american history

  At the dawn of the nineteenth century, as Britain, France, Spain, and the United States all jockeyed for control of the vast expanses west of the Mississippi River, the stakes for American expansion were incalculably high. Even after the American purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Spain still coveted that land and was prepared to employ any means to retain it. With war expected at any moment, Jefferson played a game of strategy, putting on the ground the only Americans he could: a cadre of explorers who finally annexed it through courageous investigation. 

Julie M. Fenster is the author of many works of popular history, including The Case of Abraham Lincoln, Race of the Century, the award-winning Ether Day, and, with Douglas Brinkley, Parish Priest, which was a New York Times bestseller. She also co-wrote the PBS documentary First Freedom, about the founders and religious liberty. Her new book is Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation.

  Herbert Clark Hoover was the thirty-first President of the United States. He served one term, from 1929 to 1933. Often considered placid, passive, unsympathetic, and even paralyzed by national events, Hoover faced an uphill battle in the face of the Great Depression.

Many historians dismiss him as merely ineffective. But in Herbert Hoover in the White House,Charles Rappleye draws on rare and intimate sources—memoirs and diaries and thousands of documents kept by members of his cabinet and close advisors—to reveal a very different figure than the one often portrayed. The real Hoover, argues Rappleye, just lacked the tools of leadership.

  The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

First released in 2013, the best-selling book has been released in a Young Readers Adaptation by Viking Books.

Berkshire Sculling Association in Pittsfield is hosting John Biglow, member of the 1984 Olympic rowing team. John has developed a talk around the The Boys in the Boat book, which he’ll be presenting at the Duffin Theater in Lenox on Sunday June 26 at 2:30.

  John Quincy Adams was the last of his kind—a Puritan from the age of the Founders who despised party and compromise, yet dedicated himself to politics and government. The son of John Adams, he was a brilliant ambassador and secretary of state, a frustrated president at a historic turning point in American politics, and a dedicated congressman who literally died in office—at the age of 80, in the House of Representatives, in the midst of an impassioned political debate.

In John Quincy Adams, scholar and journalist James Traub draws on Adams’ diary, letters, and writings to evoke a diplomat and president whose ideas remain with us today.

  “There are two keys to unlocking the secrets of American politics and American political history.” So begins The Politicians & the Egalitarians, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz’s bold new work of history.

First, America is built on an egalitarian tradition. At the nation’s founding, Americans believed that extremes of wealth and want would destroy their revolutionary experiment in republican government. Ever since, that idea has shaped national political conflict and scored major egalitarian victories―from the Civil War and Progressive eras to the New Deal and the Great Society―along the way.

Second, partisanship is a permanent fixture in America, and America is the better for it. Every major egalitarian victory in United States history has resulted neither from abandonment of partisan politics nor from social movement protests but from a convergence of protest and politics, and then sharp struggles led by principled and effective party politicians. There is little to be gained from the dream of a post-partisan world.

With these two insights Sean Wilentz offers a crystal-clear portrait of American history, told through politicians and egalitarians including Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, and W. E. B. Du Bois―a portrait that runs counter to current political and historical thinking.

    In our Ideas Matter segment we take time just about every week to check in with the state humanities councils in our 7-state region.

Today we learn about Reading Frederick Douglass, a statewide initiative led by Mass Humanities. Communities and organizations around the state typically organize public readings of Douglass' speech, "What is the Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro." We are joined today by Manisha Sinha, Professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Rose Sackey-Milligan, Program Officer at Mass Humanities. With them we explore the value of the humanities in enhancing and improving civic life.

  Using Washington's extensive but often overlooked financial papers, Edward G. Lengel chronicles the fascinating and inspiring story of how this self-educated man built the Mount Vernon estate into a vast multilayered enterprise and prudently managed meager resources to win the war of independence.

Later, as president, he helped establish the national economy on a solid footing and favorably positioned the nation for the Industrial Revolution. Washington's steadfast commitment to the core economic principles of probity, transparency, careful management, and calculated boldness are timeless lessons that should inspire and instruct investors even today.

Historian Ed Lengel is here to talk about his new book, First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His – and the Nation’s – Prosperity.

  Mark Zwonitzer is an author and award-winning documentary filmmaker. 

His new book The Statesman and the Storyteller, is a dual biography covering the last ten years of the lives of friends and contemporaries, writer Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and statesman John Hay (who served as secretary of state under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt), The Statesman and the Storyteller not only provides an intimate look into the daily lives of these men but also creates an elucidating portrait of the United States on the verge of emerging as a world power.

  Best-selling historian Nathaniel Philbrick once again takes readers deep into the American Revolution, leading them into battles and illuminating the players on the field and behind the scenes. His latest - Valiant Ambition - is a complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave birth to a nation.

The focus is on loyalty and personal integrity, evoking a Shakespearean tragedy that unfolds in the key relationship of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Philbrick gives readers a fresh view of America’s first president and offers a surprisingly sympathetic view of the man whose name is synonymous with the word traitor.

  Sidney Blumenthal's A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809 - 1849 is the first of a multi-volume history of Lincoln as a political genius - from his obscure beginnings to his presidency, assassination, and the overthrow of his post-Civil War dreams of Reconstruction. This volume traces Lincoln from his painful youth, describing himself as “a slave,” to his emergence as the man we recognize as Abraham Lincoln.

From his youth as a “newsboy,” a voracious newspaper reader, Lincoln became a free thinker, reading Tom Paine, as well as Shakespeare and the Bible, and studying Euclid to sharpen his arguments as a lawyer.

Lincoln’s anti-slavery thinking began in his childhood amidst the Primitive Baptist antislavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana, the roots of his repudiation of Southern Christian pro-slavery theology. Intensely ambitious, he held political aspirations from his earliest years.

  The new book Clean and White offers a history of environmental racism in the U.S., focusing on constructions of race and hygiene. In the wake of the civil war as the nation encountered emancipation, mass immigration and the growth of an urbanized society, Americans began to conflate the ideas of race and waste.

Carl Zimring draws on historical evidence from statesmen, scholars, sanitarians, novelists, activists, advertisements and the U.S. census of population to reveal changing constructions of environmental racism.  Carl Zimring is associate professor of sustainability studies in the department of social science and cultural studies at the Pratt Institute. 

  In Winner-Take-All Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson explained how political elites have enabled and propelled plutocracy.

Now in American Amnesia, they trace the economic and political history of the United States over the last century and show how a viable mixed economy has long been the dominant engine of America’s prosperity.

In 1927 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Buck v Bell that the state of Virginia was allowed to sterilize Carrie Buck, a young woman wrongly thought to be feeble minded. Imbecile: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by NY Times bestselling author Adam Cohen exposes the story of one of the darkest moments in American legal tradition- the Supreme Court’s decision to champion eugenic sterilization of undesirable citizens for the greater good for the country. The 8-1 ruling was signed by some of the most revered figures in American law including Chief Justice William Howard Taft, a former U.S. President and Louis Brandeis, a progressive icon. Oliver Wendell Holmes considered by many the greatest Supreme Court justice in history wrote the majority opinion. 

  The struggle between individual rights and the good of the community as a whole has been the basis of nearly every major disagreement in the history of the United States, from the debates at the Constitutional Convention and in the run up to the Civil War to the fights surrounding the agendas of the Federalists, the Progressives, the New Dealers, the civil rights movement, and the Tea Party.

In American Character, Colin Woodard traces these two key strands in American politics through the four centuries of the nation’s existence.

On the evening of June 24th 1973 a fire tore through a bar in New Orleans’ French quarter where a group of gay men were meeting for a religious service, 32 died in the blaze.  Though it was the largest massacre of gay people in American history no one called it a tragedy, and no one tried to understand the purpose of the meeting-it was a religious service. The men were part of a growing religious movement that developed in the 1970s that has since been forgotten and overshadowed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

In his new book Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, historian Jim Downs uses the story of that fateful night as a jumping off point for a wide ranging narrative revealing that gay life in America in the 1970s was far richer and more varied than has been remembered. In short, gay life in that decade was about far more than just sex. He shows us gay people standing together as friends, fellow believers and colleagues to create a sense of community among  people who felt alienated from mainstream American life. Jim Downs is an Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College and an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellow at Harvard University.

  Eternity Street tells the story of a violent place in a violent time: the rise of Los Angeles from its origins as a small Mexican pueblo. In his narrative, John Mack Faragher relates a dramatic history of conquest and ethnic suppression, of collective disorder and interpersonal conflict. Eternity Street recounts the struggle to achieve justice amid the turmoil of a loosely governed frontier, and it delivers a piercing look at the birth of this quintessentially American city. 

John Mack Faragher is the Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of many books on the American frontier, including Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, which received a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and, most recently, A Great and Noble Scheme.

  More than a century has passed since Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House, but he still continues to fascinate. Never has a more exuberant man been our nation's leader. He became a war hero, reformed the NYPD, busted the largest railroad and oil trusts, passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, created national parks and forests, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and built the Panama Canal―to name just a few.

Yet it was the cause he championed the hardest―America's entry in to WWI―that would ultimately divide and destroy him. His youngest son, Quentin, his favorite, would die in an air fight. How does looking at Theodore's relationship with his son, and understanding him as a father, tell us something new about this larger-than-life-man?

Eric Burns explores the story and relationship in his book, The Golden Lad: The Haunting Story of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt.

A child of wealth and privilege possessing unlimited will and ambition, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, seemed destined for the presidency. The nation he lead was large in population, rich in resources, committed to a universal ideology of liberal democracy, and destined for grand geopolitical power. A man and a nation were each poised on the brink of greatness. FDR's twelve years in The White House culminated in what can justly be called an 'American century'. This convergence of individual and national destinies created a large and complex story that remains essential to our understanding the world in which we live in today. 

  Conceived soon after the American Revolution ended, the great monument to George Washington was not finally completed until almost a century later; the great obelisk was finished in 1884, and remains the tallest stone structure in the world at 555 feet.

The story behind its construction is a largely untold and intriguing piece of American history, which acclaimed historian John Steele Gordon relates in his book, Washington's Monument And the Fascinating History of the Obelisk.

  For George Washington, the stakes were high. If the nation fragmented, as it had almost done after the war, it could never become the strong, independent nation for which he had fought. In scores of communities, he communicated a powerful and enduring message—that America was now a nation, not a loose collection of states. And the people responded to his invitation in ways that he could never have predicted.

In T. H. Breen's book, George Washington's Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, he shows Washington in the surprising role of political strategist.

    

  Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic and controversial black activist, stepped onto the pages of history when he called for “Black Power” during a speech one Mississippi night in 1966.

A firebrand who straddled both the American civil rights and Black Power movements, Carmichael would stand for the rest of his life at the center of the storm he had unleashed that night.

In Stokely, preeminent civil rights scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Carmichael, using his life as a prism through which to view the transformative African American freedom struggles of the twentieth century.

  Even as a child, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shocked by the terrible and unfair way African-American people were treated. When he grew up, he decided to do something about it—peacefully, with powerful words.

His story is told in the latest book in Brad Meltzer's New York Times Bestselling "Ordinary People Change the World" series, I am Martin Luther King Jr.

  In Huck Finn’s America, award-winning biographer Andrew Levy shows how modern readers have been misunderstanding Huckleberry Finn for decades.

Twain’s masterpiece, which still sells tens of thousands of copies each year and is taught more than any other American classic, is often discussed either as a carefree adventure story for children or a serious novel about race relations, yet Levy argues convincingly it is neither.

  Americans know about the Boston Tea Party and “the shot heard ’round the world,” but sixteen months divided these two iconic events, a period that has nearly been lost to history. Ray Raphael's book, The Spirit of '74, fills in this gap in our nation’s founding narrative, showing how in these mislaid months, step by step, real people made a revolution.

After the Tea Party, Parliament not only shut down a port but also revoked the sacred Massachusetts charter. Completely disenfranchised, citizens rose up as a body and cast off British rule everywhere except in Boston, where British forces were stationed. A “Spirit of ’74” initiated the American Revolution, much as the better-known “Spirit of ’76” sparked independence.

  In eighteenth-century America, information about a woman’s life and accomplishments was very difficult to discover, but some woman were avid letter writers or devoted journal keepers, and thankfully some of those letters and journals were saved.

In her new book, Remarkable Women of New England: Daughters, Wives, Sisters, and Mothers: The War Years 1754 to 1787, Carole Owens tells the story of Mary Gray Bidwell, Elizabeth Edwards Burr; Lavinia Deane Fisk, Abigail Williams Sergeant Dwight and others.

The war years changed the lives of each of these women and their lives changed our new country.

  In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States.

Award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us that Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.

  In his new book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author, chronicles the life of George Herbert Walker Bush.

He draws on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the forty-first president and his family. Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times.

Rinker Buck will be doing a talk and signing at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT on Friday, December 4 at 7 PM, and a talk and signing at Northshire in Saratoga Springs on Saturday, December 5 at 7 PM.

Buck is no stranger to grand adventures. His first travel narrative, Flight of Passage, was hailed by The New Yorker as “a funny, cocky gem of a book,” and with The Oregon Trail he brings the most important route in American history back to glorious and vibrant life.

Traveling from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, over the course of four months, Buck is accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and an “incurably filthy” Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl.

In his new book The Age of Clinton: America In The 1990s, historian Gil Troy, asks us to look past our prejudices about William Jefferson Clinton's Presidency and instead focus on the way in which his time in office shaped the culture of the 1990's. The book also of course sheds light on Hillary Clinton's Political career as we approach the 2016 Presidential Election.

  In the summer of 1804, two of America's most eminent statesmen squared off, pistols raised, on a bluff along the Hudson River. That two such men would risk not only their lives but the stability of the young country they helped forge is almost beyond comprehension. Yet we know that it happened. The question is why.

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