920s’ society themes to connect to their observations of American life nearly one-hundred years later. The Great Gatsby is now available as a free download through Project Gutenberg making it an even more appealing choice for today’s students.


I’m considering using Fitzgerald’s work in conjunction with the short stories of Anzia Yezierska (Hungry Hearts, 1920), which is also available open access. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, the last few times I’ve taught US History II to do less 19th-century history and more 20th in response to students’ interests in the more modern period. An increased focus on the 1920s feels like a good place to start.


What kinds of content changes are you considering for next academic year? Have you recently used Fitzgerald’s or Yezierska’s work in a history class? How have students responded? Please share!


Happy Summer!

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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.