Jon Grinspan

Jon Grinspan

Curator of Political History

Ph.D.   University of Virginia, History, 2013
M.A.    University of Virginia, History, 2008
B.A.     Sarah Lawrence College, 2006

Research Specialties: 

I’m a historian, of politics and youth and comedy and food and booze, in 19th and early 20th century America. I like any subject that makes the past feel human and immediate, and I try to engage both the public and scholars.

My first book, The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century, uncovered the forgotten era when young men and women were the most engaged demographic in American politics. Millions of children, youths, and young adults forced their way into the life of their democracy, while their democracy forced its way into their personal lives.

I’m currently working on a second book: Is Democracy a Failure? It covers the period, from 1865 to 1905, when Americans felt deep frustration with their politics and politicians, and some concluded that the democratic experiment had failed. By following the intertwining stories of reformers, bosses, and cranks, this book tries to explain how Americans, angry with Gilded Age democracy, created 20th century America’s more restrained approach to politics.

It also asks why those norms seem to be crumbling today.


I always appreciate feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me.



"How Generational Divisions Have Driven Down Voter Turnout in the United States," The Atlantic, July 30, 2016.
"America's 'Violent Little Partisans,'" The Atlantic, May 8, 2016.
The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
"Virgins, Booze, and American Elections," New York Times, April 8, 2016.
"When Anger Trumped Progress" New York Times, January 16, 2016
"A Birthday Like None Other: Turning Twenty-One in the Age of Popular Politics" Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present, Ed. Corinne Field (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 86-102.
"D.I.Y Education Before YouTube" New York Times, July 11, 2015
"Was Abolitionism a Failure?" New York Times, January 30, 2015.
"Don't Throw the Bums Out" New York Times, September 12, 2014
"How Coffee Fueled the Civil War," New York Times, July 9, 2014
"The Wild Children of Yesteryear" New York Times, May 31, 2014
"Anxious Youth, Then and Now" New York Times, December 31, 2013
"When the Civil War Came to New York," New York Times, July 13, 2013
"The Stephen Colbert of the Civil War" New York Times, June 11, 2012
"Laugh During Wartime" New York Times, January 9, 2012
"Riling Up the 'Shrewd, Wild Boys'" New York Times, August 9, 2012
“Sorrowfully Amusing: The Popular Comedy of the Civil War,” Journal of the Civil War Era, (September, 2011), 313-338.
"'Young Men for War': The Wide Awakes and Lincoln's 1860 Presidential Campaign" Journal of American History, 96 (Sept. 2009), 357–78.