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The Invention of Thanksgiving

27 Nov

Autumn is the season for Native America. There are the cool nights and warm days of Indian summer and the genial query “What’s Indian about this weather?” More wearisome is the annual fight over the legacy of Christopher Columbus—a bold explorer dear to Italian-American communities, but someone who brought to this continent forms of slavery that would devastate indigenous populations for centuries. Football season is in full swing, and the team in the nation’s capital revels each week in a racist performance passed off as “just good fun.” As baseball season closes, one prays that Atlanta (or even semi-evolved Cleveland) will not advance to the World Series. Next up is Halloween, typically featuring “Native American Brave” and “Sexy Indian Princess” costumes. November brings Native American Heritage Month and tracks a smooth countdown to Thanksgiving. In the elementary-school curriculum, the holiday traditionally meant a pageant, with students in construction-paper headdresses and Pilgrim hats reënacting the original celebration. If today’s teachers aim for less pageantry and a slightly more complicated history, many students still complete an American education unsure about the place of Native people in the nation’s past—or in its present. Cap the season off with Thanksgiving, a turkey dinner, and a fable of interracial harmony. Is it any wonder that by the time the holiday arrives a lot of American Indian people are thankful that autumn is nearly over?

So begins historian and Native American Philip Deloria’s New Yorker essay on the history of American Indians and Thanksgiving. You may read his entire piece here.

The 1918 Parade That Spread Death in Philadelphia

14 Nov

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

A Red Cross nurse wearing a face mask, c. 1918

The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed between 50 and 100 million people around the world, more than died in the battles of World War I. In the United States, the hardest-hit city was Philadelphia, where the spread of the disease was spurred by what was meant to be a joyous event: a parade.

So begins Allison C. Meier’s JSTOR Daily post about Philadelphia’s influenza disaster in 1918. You may read the entire post, with links, here.

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Harriet Tubman, in movie and real life, guided by faith in fight for freedom

1 Nov

(RNS) — “God don’t mean people to own people.”

That simple statement, uttered by Cynthia Erivo in the title role of “Harriet,” a new movie about Harriet Tubman, reveals a truth long known by scholars of the woman dubbed “Moses.”

Tubman’s lived religion has been well recorded and used to explain how in 1849 a Maryland 20-something slave (her exact birthdate is not known) set out for the North to freedom, then over the next 10 years helped dozens of others gain liberty from enslavement. She embraced faith instead of fear, said Kate Clifford Larson, a historical consultant for the movie.

“It gave her confidence to do the things that she did,” said Larson.

So begins Adelle M. Banks’ report on Harriet Tubman and her faith, in life and in the new film. You may read the entire Religion News Service story here.

New World Prophecy: Dvorak, Dawson, and the Whiteness of Classical Music in America.

17 Sep

Though best known for his choral arrangements, William Levi Dawson composed a large-scale work, the <em></dt><dd class=

In 1934, Leopold Stokowski and his incomparable Philadelphia Orchestra premiered a new work by a black composer : the Negro Folk Symphony of William Levi Dawson. Four days later, Stokowski conducted the symphony at Carnegie Hall, a performance that was nationally broadcast and widely reviewed. “Hope in the Night,” the second movement, ignited an ovation—the orchestra had to stand. At the close, Dawson was repeatedly called to the stage. Pitts Sanborn of The New York World-Telegram wrote that “the immediate success of the symphony [did not] give rise to doubts as to its enduring qualities. One is eager to hear it again and yet again.” Leonard Liebling of the New York American (like Sanborn, a critic of consequence) went the full distance; he called Dawson’s symphony “the most distinctive and promising American symphonic proclamation which has so far been achieved.” Yet the Negro Folk Symphony would soon be forgotten.

So begins Joseph Horowitz’s intriguing American Scholar article on Dawson, Dvorak, and the whiteness of classical music in the United States. You may read the entire article here.

Presidential candidate and former pastor Mark Charles confronts American history

12 Sep

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Mark Charles may be the only 2020 presidential candidate who can list working as a Christian pastor on his résumé. But when you ask him how his faith informs his politics, he doesn’t exactly preach.

So begins Jack Jenkins’ Religion News Service report on my friend Mark Charles’ presidential campaign as an independent. You may read the entire story here.

The Impossible, Necessary History of the Hymnal

13 Aug

Phillips, The Hymnal

Historian Chris Gehrz provides a fascinating review of a new book, The Hymnal, by Christopher N. Phillips. You may read the review here.

For 40 Years, Crashing Trains Was One of America’s Favorite Pastimes

3 Jul
The "Crash at Crush" explosion.

The “Crash at Crush” explosion. THE TEXAS COLLECTION, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

ON SEPTEMBER 15, 1896, TWO locomotives crashed head on 14 miles north of WacoTexas. The locomotives’ boilers exploded on impact, sending debris flying through the air for hundreds of yards, killing at least two spectators and maiming countless others. One man even lost an eye to a flying bolt.

But no one ran from the calamity. In fact, after the crash, thousands of bystanders ran toward the destroyed locomotives hoping to claim a piece of the wreckage. That’s because the 40,000 or so people scattered along the tracks that September day knew the locomotives were going to crash and had paid to be there.

So begins Justin Franz’s fascinating account of staged train wrecks. You may read his entire Atlas Obscura piece here.

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