Monday, May 20, 2013
May 20, 2013: American Studies Beach Reads Redux, Part One
[Last year, I helped celebrate summer with a series on American Studies Beach Reads. It was a lot of fun, so I thought I’d do the same this year; I’m doing so a good bit earlier this time to give you some good options for your Memorial Day Weekend reading. Please share your nominees for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll kick off its shoes and settle into the hammock!]
On the book that takes us back to one of the most complex and inspiring American summers.
One of the topics that came up a good deal in my just-completed English Studies Capstone course (about which I wrote last Thursday) was the coming summer, and how the students might be able to use it to move into or toward different careers, interests, passions, next steps of one kind or another. As you might expect in our current world and economy, work is a key component for these students—even those who were considering unpaid internships had to figure out how to balance them with compensated employment as well. But nonetheless, I consistently made the case that they need to consider not only what they need but also what they want, and what can inspire them—and one great model for the latter would be 1964’s Freedom Summer.
Of the more than 1000 volunteers who traveled to Mississippi that June to help register African American voters, the three who were murdered in the first ten days are by far the most famous (and rightly so). Yet I would argue that many of the experiences of the other volunteers were just as extreme and lasting, if of course in less tragic and more evolving and inspiring ways—and I know that because of Doug McAdam’s pioneering and compelling Freedom Summer (1990). McAdam balances interviews with former volunteers and sociological analyses of their community and experiences with historical contexts and sweep; his book is as much about the afterlives of the volunteers (most of which do not at all fit the stereotypical ex-hippie-turned-yuppie narrative) as about their 1964 experiences, making it a history of late 20th century America on multiple, interconnected fronts.
That combination of depth and breadth makes it a significant AmericanStudies text, but the book is also a great beach read for two additional reasons. For one thing, it’s a page-turner—we may know what happened with the Civil Rights Movement in general post-1964, but we don’t know much about these individual lives and identities, nor those of the communities with which they were engaged in that summer; and McAdam makes sure that we care a great deal about what happens to them. And to come back to my initial point, it’s also hugely inspiring, makes you want to get out of that hammock and do something to make the world a better place. Can’t think of a better cure for any potential summertime blues than that!
Next beach read tomorrow,
PS. Nominations for AmericanStudies beach reads? Share ‘em please!