Historians Contextualizing the Capitol Insurrection: A Roundup

On January 6, 2021, a white-supremacist mob, incited by the President of the United States, attacked the U.S. Capitol building. They ran through its halls and chambers, broke into congressional offices, brandished weapons and Confederate flags, and took selfies. After several hours of occupation and looting, most of the insurrectionists were allowed to leave the building peacefully.

Historians immediately went to work, writing newsletters, columns, and Op-eds to contextualize this event in the history of politics, white supremacy, law enforcement, and racist violence.

A list of their publications is below, in alphabetical order by author’s last name. These pieces use extended historical analysis to understand the events of January 6. This is a dynamic document, and will change as historians publish more pieces.

*This post has been updated to include pieces published on the anniversaries of the insurrection in 2022 and 2023.* (see below)


*** For a list of pieces by historians contextualizing the political chaos surrounding these events (voter intimidation, the 14th and 25th amendments, impeachment, etc.), see Lindsay Chervinksy’s roundup.


Articles, Op-eds, blog posts, and newsletters published January 6-10, 2021:

Adams, Christine. “Trump’s supporters think they’re being patriotic. And that’s the problem,” Made by History, Washington Post.

Arsenault, Raymond. “Trump’s Frightening Folly,” Tampa Bay Times.

AskHistorians. “Today’s Sedition that the United States Capitol,” reddit.com.

Bannister, Jerry. “Debating (American) Democracy,” Early Canadian History.

Barnes, Rhae Lynn and Keri Leigh Merritt. “A Confederate Flag at the Capitol Summons America’s Demons,” cnn.com.

Beatty, Bob. “Resolved: Processing January 6 and the Aftermath,” Medium.

Belew, Kathleen (interview). “‘The Turner Diaries’ didn’t just inspire the Capitol attack. It warns us what might be next,” Los Angeles Times.

Blight, David W. “How Trumpism May Endure,” New York Times.

Brenner, Michael. “Pre-Nazi Germany tells us the fight to save American democracy is just beginning,” Made by History, Washington Post.

Brown, Joshua. “Life during Wartime 529: January 6, 2021.” History News Network.

Bruner, Anneliese M. “My grandmother survived the Tulsa massacre. 100 years later, I watched a mostly White mob attack my city,” The Lily.

Center for Women’s History. “Saving the Symbols of Democracy: Dolley Madison in 1814,” New-York Historical Society.

Chervinsky, Lindsay. “The President is a Threat to Congress and D.C.,” Medium.

Coe, Alexis. “George Washington foresaw the Capitol riot. It’s why he hated political parties,” PostEverything, Washington Post.

Coe, Alexis. “George Washington’s Legacy Alone Was Enough to Guarantee a Peaceful Transfer of Presidential Power—Until Now,” Town & Country.

Cox, Karen L. “What Trump Shares With the ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederacy,” New York Times.

Downs, Gregory and Kate Masur. “Yes, Wednesday’s attempted insurrection is who we are,” Made By History, Washington Post.

Falter, Ben. “A Tale of Two Coups,” benthehistorian.com.

Foner, Eric. “The Capitol Riot Reveals the Dangers From the Enemy Within,” The Nation.

Forde, Kathy Roberts. “Making Sense of the Violent Attack on the Capitol, Parts 1 and 2,” Substack.

Guidotti-Hernández, Nicole. “On the Ground in Georgia: A Much-Needed Message of Change,” Ms. Magazine.

Gullotta, Daniel. “Violence in the Capitol: A Historic Wake-Up Call,” The Bulwark.

Hemmer, Nicole. “The striking parallels between the assaults on Charlottesville and the Capitol,” cnn.com.

Jackson, Kellie Carter. “The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design,” The Atlantic.

Jett, Brandon T. and Nicholas Foreman. “Guest opinion: 150 years later, rebellions against the will of the people must be held accountable,” (Fort Myers, Fl.) News-Press.

Kazin, Michael. “This Is Who We Are,” Dissent.

Kelly, Jason M. “Timeline of an Insurrection,” jasonmkelly.com.

Lancaster, Guy. “A Modern Day Lynch Mob Invaded the Capitol on January 6,” History News Network.

Larson, Zeb. “Attack on the U.S. Capitol Sets a Precedent for Future Anti-Government Action.” Teen Vogue.

Lepore, Jill. “What Should We Call the Sixth of January?” The New Yorker.

Lurie, Shira. “Republicans have been sowing the seeds of yesterday’s coup attempt for decades,” Toronto Star.

Mackowski, Chris. “The Confederate Flag and the Assault on the Capitol,” emergingcivilwar.com

McEneaney, Sinead. “Is America Better Than This?” sineadmceneaney.com.

Nelson, Megan Kate. “1871 provides a road map for addressing the pro-Trump attempted insurrection,” Made by History, Washington Post.

Oberg, Michael Leroy. “This is Us.” Native America: A History.

On the Media. “Breaking the Myth,” New York Public Radio (*segments including interviews with historians contextualizing the insurrection)

Richardson, Heather Cox. “January 7, 2021.” Letters from an American, Substack.

Rothman, Joshua D. “Opinion: Mobs of white citizens rioting have been commonplace in the United States for centuries,” The Hechinger Report.

Serwer, Adam. “The Capitol Riot Was an Attack on Multiracial Democracy,” The Atlantic.

Smith III, Clint. “The Whole Story in a Single Photo,” The Atlantic.

Smith, Craig Bruce. “Transition of power: Greatness meets infamy,” The Hill.

Smith, Shannon. “US Capitol protesters, egged on by Trump, are part of a long history of white supremacists hearing politicians’ words as encouragement,” The Conversation.

Snyder, Timothy. “The American Abyss.New York Times Magazine.

Taylor, Jordan E. “What pro-Trump insurrectionists share — and don’t — with the American Revolution,” Made by History, Washington Post.

Tremlett, Giles. “For Spaniards who remember 1981, the storming of the Capitol looked eerily familiar,” The Guardian.

Uffelman, Minoa and Kevin Baron. “After coup attempt on the Capitol, ‘our country will never be the same,'” ClarksvilleNow.com.

Widmer, Ted. “The Capitol Takeover That Wasn’t,” New York Times.

Woodward, Stephanie. “Native Americans on Police Response to Capitol Insurrection,” Yes! Magazine.

Articles, Op-eds, blog posts, and newsletters published after January 10, 2021:

Barnes, Melody and Caroline E. Janney. “In a civil war, accountability must precede healing,” Washington Post.

Berry, Daina Ramey and Kate Masur [interview]. “From the Civil War to the Capitol Insurrection: The History of White Violence in America,” The Takeaway.

Bevins, Vincent. “The Hour of the Barbarian: Which America is the True One?” n+1 (online).

Boyle, Kevin and James Grossman. “A Starting Point: Teaching the January 6 Insurrection,” Perspectives on History.

Carp, Benjamin L, Adam I.P. Smith, and Manisha Sinha. “A New Low for American Democracy?” BBC History Magazine (March 2021). [no link – hardcopy only].

Carter, James. “‘Bombard the Headquarters: January 6, 2021 / August 7, 1966,” SupChina.

Fachner, Rebecca. “The Capitol: What I Know and What I’ve Learned.” Society for U.S. Intellectual History.

Forde, Kathy Roberts and Kristin Gustafson. “A white supremacist coup succeeded in 1898 North Carolina, led by lying politicians and racist newspapers that amplified their lies.” The Conversation.

Gabriele, Matt. “Vikings, Crusaders, Confederates. Misunderstood Historical Imagery at the January 6 Capitol Insurrection,” Perspectives on History.

Giesberg, Judith. “A Revolution Against Interracial Democracy.” Public Seminar.

Giesberg, Judith. “Grant—not Lincoln or Roosevelt—may hold the key to Biden’s Success. Washington Post Made by History.

Goodlett, Sean C. “Our Jacobin Moment.” Medium.

Gualdrón Ramírez, Miguel. “Absolute Banana Republic Crap: Reflections on the “Assault” on the Capitol,” Blog of the APA.

Hatter, Lawrence B.A. “The similarities to the last invasion of the Capitol matter — so do the differences,” Made by History, Washington Post.

Hoang, Tuan. “The South Vietnamese Flag and Shifting Representations of the Vietnam Experience.” Rising Asia Journal.

Horner, Dan. “The Fury of the Betrayed: What Attacks on Capitols in Montreal (1849) and Washington (2021) Tell Us About the Long History of Anti-Democratic Sentiment in North American Political Culture.” Early Canadian History.

Perlstein, Rick. “Reactionary Minoritarianism and January 6, 2021″ [talk], Filson Historical Society.

Schrag, Zachary M. “Martyrs to the Nation.” Slate.

Sinha, Manisha. “The Case for a Third Reconstruction.” The New York Review of Books.

Thurston, Robert. “Coups: What makes one successful, another fail?,” Not Your Party Line Historian.

Waite, Kevin. “Congress is Still Littered with Insurrectionists: It’s time to remove the busts of these traitors from Statuary Hall,” Slate.

Articles and Op-eds published on the anniversary of the insurrection

Belew, Kathleen. “Militia groups were hiding in plain sight on Jan. 6. They’re still dangerous.” Washington Post. January 6, 2022.

Chervinsky, Lindsay M. “The U.S. Has Weathered Crises Before. Here’s Why Jan. 6 Was Different.” Governing. January 6, 2022.

Grinspan, Jon and Peter Manseau. “It’s 2086. This is What American History Could Look Like.” New York Times. January 6, 2022.

Mosvick, Nicholas and Craig Bruce Smith. “A Presidential Candidate Pledge Can Right the Wrongs of an Infamous Day.” The Hill. January 6, 2022.

Railton, Ben. “The Dangerous ‘Patriotism’ of the January 6 Insurrection.” Saturday Evening Post. January 5, 2022.

Articles and Op-eds published on the 2nd anniversary of the insurrection

Chervinsky, Lindsay M. “Two Years after January 6, There are Reasons to be Hopeful,” Washington Monthly January 6, 2023.

35 thoughts on “Historians Contextualizing the Capitol Insurrection: A Roundup”

      1. Thanks for this GREAT round-up! So grateful to have it. If you’re updating, here’s one more:
        Kathy Roberts Forde and Kristin Gustafson, “A white supremacist coup succeeded in 1898 North Carolina, led by lying politicians and racist newspapers that amplified their lies,” The Conversation, January 15, 2021

    1. Thanks for these! I’m going to include the LA Times piece, as it uses history as a sustained analytical lens, while the other 2 don’t as much.

    1. I’ll try to get to this at some point soon. I’m a bit under water keeping up with vetting all of the suggestions right now. For the moment, I’ll just have to divide the list into pieces published Jan. 6-10, and those after.

      1. And – thanks for linking to this article, but as historical context is not the primary mode of analysis, I’m not going to include it on the list. It’s a great read, though!

    1. Thanks, Josh! Up to this point, I have only been including pieces that use extended historical analysis to understand the events of January 6, but I think your cartoon does a good job making historical connections in this moment explicit, so I’ll add it to the list.

    1. Yes! I get Heather’s newsletter (she is also a friend). I’ve linked to one of her letters (reviewing the day of the insurrection) in the list.

    1. Yes! I get Heather’s newsletter – one of her pieces is listed above; interested readers can subscribe from there.

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