• Sam Rosenfeld

    Visiting Assistant Professor of Government

    Hamilton College

  • Biography

    Welcome! I am currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government at Hamilton College, having served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University during the 2015-2016 academic year. I have a PhD in History from Harvard University and study political parties and American political development. My research interests include the history of political parties, the intersection of social movements and formal politics, and the politics of social and economic policymaking. My book project, The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press), offers an intellectual and institutional history of party polarization in the postwar United States.


    I previously worked as a writer and editor at The American Prospect magazine in Washington, DC, where I continue to contribute articles. I hold a BA in History from Columbia University and an MA in History from Harvard.

  • The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era

    Chicago Daily Tribune, February 18, 1957


    My book project, forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press, traces the construction of an ideologically defined party system in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. Its core argument is that the contemporary era of party polarization did not emerge merely as the byproduct of long-term structural developments, but was a political project carried out by conscious historical actors across the postwar decades. The work of activists, reformers, and political elites within and around the Democratic and Republican parties helped to produce, by the end of the century, an unpredicted and still-continuing period of strong, polarized partisanship in American politics. In tracking that work, the book also accounts for changing ideas about the party system over time—starting with a postwar scholarly doctrine that cast bipartisanship as a problem for which polarization would provide the solution. Spanning four decades of dramatic political conflict, issue-driven activism, and institutional reform, the narrative provides an origins story for the dynamics and dysfunctions that define the modern political era.


    Partisan polarization structures contemporary American politics and dominates popular discussion of it. But the history of this development has been told only in fragments, and the transformation of the American party system remains marginal to the main scholarly themes of later-twentieth-century historical scholarship. This book brings that unheralded transformation and its architects to the center of the story of modern American politics. The project enriches the abundant popular and scholarly discussion of contemporary party polarization, identifying its origins in developments dating to the early postwar years and historicizing Americans’ long-running debates over partisanship. Placing purposive actors at the center of the story addresses a key shortcoming in dominant political science accounts of polarization, which identify elite-level polarization in the later twentieth century as the spur to ideological sorting in the mass electorate but render the process of that initial elite polarization a historical black box. By specifying the actors who made polarization happen and connecting their actions to a shared set of normative views about party politics, this book opens that black box. The book’s institutional focus also helps to recast and revise key historiographic narratives of post-1960s U.S. politics, particularly the rise of the right and the decline of the New Deal order. It does this by framing the period’s conservative mobilizations as a partisan project and by highlighting processes of ideological consolidation and organizational change within the Democratic Party and among allied groups that paralleled developments on the right.

    Chapter outline

    A detailed chapter summary can be found here.



    Chapter One: The Idea of Responsible Partisanship, 1945-1952

    Chapter Two: Democrats and the Politics of Principle, 1952-1960

    Chapter Three: A Choice, Not an Echo, 1948-1964

    Chapter Four: Power in Movement, 1961-1968

    Chapter Five: The Age of Party Reform, 1968-1975

    Chapter Six: The Making of a Vanguard Party, 1968-1980

    Chapter Seven: Liberal Alliance-Building for Lean Times, 1972-1980

    Chapter Eight: Dawn of a New Party Period, 1980-2000

    Conclusion: Polarization Without Responsibility, 2000-2016

  • Publications and Media

    Peer reviewed publications

    Works in progress

    The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era (under contract, University of Chicago Press).


    "The Hollow Parties," (book chapter with Daniel Schlozman).


    "The Declinist Era in Party Scholarship: An Intellectual History" (working paper).


    "Constructing a More Responsible Two-Party System: Liberal Origins of Modern Party Polarization" (working paper).


    Working paper on the 1968 Democratic challenge delegation in Georgia (with Nancy Schwartz).

    Selected other publications

    "There's No Going Back," review of The Great Exception by Jefferson Cowie, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (Spring 2016).


    "Should Liberals Back Public Employee Unions?," review of Government Against Itself by Daniel DiSalvo and Bring Back the Bureaucrats by John J. DiIulio, Jr. The American Prospect (Summer 2015). With Jake Rosenfeld.


    Smooth Operator,” review of The Whole Damn Deal by Kathryn McGarr. The American Prospect (September 2011).


    A Long-Distance Runner,” review of Citizen Rauh by Michael E. Parrish. The American Prospect (December 2010).


    Frustrated by His Own Party,” review of Roosevelt's Purge by Susan Dunn. The American Prospect (November 2010).


    The Way of the Hammer,” feature article on the uses of congressional partisanship. The American Prospect (November 2006).


    The Truth About the Senate,” review of The Most Exclusive Club by Lewis Gould. The American Prospect (December 2005).


    Disorder in the Court,” feature article on liberal and conservative critiques of judicial review. The American Prospect (July 2005).


    Recent media appearances and mentions

    Interviews on CTV News, July 21, 2016 and November 9, 2016.


    Maurice Isserman, "How to Make the Democratic Party Platform Actually Matter," In These Times, July 15, 2016.


    E.J. Dionne, "Fighting nostalgia and amnesia in America's search for lost greatness," Washington Post, July 6, 2016.


    Alan Greenblatt, "The Freedom Caucus' Unprecedented Insurgency," Politico, October 18, 2015.


    Matthew Yglesias, "American democracy is doomed," Vox, October 8, 2015.


  • Teaching

    Courses taught

    American Political Development, Wesleyan University, Spring 2015, Hamilton College, Fall 2016 - Syllabus

    Political Parties and Elections, Hamilton College, Fall 2014, Fall 2016 - Syllabus

    American Political Parties, Wesleyan University, Fall 2015

    American Government and Politics, Wesleyan University, Fall 2015 and Spring 2016

    Senior Project Seminar: The American Welfare State, Hamilton College, Spring 2015 - Syllabus

    The American Political Process, Hamilton College, Fall and Spring 2014 - Syllabus

    Other teaching interests

    Political Science Courses

    Introduction to American Politics, American Political Development, Political Parties and Elections, American Social Policy, Congress, the Presidency, Public Policy


    History Courses

    Survey courses in U.S. history since the Civil War, period-specific courses in 20th century U.S. history, U.S. political history, U.S. public policy, history of the American welfare state, 20th century U.S. intellectual history

    Sample teaching evaluations

    A complete set of teaching evaluations can be found below.


    "Professor Rosenfeld is one the best professors I've had at Hamilton. He is knowledgeable, kind, and funny. He combined current events with history, giving students a well-rounded perspective on the subject matter. His grading was fair and well-considered. The class was structured for interesting discussion and student input. I am so lucky to have taken this class."


    "Let me just say that I have never bothered to fill out a teaching evaluation before until I took this class, so that should say something. Professor Rosenfeld is without a doubt the best teacher I have had in all my time at Wesleyan. He is equally knowledgeable of the course material as he is engaging in the classroom. Enthusiasm 5/5. Helpfulness 5/5. His ability to go beyond the scope of a survey course on government and show its intersection with historical and sociological contexts makes him the model of a truly gifted liberal arts professor."


    "This class completely altered my view of the role of parties in our government. On the first day, my definition of parties, as I now know, was far too narrow. Professor Rosenfeld provided a comprehensive description of the influence that the party organizations have on the government, and how the parties have developed over time. He was especially proficient at showing how trends over time have culminated in the system that we have today. I genuinely feel that the information presented in this class provided a unique description of the American party system that I could not have obtained elsewhere."


    "Professor Rosenfeld is quite fantastic, if I am honest. He is enthused about his topic, is extremely knowledgable, and it shows in how he gets so much information covered in one class. His lectures are well guided, yet have a lot of student participation, and he always makes time for our questions - in and out of class. He is a fair grader, with some of the most helpful, in depth critiques of essays I have ever seen. Being in this class was an incredible experience; I wish he wasn't a visiting professor - he was a great government instructor and I would love to take another class from him."


    "Professor Rosenfeld was very knowledgeable; I particularly enjoyed his take as a political historian. He came to class well-prepared to lecture and was able to answer or follow up on any questions. He was very enthusiastic, it was a pleasure to attend his class. I really appreciated that he took the time to meet with each of us individually about our papers, and that he sent us personalized emails with feedback on the papers. He went above and beyond to ensure he knew us all by the end of the class, and it showed. Great introductory course that reinforced my interest in politics."


    "The quality of the course was very high, and a lot of the readings were very crucial to my understanding of the political parties and elections. The syllabus seemed carefully crafted, and the professor made sure to emphasize key points and issues. I learned so much about both the current state and the history of our political parties, and I feel like I can apply what I've learned to so many aspects of my life and what I plan to study. I very much looked forward to attending each class meeting, and would take this course again in a heartbeat!"


    "I thoroughly enjoyed this class, and I would take another class with him in an instant. This class was not simply about memorizing dates or important reforms in the party system. Professor Rosenfeld made it a point to show how seemingly unrelated events could culminate in important changes to the development of our current political system. As I wrote my final paper for the class, I found myself referencing notes from dates throughout the semester. That is a testament to how well Professor Rosenfeld was able to craft assignments and a syllabus that that would force students to think critically about the development of parties in the United States."


    "His class and teaching changed the way I think about American politics and deepened my understanding. He was very clear in communicating standards and helping us pull out what was important in dense readings. He has been very accessible and helpful in explaining content, improving writing, and thinking about issues in a complex manner. He also has helped me become a much better writer overall, and helped a lot in office hours when I had trouble developing a thesis from my ideas."


    "Professor Rosenfeld did a great job of facilitating learning and thought-provoking discussions, allowing me to approach American politics in a way I never have before. I learned so much from this class, and there were many different ways in which Professor Rosenfeld approached a topic in a creative way, such as small group discussions, debates, designing organizational charts, etc. The class was very open, although structured, which allowed for questions and perspectives from every student. Often he would ask thought-provoking questions that would elicit many different responses and perspectives and helped us to understand why we thought that way. I also found the organization of the course to be very well-thought out and clear."


    "This wound up being one of my favorite courses so far. I always thought a basic American government course was dull and repetitive. However, the professor made me think of all the material in a new, deeper way. His classes stressed the importance of our system and how it affects certain aspects of life ... It was a great class and I would recommend anyone to take this class, specifically with this professor."


    "He did a great job because he took someone who knew nothing about politics before this and turned her into someone who can actually hold her own when her family starts debating about something in our political spectrum."

  • Contact

    Sam Rosenfeld

    Visiting Assistant Professor, Government Department

    Hamilton College

    198 College Hill Rd

    Clinton, NY 13323