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Inventing a Light Bulb, Innovating an Electrical System: Thomas Edison and the Transformation of Invention


The name Thomas Edison has become synonymous with invention and his most famous invention, the electric light bulb, has become a familiar symbol for that flash of inspired genius traditionally associated with invention. In part the light bulb's symbolic value comes from its obvious role as a visual metaphor of the "bright idea." But this symbolism also arises from its association with Thomas Edison -- the electric light as the greatest invention of the world's greatest inventor. The "electric light," however, was no single invention emanating from an inspired genius. Instead it was a complex network of inventions produced by teams of researchers working under his direction in the world’s first true invention laboratory. As he invented the system of electric lighting, Edison simultaneously reinvented the system of invention.

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My Journey to America


On October 3rd, 2014, my children and I went to the Michigan Theater to watch Last Days In Vietnam, a film directed by Rory Kennedy, who is the youngest daughter of Robert Kennedy.  This documentary meticulously covers the stressful events that led to the 1975 evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Through never before seen footage of intense interviews with U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese civilians, Ms. Kennedy brings their story to life with unprecedented detail.

Binh attended a screening of Last Days in Vietnam in the fall of 2014. After seeing herself and her family in the documentary, she contacted American Experience to share her story. She asked that we only use her first name for this post.  


"We had the NAACP. They had the Klan."


Bunny Sanders is the Mayor of Roper, North Carolina. Her father, E.V. Wilkins was a prominent black leader in Eastern North Carolina and was Roper’s first black mayor in 1967. In her interview for the film, Klansville U.S.A., Mayor Sanders states, "We had the NAACP. They had the Klan." We asked her to elaborate on this and explain how the two very different groups found their own outlets to ensure they were heard in North Carolina during the 1960s.


The Allure of Extremes


With his syndicated weekly feature, Believe It or Not!, his radio and television shows and Odditoriums, those dim-lit exhibition halls of the bizarre, grotesque and weird, Robert Leroy Ripley was easily the most popular American icon of the twentieth century.

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To Obey or to Stray: That is the Question


The Amish are not a monolithic group. In fact, they live in more than 450 settlements spread across 30 states and one Canadian province. The founders of each of these settlements determine their local Ordnung or set of church rules. Some new settlements became stricter than the communities they left, and others relax the rules. Women’s head coverings and dress styles might change. Maybe gas-powered lawn mowers were not allowed in the home community, but they are allowed in the daughter settlement. 

In “The Amish: Shunned,” diversity is especially noticeable in the contrast between the community where Anna came from and the one where Naomi came from. Anna is from a Swartzentruber group, which is the strictest of the strict. Naomi comes from a more progressive community. Here are some of the differences:


Introducing News & Then


It seems like every week there's a new article about the negative effects of Internet culture on American society. We're cautioned that the Internet is making us more isolated, more divided, and less empathetic; or that Twitter and Facebook are eroding our already limited collective attention span and capacity for sustained, nuanced discussion. Some have even questioned whether the Internet may ultimately spell the end of "deep reading."

Our latest American Experience project, News & Then, takes a more optimistic view: that digital media can be a powerful tool for connection and engagement, and can deepen our understanding of the world we live in and the historic struggles that have shaped it.