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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.


Why Celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation?


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?


Missing Whitman One Place We Search Another


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.


A Look Back at Apollo 8 and the Race to the Moon


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.

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