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On New Years Day, 1863, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and countless other abolitionists across the nation waited anxiously for word on the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In grade school, I learned that it freed the slaves. But when I later read the document, I realized that it was not that simple: Lincoln only freed the slaves on Confederate soil, exempting those states under Union occupation and those fighting for the Union. Why, then, on January first, 1863, did abolitionists celebrate the news of partial emancipation as if it fulfilled the very core of their mission?
A few years ago, I taught a class in American Literature in Senegal. My students were from 26 African countries, spoke a variety of languages, and came from diverse social, economic and religious backgrounds.
The two-week course was supposed to have been comprised of lectures corresponding to readings the students had gotten to ahead of my arrival. However, as the books hadn't shown up, the director informed me that the students would do a week's worth of reading per night and I was to lecture on it the following day. I gave this model about two or three days before I would have to come up with a Plan B. To my surprise, the students lasted longer than I did. On the Friday of the first week, I was exhausted, having rushed through the Colonial and Transcendental periods in a blur and didn't know how I would start a conversation about Walt Whitman with them.
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Early this morning the American Space Shuttle program ended. When the Atlantis shuttle landed at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, it brought to a close 30 years of American innovation and leadership in space exploration. When I look back on the Space program, one particular initiative comes to mind -- the Apollo program. Apollo is known for its many success and failures, particularly Apollo 1 and Apollo 13 but it was Apollo 8 that instilled faith that the United States might actually reach the moon.
I am a certified history nerd. I take all history classes, read history blogs, go on long Wikipedia adventures, and even regale people I have barely met with random historical facts. I have not always been this way, however; in fact, there was a time that for me the word "history" was synonymous with the most painful extremes of boredom.
Heavy snow and rain this past winter and spring have led to massive flooding of the Mississippi River Valley in 2011, devastating populated areas along the river's path and causing millions of dollars in damage. Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee are just a few states that have been affected by the flooding, displacing thousands of people across the South and Midwest. Over the past several weeks, the Army Corps of Engineers has destroyed levees along the Mississippi River to direct excess water away from more densely populated areas and into flood lands.
Three years ago, my knowledge of my paternal grandmother, born Annie Sprinsock, was at best sketchy. A Russian-Jewish immigrant to New York City, she lived a tragically truncated life marked by recurrent bouts of melancholia until her death at the young age of 34 in 1929. My father, deeply pained by her untimely death, rarely spoke of her to my brother and me when we were children -- except to say that she had been at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the day of the infamous fire.
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