MyAmericanFuture

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 29-30, 2014: November 2014 Recap

[A recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]

November 3: Exemplary Elections: 1800: An election week series starts with the election that changed everything—and, fortunately, didn’t.

November 4: Exemplary Elections: 1864: The series continues with one very good and one very bad thing about the crucial wartime election.

November 5: Exemplary Elections: 1876: How an AmericanStudies approach can help us understand one of our most contested elections, as the series rolls on.

November 6: Exemplary Elections: 1948: A couple AmericanStudies contexts beyond the compelling “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.

November 7: Exemplary Elections: 1994: The series concludes with three 21st century legacies of a defining midterm election. (For a lot more discussion, see this Lawyers, Guns and Money story in response to my post.)

November 8-9: Four Years!: Four heartfelt thanks on the occasion of the blog’s fourth anniversary!

November 10: Veterans Days: The Best Years of Our Lives: A Veterans’ Day series starts with the under-remembered film that offers an important perspective on this American community.    

November 11: Veterans Days: The Bonus Army: The series continues with the historical event and community that remind us of for how long veterans have also been activists.

November 12: Veterans Days: The Harrisburg Veterans Parade: One of the low points in our treatment of veterans, and then one of the highs, as the series rolls on.

November 13: Veterans Days: Veterans’ Organizations: The distinct and even contrasting reasons why and how veterans’ organizations are formed.

November 14: Veterans Days: Miyoko Hikiji: The series concludes with the inspiring veteran and book that importantly complicated and expand our narratives of this community.

November 15-16: Crowd-sourced Veterans Days: Responses and contributions to the week’s series 
from fellow AmericanStudiers.

November 17: American Drama: Provincetown and Trifles: A series AmericanStudying dramatic 
works starts with the community and play that changed the game.

November 18: American Drama: Hansberry’s Husband and Wife: The series continues with the flawed, frustrating, and crucial couple at the heart of a classic play.

November 19: American Drama: Wilson’s Ambition: Ambition, success and failure, and August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, as the series rolls on.

November 20: American Drama: Angels in America and Rent: Two 1990s theatrical works and how our cultural conversations about controversial issues and histories evolve.

November 21: American Drama: Depression Drama and Odets: The series concludes with contrasting and complementary activist dramas during a dark time.

November 22-23: American Drama: Five More: But wait—five more playwrights and plays that deserve their own posts (and hopefully will get them someday)!

November 24: 21st Century Thanks: Twitter: A Thanksgiving series on 21st century gratitudes starts with three things that the social media site does very well.

November 25: 21st Century Thanks: Facebook: The series continues with why I’m thankful for the social media giant despite its frustrations.

November 26: 21st Century Thanks: Email: Obsessing over, historically contextualizing, and expressing gratitude for this new form of communication, as the series rolls on.

November 27: 21st Century Thanks: FaceTime: On Thanksgiving, a quick post on why I’m so thankful for a way to keep in touch with my boys from afar—happy holiday!

November 28: 21st Century Thanks: E-Colleagues: The series concludes with five colleagues I haven’t gotten to meet in person yet—but to whom I still feel connected thanks to the 21st century!

Next series starts Monday,
Ben


PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 28, 2014: 21st Century Thanks: E-Colleagues

[For my annual Thanksgiving series, I thought I’d express my gratitude for some of the best of our 21st century digital age and what it has contributed to my work and life. I’d love to hear your thanks, for anything and everything, as well!]
On five colleagues I haven’t yet had the chance to meet in person—but to whom I feel connected thanks to 21st century communities.
1)      Kevin Levin: I’ve written before about Kevin’s Civil War Memory blog, and it remains one of my models for public scholarly blogging and work. But Kevin’s equally impressive for the way he balances teaching, speaking engagements, and publication with maintaining that wonderful blog.
2)      William Kerrigan: William and I have Guest Posted on each other’s blogs, which is pretty much the pitch-perfect version of this post’s point. But even without that synchronicity, William’s cultural and historical AmericanStudying exemplifies this gig.
3)      Robert Greene II: Rob contributed a Guest Post of his own earlier this fall, and it illustrated much of what makes his blossoming career in American Studies and history so exciting: his interconnected interests in sports, region, race, and intellectual history, and they way he develops them with nuance and power.
4)      Anna Mae Duane: When I linked to this post of Anna Mae Duane’s on House of Cards, I neglected to include as much of a bio as I normally do for full Guest Posters. So I’m happy to have this chance to highlight her exciting edited collection, her consistently entertaining and thought-provoking blog, and her exemplary public scholarly Tweeting.
5)      Rachel Collins: When I shared this Guest Post of Rachel’s on Undercover Boss, I highlighted her publications on My Antonia and Sister Carrie. Any young scholar who can write equal complexity and significance about reality TV and Cather and Dreiser—well, that’s my kind of 21st century AmericanStudier!
While I hope to meet all five of those great scholars, right now I have to thank the 21st century for my connections to all of them—and thank it I do!
November Recap this weekend,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other AmericanThanks you’d share?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014: 21st Century Thanks: FaceTime

[For my annual Thanksgiving series, I thought I’d express my gratitude for some of the best of our 21st century digital age and what it has contributed to my work and life. I’d love to hear your thanks, for anything and everything, as well!]
I’m gonna keep this one short and sweet (something else for you to be thankful for!):
On this Thanksgiving, as on each of the last two, I’m away from my boys; they’re with their Mom and her extended family. I’m happy to think about them spending the holiday with family, fun, and lots of good food, but I also miss them even more than I always do during the times when they’re not with me. And on such occasions, I’m infinitely thankful for a recent part of my 21st century life: FaceTime. (We tried Skype for a while, but it was just a lot less consistently effective.) The ability to see the boys when I’m in Massachusetts and they’re in Connecticut, to have them see me, to share that connection while having our nightly phone conversation? There’s nothing in my current life I’m more thankful for on a day like today.
Last thanks tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other AmericanThanks you’d share?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 26, 2014: 21st Century Thanks: Email

[For my annual Thanksgiving series, I thought I’d express my gratitude for some of the best of our 21st century digital age and what it has contributed to my work and life. I’d love to hear your thanks, for anything and everything, as well!]
On what’s not new about 21st century communication, and what is.
First, a confession: I’m an email addict. I think the addiction has served me well in my teaching—a number of students have remarked, in evals and elsewhere, on the speed with which I respond to their email questions and submissions; while I’m well aware of and sympathetic to the concerns about such email conversations, I also believe they’re an inescapable and integral part of 21st century teaching, and represent one of my strengths as an educator. But in my life more generally, I’ve had to find ways to take breaks from email accessibility, to put the iPhone away while spending time and playing with my boys, and so on. In this age of cell phones and smartphones, texts and voicemails, our constant appearance of availability can be a genuine problem, and thus learning to turn off that accessibility is a vital 21st century skill to be sure.
On the other hand, I think the differences between email and prior forms of communication can be and often are overstated. There’s a stereotypical image of hand-written letters, for example, that portrays them as meaningful and personal in a way that emails are not and could never be. While I understand that image as a contemporary contrast to emails, I would argue that anyone who reads letters written by historical and cultural figures will be struck instead by how much the majority of them tend to read like emails: intimate and immediate expressions of perspective and conversation, written not in formal prose but in personal voices, not for posterity (although some letters certainly were) but for their occasion and audience. As always, overly simplistic historical contrasts and comparisons need to be complicated and tempered, and I’d certainly make that case for critiques of emails in comparison to other forms of communication.
There are definite differences that email brings with it, however, and I would highlight one that has been very beneficial for my career: the ability to send messages to large groups of recipients at once. Having planned New England ASA colloquia and conferences, participated in the activites of the Northeast MLA Exec utive Board and the Encyclopedia of American Studies Editorial Board, and taken part in any number of group email conversations—as well as having used email lists to stay in touch with all of my classes at FSU—I can’t emphasize enough the benefits such communal conversations offer for every aspect of this profession. We—I—might have to learn to balance our emailing as part of our 21st century identities, but I’m deeply thankful for what the medium adds to my work and life.
Next thanks tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other AmericanThanks you’d share?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November 25, 2014: 21st Century Thanks: Facebook

[For my annual Thanksgiving series, I thought I’d express my gratitude for some of the best of our 21st century digital age and what it has contributed to my work and life. I’d love to hear your thanks, for anything and everything, as well!]
On two reasons I’m thankful for a 21st century whipping boy.
It’s easy to hate on the Beast that Zuckerberg Hath Wrought, and I understand many of the critiques: the time-wasting and clickbait, the superficial interactions and clichéd posts, and, most seriously, the potential privacy invasions and life repercussions. All of those are genuine concerns (for all social media and, probably, all the internet, for that matter), but I would say about all of them some of the same things that my colleague Kisha Tracy did in this Guest Post: that the worst and best of Facebook depend in no small measure on what we do with it and how we use it, on the choices we make and don’t make (on the site, online, and in our lives). And in any case, the worst sides of the social media giant are balanced, for me, by a couple very positive effects.
Facebook’s ability to put and keep us in touch with those with whom we might otherwise lose connection is another of the site’s clichés, but I have found it to be remarkably accurate. My high school graduating class is full of truly remarkable folks, including a large number of successful professional musicians, a very talented YA fiction writer, an up-and-coming Portland cider-maker, and, y’know, Taylor Swift’s bass player, among others. I don’t know that I’d know about any of those efforts, and I certainly wouldn’t feel nearly as connected to them, without Facebook. But it’s not just about professional successes and stories, of course—many of my childhood and high school friends have likewise begun families, and being able to connect to and share that side of their lives, and share some of mine with them as well, has amplified my sense of parenting and family quite powerfully.
And then there are the conversations. It’s certainly true that trying to have political or social debates on Facebook can be a fool’s errand, and I’ve gradually learned to post only a tiny percentage of the times when I could do so. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to have meaningful conversations on Facebook, and this blog is living proof: a large number of the voices and ideas that I’ve been able to include in my Crowd-Sourced Posts here have come directly from responses and discussions on Facebook threads featuring my blog. And I have likewise participated in interesting and productive Facebook conversations about any number of topics, from academia and art to parenting and cooking, and, yes, even hot-button political and social issues. If the latter require all participants (including this AmericanStudier) to find ways to express themselves more respectfully and conversationally—well, that’d be just one more Facebook effect to be thankful for.
Next thanks tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other AmericanThanks you’d share? 

Monday, November 24, 2014

November 24, 2014: 21st Century Thanks: Twitter

[For my annual Thanksgiving series, I thought I’d express my gratitude for some of the best of our 21st century digital age and what it has contributed to my work and life. I’d love to hear your thanks, for anything and everything, as well!]
On three things that the popular social media site does exceptionally well.
I’ve already written a post about one thing I think Twitter does very well: inform. I know all the complaints about navel-gazing and posts on people’s breakfasts and so on, and I’m sure it depends in large part on whom you follow; but in my case, I’m fortunate to follow an exceptional community of scholars, writers, artists, and activists, and I learn something interesting and meaningful (about the past, about the present, about works and artists I don’t yet know, and more) every time I’m there. It’s very much a chaotic but multi-vocal, haphazard but highly democratic classroom—I think Paulo Freire would approve.
I also mentioned community and connection in that prior post, but wanted to say a bit more about that side to Twitter. I have wonderful students and colleagues at Fitchburg State, and they represent one of many communities to which I’m very happy to belong. But the truth is that much of academic and scholarly work is solitary and isolating, entails an individual sitting with his or her writing and texts, thoughts and questions. Nothing is going to change those elements to the work, but I have found that Twitter’s virtual but very definite community can complement them—allowing me to share works and works in progress, to hear and read about those of colleagues, to connect with peers who are themselves writing and working, and just in every sense to be feel that I am not alone in what I’m doing and struggling with and hoping for.
Our 21st century struggles go well beyond scholarly endeavors, of course, and Twitter has also proven pretty impressive at responding to them. Perhaps the most famous cases, ones to which my cousin John Scott-Railton has contributed impressively, are various events related to the Arab Spring: the riots in Egypt, elections in Iran, and so on. But here in America, I found Twitter immeasurably helpful and meaningful in response to the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson—in covering the protests and police responses in the immediate aftermath, in sharing the stories and voices of a thread like #BlackLivesMatter, and just in bringing multiple communities (on the ground and elsewhere, activist and political, African American and other allies, and so on) together. In that case, as in every one, Twitter and the digital cannot take the place of other realities and stories—but they can and do contribute to those realities and stories, significantly and potently. One more reason to be thankful for their 21st century existence!
Next thanks tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other AmericanThanks you’d share? 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22-23, 2014: AmericanDrama: Five More

[In this week’s series I AmericanStudied some important and impressive moments and works in the history of American drama. As always, I left out more than I was able to include, so in this weekend post I wanted to highlight five other works/authors that certainly deserve their own posts as well (and hopefully will get them sometime). I’d still love to hear your thoughts and dramatic highlights too!]
1)      Langston Hughes’s Mulatto (1935)
Next series starts Monday,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other works, authors, or moments you’d highlight?

Friday, November 21, 2014

November 21, 2014: AmericanDrama: Depression Drama and Odets

[A series AmericanStudying some important and impressive moments and works in the history of American drama. I’d love to hear your responses to these posts and/or other dramatic works, authors, and trends you’d highlight!]
On activist drama, in- and outside of its approved spaces.
Among the more unique and impressive of the Depression-era New Deal programs was the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). Created in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Project included a number of innovative and compelling initiatives: the nation-wide Negro Theatre Project (NTP), including the famous New York Negro Unit that featured plays by Orson Welles, Arna Bontemps, and Countee Cullen (among others); the experimental, political, and controversial Living Newspaper productions; and more. In an era when it would have been easy to withdraw federal support for theatrical and creative works and performances, the FTP, like the WPA more broadly, instead made a compelling case for the communal and social value of such works.
In the same year that the FTP was created, New York’s innovative Group Theatre company staged the first production of Clifford Odets’ play Waiting for Lefty (1935). Set amongst a group of New York cabdrivers taking part in a fictional strike, and featuring multiple moments in which characters break the fourth wall and directly address the audience, imploring them to take social and political action, Odets’ play is a thoroughly and strikingly activist work, one described in an early negative review as “a very dramatic equivalent of soap-box oratory.” Many of the FTP’s productions, especially the Living Newspaper performances, were without question political and activist—but Odets’ play, with its endorsements of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and other socialist moments, to my mind went further than any FTP productions did or (given the difference between federal and private theatre companies) likely could.
It’d thus be easy, and not inaccurate, to see Odets and the Group Theatre in competition with, or at least offering a distinct alternative to, the FTP productions—and, again, to extend that comparison to make a broader distinction between federally supported and truly outsider theater. But at the same time, it’s pretty amazing to think of all that took place in New York City drama in 1935-6: with Odets’ play opening, the first New York Negro Unit productions (including both Welles’ Voodoo Macbeth and Bontemps and Cullen’s The Conjur Man Dies) mounted, the initial Living Newspaper performances (such as the Dust Bowl drama Triple-A Plowed Under) ongoing, and more. All innovative, all activist, and all artistically challenging and engaging, these works complemented and were in conversation with each other at least as much as they contrasted, and reveal the impressive state of Depression-era American drama.
One more dramatic post this weekend,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other works, authors, or moments you’d highlight?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November 20, 2014: AmericanDrama: Angels in America and Rent

[A series AmericanStudying some important and impressive moments and works in the history of American drama. I’d love to hear your responses to these posts and/or other dramatic works, authors, and trends you’d highlight!]
On the popular musical that helped change our national conversations.

When it comes to a controversial or difficult social and cultural topic, one of the more interesting lenses through which we can analyze the issue is to consider when and how overtly popular representations of it developed. I’m not talking about explicitly or centrally political or statement-making representations, but rather images of the issue in entertainments intended first and foremost to be popular, to be successful, to attract and affect a broad audience. So with an issue like interracial relationships and marriages, one could point for example to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967); certainly the film has a definite and even in the final scenes a pedantic message, but on the whole it tries to be a successful drama, one that will keep its audience interested and entertained throughout.  Or if Spencer Tracy’s final speech makes the film too political to fit this category, one could look just a few years down the road, at the many episodes of All in the Family (and then its spin-off The Jeffersons) that prominently featured an interracial couple (the Willises) who unsettle both Archie Bunker and George Jefferson; those episodes are, as the show always was, played first and foremost for laughs, without losing any nuance in their representations of the thorny issue itself.

If we turn to one of the most difficult and controversial issues in American society in the 1980s (and beyond), the AIDS epidemic, I’d say it’s pretty tough to pin down when that kind of popular representation really emerges. A case could definitely be made for Tony Kushner’s two-part play Angels in America (1991), which despite calling itself A Gay Fantasia on National Themes and focusing almost entirely on gay characters is in many ways a big-budget blockbuster award-winning (including the Pulitzer Prize) kind of drama, featuring scenery-destroying descending angels, hallucinations of long-dead American historical figures who exchange witty banter with the play’s characters, and some of the foulest and funniest dialogue I’ve ever read (mostly spoken by the play’s fictionalized version of Roy Cohn). Or maybe the answer would be the Academy Award-winning hit film Philadelphia (1993), which starred two of Hollywood’s most prominent actors (Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington), featured musical contributions from legendary rock stars (including a great tune by some dude named Bruce), and relied on one of the oldest thriller plot devices, the courtroom drama, for much of its very effective creation of suspense and entertainment. And certainly both of these works, along with Magic Johnson’s much-publicized 1991 announcement of his own HIV-positive status, contributed to a sea-change in public consciousness about the illness in the early 1990s.

But for my money (and it’s gotten plenty of it over the years), I think the first truly popular entertainment to grapple with AIDS is Jonathan Larsen’s rock musical Rent (1996). It’s hard to argue with any measure of the musical’s popular successes: it was when it closed in 2008 the 9th longest-running Broadway show in history, at 12 years and over 5000 performances; it spun off into dozens of national tours and foreign productions, as well as a 2005 movie version featuring almost all of the original cast members; it grossed almost $300 million and won a Tony for Best Musical; and the list goes on. But in keeping with the show’s mantra, “No Day but Today,” I’d say you don’t need any of those facts or statistics to assess the show’s popular success: all you need to do is go see it somewhere if you get the chance, or watch a video of the production, or even just listen to the soundtrack (which features virtually the whole production, since there’s very little non-sung dialogue). The play pretty much literally has it all—it’s funny and angry, hugely emotionally affecting and cynical and smart-ass, big and sentimental and intimate and realistic, has a perfectly constructed circular structure (it starts and ends on Christmas Eves one year apart and uses New Year’s to bridge the two Acts), includes almost every genre of popular music in one or another of its songs, is based in great detail on a 100 year-old opera (Puccini’s La Boheme) and yet grounded in 1990s New York City and America in every way, and just plain sings, all the way through and by any measure. And at the same time it is deeply engaged at every moment—and politically engaged in many crucial ones—with the issue of AIDS and its many different communities and identities, causes and effects.

Larsen died, unexpectedly and tragically, of a brain aneurysm on the day the play was to make its Off-Broadway premiere, and an entirely different and equally rich analysis could connect to great artists who died too young and the masterworks they left behind. But if Rent is any indication, Larsen would want his legacy to be precisely his achievement in finding that perfect combination of popular and political, successful and social, and thus contributing more (I believe) than any other single work to bringing AIDS out of the shadows and into the mainstream of American culture and consciousness. Last drama tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other works, authors, or moments you’d highlight?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November 19, 2014: AmericanDrama: Wilson’s Ambition

[A series AmericanStudying some important and impressive moments and works in the history of American drama. I’d love to hear your responses to these posts and/or other dramatic works, authors, and trends you’d highlight!]
On how literary ambition transcends success or failure.

One of the more interesting literary debates entails whether the true masterpieces are (to cite one significant dichotomy) those texts that work with a relatively tight focus and purpose and do everything perfectly or those that are much more ambitious in their aims and don’t entirely succeed. A particularly good case study for this is William Faulkner: Faulkner’s close-to-perfect novel is unquestionably The Sound and the Fury (1929), one of the most tightly structured and written texts in American literary history; but his most ambitious is (I believe) just as unquestionably Absalom, Absalom! (1936), a book that grapples with many of the most significant American themes and events and issues, including (among other focal points) two centuries of Southern history, the legacies and mythologies and realities of race and slavery and miscegenation and the Civil War, the Haitian revolution, fathers and sons, the American Dream, storytelling and history, and both individual and communal self-awareness and –deception. Every word in Sound works, but it’s not impossible to argue that it adds up to mostly just its own stylistic perfection; most every word in Absalom infuriates, but it’s not impossible to argue that it’s America’s most morally powerful novel. Your mileage may vary—hence the debate—but I suppose it’s already clear that I’m an ambitious failure type.

Somewhat similar to Faulkner, at least in terms of having set a number of different texts within one geographically defined community (and including some of the same characters and families across those texts), but representing an even more complicated version of this question, is one of America’s greatest playwrights: August Wilson (1945-2005). Ten of the sixteen plays that Wilson finished before his tragically early death comprised one of the most ambitious dramatic and literary undertakings in American history: the Pittsburgh Cycle, ten plays that would cover African American life and experiences and identities in all ten decades of the 20th century. What makes Wilson’s case so complicated is that, by almost any measure, three or four of the first five Cycle plays (all published within a six-year period) are genuine masterpieces—I’m thinking especially about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984), Fences (1987), and The Piano Lesson (1990), the latter two of which won the Pulitzer Prize; but Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988) is likewise a great play in its own right—while the subsequent five (spread out over the remaining fifteen years of Wilson’s life) are much less consistently strong. Does that make the Cycle as a whole an ambitious failure? Does it diminish the astonishing successes—on their own individual terms, and as starting points for the Cycle—of the earlier ones? Or is the problem instead that Wilson’s early works simply raised expectations too high, and thus that we should recognize the greatness of his talents and career as a whole and not let the inevitable distinctions between individual works cloud that impressive whole?

These are not, of course, questions for which I have any definitive answers, and without getting too LeVar Burton on you, the most important answer I can give is that you should try to read (or, if you can, see—as these various links illustrate, YouTube has some great starting points for these works) Wilson’s plays and decide for yourself. But I do think that the very question of success or failure—a question, of course, that is especially prominent for playwrights, since their works are the most dependent on audience response of any authors—can elide two other and (to this AmericanStudier) particularly meaningful ways of analyzing and even judging works like Wilson’s. Both are related to history, on two distinct but interconnected levels: one of the most impressive elements of Wilson’s work in an individual play like Fences (for example) is the way in which, writing in the late 1980s, he populates a late 1950s world with characters who feel at once deeply tied to that historical moment and yet profoundly human and relevant to his own era and audience (and, I can say with authority having taught the play, our early 21st century moment as well); and similarly, one of the most unique and important qualities of the Cycle as a whole is its ability to conjure the sweep of a century, to consider both the continuities and the changes in a neighborhood, a city, a race, and a nation (among other communities) over those hundred years, without losing sight of the intimate identities and exchanges and events that are at the heart of any drama.

Like Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, and perhaps one or two other American authors, Wilson set out at an early point in his career to both critique and reinvigorate American mythologies, to grapple with some of the most defining national issues, across many decades of history and story, while creating powerful and impressive works of art in his chosen medium. The national and historical goals are not by any means required of a dramatic work (or any other literary text), but they can, whether in perfect or in partial success, help American audiences engage with and challenge and ultimately understand who and where and what we’ve been and are, and few projects are as ambitious or important as that one. Next drama tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other works, authors, or moments you’d highlight?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 18, 2014: AmericanDrama: Hansberry’s Husband and Wife

[A series AmericanStudying some important and impressive moments and works in the history of American drama. I’d love to hear your responses to these posts and/or other dramatic works, authors, and trends you’d highlight!]
On Lorraine Hansberry’s realistic, flawed, and deeply moving young married couple.
Walter and Ruth Younger, the young husband and wife at the center of Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal play A Raisin in the Sun (1959), are perhaps the least sympathetic of the Youngers, the drama’s major characters. To be sure, as in the case in any great dramatic work, all the characters have their flaws: but while the overly proud, widowed Mama (Lena) is also struggling to keep her family together; self-centered elitist Beneatha is impressively going to school to become a doctor; and naïve young Travis is just trying to grow up; Travis’s parents Walter and Ruth are defined mostly by their hot-and-cold marriage and Walter’s foolish and destructive get-rich-quick schemes. Some combination of those factors, Walter’s individual pipe dreams and the extremities to which their marital problems drive them both, could be said to lead to most of the family’s worst arguments and problems throughout the play.
That could be said, but it’d be wrong, as the play’s final scenes reveal a much more systematic and significant culprit, putting the Youngers in the center of a broad and crucial biographical and historical context: the racial “covenants” that made it so difficult for African American and other minority families to move out of cities like Chicago and into suburban neighborhoods in the decades after World War II. While not as regimented or all-encompassing as the South’s system of Jim Crow segregation, the covenants did an equally thorough job of segregating their respective urban and suburban worlds, and proved a powerfully difficult impediment to the dreams of families like the Youngers. Systems like the covenants don’t explain away all of Walter’s irresponsibilities or Ruth’s enabling—again, no dramatic work as impressive as Hansberry’s treats its characters as mere ciphers—but they certainly better reveal the world in which these characters are trying to survive and succeed, and to an open-minded audience render Walter and Ruth significantly more sympathetic as a result.
But in the final scene Hansberry takes the couple, and her play, one step further still. The Youngers have been approached by a representative from the neighborhood association of the suburban community into which they hope to move, a man who is offering them money in exchange for their withdrawing their purchase of that suburban home. In one of the play’s most traditional moments, not only in terms of gender roles but also because it embodies the spirit of Walter Sr., the family’s departed father, both Mama and Ruth allow Walter to make the decision; and Walter rises to the occasion, saying no to the lure of easy money and rejecting the offer. He gains a great deal of respect from Mama in the process, but perhaps even more significant is Ruth’s response: she seems to see in her husband for the first time in years the man she married, a man who can model for Travis a strong, proud, resilient African American identity and manhood in the face of some of the worst their society can throw at them. The moment and scene are tremendously moving for many reasons, but certainly at the top of the list is seeing the reconnection between this flawed and troubled but likewise resilient and impressive couple.
Next drama tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other works, authors, or moments you’d highlight?

Monday, November 17, 2014

November 17, 2014: AmericanDrama: Provincetown and Trifles

[A series AmericanStudying some important and impressive moments and works in the history of American drama. I’d love to hear your responses to these posts and/or other dramatic works, authors, and trends you’d highlight!]
On the moment, community, and play that signaled a dramatic shift.

Despite the way us English profs like to structure survey classes—and I’m as guilty of this one as anybody—literary history doesn’t tend to break up into neat or orderly time periods and movements. Other than the very explicitly self-identifying and –defined movements, like the Harlem Renaissance, for the most part these categories and trends comprise instead precisely our scholarly efforts to look back at complex and overlapping collections of writers and texts and styles and focal points and assemble them into more easily digested (and, yes, taught) bits. Doesn’t mean that the bits aren’t without value or can’t help us see our literary and cultural history, just that they can be pretty reductive or limiting, especially in how we see a particular author or text. But having said that, sometimes the moments when literature shifts from one style or movement or another are more overt and striking; when I had the chance to teach American Drama a few years back, I realized that the early 20th century, and even more exactly the founding of the Provincetown Players in the mid-1910s, represents exactly such a transitional moment.

Up through the end of the 19th century, American drama had been dominated by the melodramatic—the over-the-top villains, the doomed love stories, the comic relief characters, the big musical cues, the swordfights on stage, etc. European drama had been evolving into something much more socially realistic for some time, spearheaded by folks like Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw, but as far as I can tell, that trend hadn’t reached our shores by the turn of the century. But in the summer of 1915, a group of young playwrights and performers vacationing in Provincetown, Massachusetts, led by a married couple, George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell—all of whom having experienced rejection and frustration in the mainstream theatrical world of the era—began sharing their works with each other; the following year Cook and Glaspell made the impromptu gathering into an official theatrical community, the Provincetown Players/Playhouse. The Players quickly became best known—and are still most significant in American literary and cultural history—for introducing the works of Eugene O’Neill, who is in many ways the poster child for the shift to a new social and psychological realism in American drama. But while his first plays debuted with them in the late 1910s, and his first hit (The Emperor Jones) in 1920, it is a one-act play of Glaspell’s from 1916 that truly to my mind signals the literary sea-change represented by Provincetown.

That play, Trifles, focuses on an event as melodramatic as they get: the murder of a rural farmer, found strangled with a noose in bed next to his sleeping wife; the wife denies any knowledge of the crime but is of course the principal suspect in her husband’s death. That Glaspell based this event on an actual crime that she had investigated and written about during a stint as a journalist in Iowa makes the play’s focus real but not necessarily realistic; she certainly could have created a melodramatic text from this starting point. But while the play does feature the murder mystery at its core, it does so in a profoundly realistic and powerful way: it is set solely in the farmhouse’s kitchen, and so the three male characters who are ostensibly investigating the crime (two local law enforcement representatives and the neighbor who found the body) are looking elsewhere and fruitlessly for most of the play; the two female characters, the wives of the sheriff and of the neighbor, stay in the kitchen and, through their informal investigations there as well as their conversations and developing understandings, unravel the details of the crime (and a great deal else). When the male neighbor says early in the play that “women are used to worrying over trifles,” he is thus not only entirely wrong about whose focus and knowledge are ultimately validated, but also ironically helping Glaspell communicate a central thesis of her new, realistic dramatic style: that it is in the trifles, the small details of (for example) a farmhouse’s kitchen, that life’s most central questions and identities and relationships can unfold and be captured.

As with all the literary works on which I’ve focused in this space, the value of Glaspell’s play extends well beyond just scholarly conversations or even classrooms. For one thing, it’s an engaging and often engrossing character study and murder mystery, an example of how political art can also be appealing and popular (and in multiple iterations, as Glaspell later turned it into a great short story, “A Jury of Her Peers”). But it’s also a really striking reflection of a moment when American drama was changing, when a group of American artists recognized the significance of the far from trifling realities and lives and communities that had often been excluded from our literature, and began to create enduring works focused on them. Next drama tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other works, authors, or moments you’d highlight?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November 15-16, 2014: Crowd-sourced Veterans Days

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, this week’s series has focused on cultural and historical moments and issues related to that sizeable and growing American community. As always, this crowd-sourced post is drawn from the responses and perspectives of fellow AmericanStudiers—add yours in comments, please!]
First, I’ll highlight three additional Veterans Day posts of mine that were published this week on the great new We’re History site: on Chinese Americans in the Civil War; African American Civil War veteran Parker David Robbins; and the post-World War I Bonus Army.
My We’re History colleague Heather Cox Richardson also published a Veterans Day post, on the recent posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to Alonzo Cushing.
On Facebook, Paige Swarbrick shares that her grandmother, Mary E. Dess, “wrote a story about her husband [Paige's grandfather], and the time when they were stationed in Korea and she helped open a school. It was featured in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul.”
AnneMarie Donahue writes, “My father and his father both enlisted in the United States military forces. My grandfather served in the theater of Pacific and never saw a day of action. My father signed up to serve in Vietnam and was deployed to Germany for three years, finishing his tour in Kansas. But the veteran I want to write of is my maternal grandmother, Imelda Fitzgerald (Smith after marriage). She and her community of only 400 families had been moved from their homes in Placentia Bay to an area closer to St. John's Bay to make room for the American Naval Base. My grandmother then went and enlisted as one of the ladies of the call center. She was not an American, and she wasn't even a Canadian at the time (it was technically the Dominion of Newfoundland... no seriously that was the name of it, look it up!). She, and the other young women, learned code, technical mechanics of the phone system, assisted in landings as needed, and watched as some of the finest pilots America would see ‘puddle hopped’ to Europe. What makes her extraordinary is that this woman lost her home, farm, livestock, fishing business and way of life to the lend-lease program, a program that she did not benefit from, nor even understand. But she signed up to work for ‘the states,’ these loud, pushy people who ate and spoke at the same time, yelled everything they said, and had no idea what ‘thank you’ meant. She loved them. She would then move (uhm... illegally) to this land and make a home for herself, her husband and her 16 (anchor) babies. We owe a great deal to the people who stand on lines, and face an enemy, but we owe a debt to the people who stand behind them and fight in their own way.”
Next series starts Monday,
Ben

PS. Any other veterans texts, moments, or issues you’d share?

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 14, 2014: Veterans Days: Miyoko Hikiji

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, a series on cultural and historical moments and issues related to that sizeable and growing American community. I’d love to hear your Veteran’s Day thoughts, connections, and perspectives for a crowd-sourced weekend post!]
On the book and author that can help bring our conversations about veterans into the 21st century.
There’s no doubt that our narratives about veterans have evolved a lot in the last half-century (the post-Vietnam era, we could call it). Thanks to a number of topics about which I’ve written in this space—controversial activist efforts like Vietnam Veterans Against the War, greater awareness of issues like PTSD, the stories and voices of prominent social and cultural figures like Tim O’Brien and Pat Tillman—the very concept of a veteran now includes many more elements and angles than, I would argue, at any prior point in our history. But on the other hand, it seems likely to me that there’s a certain identity that is still most strongly associated with the concept—the identity of a white male, to put it bluntly—and that quite simply doesn’t align with the realities of our veterans.
As the long history of African American veterans or William Apess’s War of 1812 service remind us, that stereotypical image of veterans has never been sufficient. On a more recent note, better remembering the service and tragic death of Danny Chen would help us broaden our naratives of 21st century veterans (Chen’s death means he did not serve in a war, but his story demands inclusion in those narratives nevertheless). But alongside those important issues of race and ethnicity, shifting our images of contemporary veterans to include gender and sexuality will be equally meaningful, and especially salient in this 21st century moment that includes a move toward women in combat roles, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and other such evolutions. And I don’t know of a better voice and book through which to better include and engage with those aspects of identity in our images of veterans than Miyoko Hikiji and her autobiographical and activist book All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq (2013).
Hikiji’s story, as an Asian American young woman from Iowa whose army service took her to the heart of the Iraq War, represents 21st century American life in a number of distinct but interconnected ways, and she tells that story—along with many stories of both her fellow soldiers and the Iraqis they encountered—with grit, humor, and power. But to my mind, even more telling and significant have been her activisms and advocacies on the home front—on a number of important issues, but especially her work to raise awareness of, and demand responses to, the widespread presence of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) among our armed forces and veterans. I’ve written a good deal this week about histories and stories that unite veterans, and of course MST is the opposite, an issue and history that not only reveal conflicts within our military, but also have the potential to divide both our veterans’ communities and our national perspectives on them. But as I argue in my next book, ignoring such dark histories is neither possible nor effective—we must instead engage with them if we hope to move forward, and Hikiji’s voice and work can most definitely help us do just that.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
Ben

PS. So one more time: what do you think? Other veterans texts, moments, or issues you’d share for that weekend post?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

November 13, 2014: Veterans Days: Veterans’ Organizations

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, a series on cultural and historical moments and issues related to that sizeable and growing American community. I’d love to hear your Veteran’s Day thoughts, connections, and perspectives for a crowd-sourced weekend post!]
On the distinct and even contrasting reasons why veterans’ organizations are formed.
As Alfred F. Young’s wonderful book The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution (1999) demonstrates, American veterans have been gathering to remember and celebrate their service for as long as there’s been an America. The 50th anniversary commemorations traced in Young’s book were not organized under the banner of a single veterans’ organization per se, but they certainly represented a collective effort to memorialize not only the Revolution’s principal events (such as the titular Tea Party, among many others), but also those individuals and communities who contributed to them. And those dual and complementary purposes—gathering with fellow veterans to memorialize and celebrate the events and service they share—represent obvious but certainly central elements to any and all veterans’ organizations.
Young also convincingly argues that there was a present and political purpose to those commemorations, however—an effort to influence contemporary debates and issues through remembering the Revolutionary events and service in particular ways. That purpose to veteran organizing became even more pronounced later in the 19th century, when competing Civil War veterans’ organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) fought both to establish their own vision of the war’s histories and meanings and to advocate for concurrent contemporary political and social goals. Partly in an effort to distinguish themselves from these Civil War organizations, but partly to advocate for their own memorializations and goals, veterans of the Spanish American War formed yet another such organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And after World War I, even though the VFW could have certainly covered all that war’s veterans, the era’s own political conflicts and controversies led Congress to charter instead a more overtly patriotic new organization, the American Legion.
There’s no reason why these distinct organizational purposes—community and commemoration on the one hand, political and social advocacy and activism on the other—have to be mutually exclusive, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that the more overtly political late 19th and early 20th century organizations weren’t also genuinely communal and commemorative. But I think it’s also important to note that the present and political purposes would also have a limiting effect—that is, that veterans who might otherwise fit the organization’s definition but who did not share its political orientation (for example, African American World War I veterans not inclined toward the kinds of jingoistic patriotism expressed by the American Legion) would find themselves excluded, unable to take part in the organization’s communal and commemorative activites and functions. Given the challenges and struggles that all veterans face, the kinds captured so eloquently in a text like The Best Years of Our Lives, it seems to me that the most successsful veterans’ organizations would be those that welcome and support all veterans.
Last veterans post of mine tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other veterans texts, moments, or issues you’d share?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 12, 2014: Veterans Days: The Harrisburg Veterans Parade

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, a series on cultural and historical moments and issues related to that sizeable and growing American community. I’d love to hear your Veteran’s Day thoughts, connections, and perspectives for a crowd-sourced weekend post!]

On one of the terrible, and then one of the great, American moments.

As part of last year’s Veteran’s Week series, I wrote about the frustrating contradiction embodied by African American World War I soldiers—the way in which their impressive collective service gave way to continued discrimination and mistreatment once they were back stateside. Those responses were made possible, or at least greatly enabled, by the nation’s ability to forget the soldiers’ service, to write this hugely inspiring history right out of our communal memories (despite the best efforts of writers and leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois). And it’s important to note that such post-war communal forgetting and elision had happened before, and in an even more overtly ironic way: the forgetting and elision of the histories and stories of the more than 180,000 African Americans who served as US Colored Troops during the Civil War.

Given all the challenges faced by those African American Civil War soldiers, given Abraham Lincoln’s clear crediting of them with helping turn the tide of the war, and given the freakin’ overarching cause of the war itself, our immediate and absolute forgetting and elision of this community of veterans was and remains a national disgrace and shame. And while those processes unfolded over many years, they also can be localized in one specific and very telling moment: the May 23-24, 1865 Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, DC, in which over two hundred thousand Union veterans marched from the Capitol to the White House—and for which not a single USCT soldier was invited or allowed to participate. It’s impossible to know whether Abraham Lincoln, had he lived, would have permitted the Grand Review to develop in that way; but it’s certainly fair to link the moment and exclusion directly to the immediate post-war changes in Reconstruction plans and goals enacted by the Andrew Johnson administration and much of the rest of the federal government.
If the Grand Review was thus a low moment in American history, it also led, six months later, to one of our high points: Harrisburg’s Grand Review of Black Troops. On November 14, 1865, Harrisburg’s own Thomas Morris Chester—Civil War journalist, recruiter, and leader; son of an escaped slave who would go on to study law and become an educational leader and much more; one of America’s most inspiring figures by any measure—served as grand marshal for a parade of US Colored Troops, who marched through the city to the home of former secretary of war Simon Cameron (who reviewed and thanked the troops). Speeches by Octavius Catto, William Howard Day, and other luminaries helped frame the moment’s true historical, social, and national significance. And significant it was and remains: while it’s vital to remember, and rage against, the way in which the African American soldiers and veterans were forgotten and elided in our collective memories, then and (to at least too great of an extent) now, it’s just as important to remember the kinds of inspiring alternative histories and communities represented by great moments like Harrisburg’s Grand Review.
Next veterans post tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other veterans texts, moments, or issues you’d share?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November 11, 2014: Veterans Days: The Bonus Army

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, a series on cultural and historical moments and issues related to that sizeable and growing American community. I’d love to hear your Veteran’s Day thoughts, connections, and perspectives for a crowd-sourced weekend post!]
On the veterans movement that ended in both tragedy and success.

Americans have a long tradition of marching on Washington in protest. And I’m not trying to seem young and talk about the 1960s like they require getting into the way back machine—I’m talking about a long tradition, one that actually predates the Constitution and even led to a particular clause being included in it. In 1781, with the Revolutionary War still ongoing but entering into a significantly less heavy phase, much of the Continental Army was demobilized without pay, and in 1783 a large number of veterans marched on Philadelphia (which was the nation’s capital at the time, so this counts), surrounded the State House, and demanded that money; Congress fled to New Jersey, forces in the regular army expelled the protesters, and four years later the Constitution was framed to include a section noting that the Posse Comitatus Act (which forbids the use of the army in civilian police work) did not apply within the borders of Washington, DC. But despite this founding presence of marches on Washington, I would argue that the 1932 Bonus Army, in its own moment and most especially in the years afterward, signaled the true arrival of this form of social and political activism.

The Bonus Army, which was the popular shorthand by which the self-titled Bonus Expeditionary Force came to be known, was a gathering of over forty thousand World War I veterans, family members, and interested parties that descended on Washington in the spring of 1932. The vets, who had not in many cases been what we would consider adequately compensated during the war, had been awarded Service Certificates by a 1924 law; but those certificates did not mature and could not legally be paid until 1945, and with the Depression in full swing and veterans hit particularly hard by unemployment and its attendant ills (as they always seem to be), the Bonus Army decided to push for immediate payments. To say that their march on and then multi-month occupation of Washington ended badly is to understate the case—in late July the Hoover administration ordered the army (led in prominent roles, interestingly enough, by Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Patton) to remove the marchers, and in the course of that removal the marches (who again included women and children in significant numbers) were driven out with bayonets and poison gas, and their makeshift camp was burned to the ground. Hoover wasn’t likely win the 1932 presidential election in the best-case scenario, but these events, coming about three months before that election, likely cemented Roosevelt’s victory.

And it’s precisely the aftermath of the Bonus March, the way in which such a literal and tragic defeat became a multi-part public relations and then very real victory, that made it a potent model for future protesters. Among the Roosevelt administration’s earliest actions was an effort to reach out to the marchers, with Eleanor Roosevelt in particular working to get many of them enrolled in the Works Progress Administration. When Roosevelt balked at actually changing the law to pay out the Service Certificates early, Congress stepped in, overriding a presidential veto, and paid the Certificates in full in 1936, nearly a decade before they would legally come due. And many contemporary observers and subsequent historians have credited the publicity surrounding the Bonus Army with contributing heavily to the creation of the GI Bill of Rights in 1944, an act that made immeasurably better the reentry into civilian life for veterans of World War II. For all these reasons, organizers and leaders of the 1963 Civil Rights-connected March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom cited the Bonus Army very specifically as a key influence and inspiration, and of course many later groups have likewise taken up similar strategies of social and political protest and activism on the most national and public stage.
Next veterans post tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other veterans texts, moments, or issues you’d share?

Monday, November 10, 2014

November 10, 2014: Veterans Days: The Best Years of Our Lives

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, a series on cultural and historical moments and issues related to that sizeable and growing American community. I’d love to hear your Veteran’s Day thoughts, connections, and perspectives for a crowd-sourced weekend post!]
On the film and performance that capture the spectrum and significance of veterans’ experiences.

There are no shortage of memorable World War II stories in our national narratives—of course there are the overarching narratives like The Greatest Generation and Rosie the Riveter; there are the explicitly and centrally celebratory texts, such as in films like Midway or Saving Private Ryan; the more complex mixtures of celebration and realism, films like From Here to Eternity or Flags of Our Fathers; and the very explicitly critical and satirical accounts, as in the novels Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five. One could even argue, with some accuracy, that if there is any single event or era that doesn’t need reinforcing in our national consciousness, it is this one; similarly, one could argue that if there’s any group of American films that can’t be considered generally under-exposed or –known, even if some have waned in popularity or awareness over time, it’d be those that won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Well, I guess I like a challenge, because I’m here to argue that a World War II-centered film that in 1947 won not only Best Picture but also Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, Editing, and Music has become a much too forgotten and underappreciated American text. That film was The Best Years of Our Lives, William Wyler’s adaptation of MacKinlay Kantor’s novel about three returning World War II veterans and their experiences attempting to re-adapt to civilian life on the home front. It’s a far from perfect film, and features some schmaltzy sections that, perhaps, feel especially dated at more than sixty years’ remove and have likely contributed to its waning appeal. But it also includes some complex and powerful moments, and a significant number of them can be attributed directly to Wyler’s most famous and important casting choice: his decision to cast former paratrooper Harold Russell, an amateur actor who had lost both of his hands in a training accident, in the role of Homer Parrish, a similarly disabled vet with hooks replacing his hands. Homer’s relationship with the extremely supportive Wilma (played by Cathy O’Donnell) offers its share of the schmaltz, but in other ways his character and performance are much more dark and complicated, affecting the emotions through their realism and sensitivity rather than just overt heartstring-tugging.

That’s especially true of the scene that stood out to me most when I watched the film (as a college student in the late 1990s) and that has stuck with me ever since. Homer, once a star high school quarterback who was used to being watched and admired by younger boys in that earlier role, is attempting to work on a project in his garage but struggling greatly with his prostheses; he knows that a group of neighborhood boys are spying on him in fascination and horror but tries to ignore their presence. He can’t do so, however, and in a burst of anger releases much of what he has been dealing with since his injuries and return, breaking the garage windows with his hooks and daring the kids to fully engage with who and what he has become. The moment, big and emotional as it is, feels as unaffected as it gets, and manages to do what few of those more well-known World War II stories can: celebrating and critiquing in equal measure, recognizing the sacrifice and heroism of a Homer while mourning what war does and takes and destroys. Ultimately the scene, like the film, provides no definite answers, no straightforward adulation of its veterans nor darkly comic takedown of war myths, but instead simply asks us to think about what life (in and out of war) has meant and continues to mean for someone like Harold Russell, and all his veteran peers.
Indeed, Best Years is ultimately about precisely that—the experiences and identities of the soldiers themselves, at their best, at their worst, and everywhere in between. On Veteran’s Day, and on every other day as well, I think it’d be ideal to focus not on wars at all, horrific and cold and impersonal and, yes, hellish as they always are, but on remembering those Americans whose lives were and continue to be so impacted by these experiences—not least, I have to add, because I think we’d be a lot less cavalier about starting wars if we did so. Next veterans post tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other veterans texts, moments, or issues you’d share?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

November 8-9, 2014: Four Years!

No, that’s not an election slogan, but rather the anniversary this blog has just passed. Last year I blogged about three exemplary moments from the blog’s first three years, but this year I decided instead to offer four heartfelt AmericanStudier thanks:
1)      My Most Vocal Readers: You know their names from not only comments but also the two kinds of posts that remain my favorites, Crowd-sourced and Guest: AnneMarie Donahue, Irene Martyniuk, Roland Gibson. It can be really hard to get comments sometimes, but I know I can always rely on these folks for responses, further ideas, pushbacks, conversations. Thank you all so much!
2)      The Silent Majority: I’m proud to say that the blog gets somewhere in the ballpark of 150 visits/views a day; most of those folks don’t comment (and please feel free, even if just to introduce yourself and/or say hi!), but they’re a huge part of this blog nonetheless. Would I be doing this every day if I weren’t thinking about how it might contribute in some small way to their perspectives and voices and own AmericanStudying? Nah. So thanks!
3)      The Blogging Community: I can’t thank enough the peers who have given me the chance to guest post and contribute to their own spaces and conversations—Rob Velella, William Kerrigan, Maggi Smith-Dalton, Heather Richardson and The Historical Society, Tracy Wuster and Humor in America, and more. There’s so much great AmericanStudying happening online, and being part of that community is one of the things I’m most thankful for.
4)      My Folks: My Dad, whose online scholarly presence predates and far outstrips mine, gets my blog posts by email each morning. My Mom, who was my first Guest Poster, has encouraged, as well as read and responded to, the blog throughout these four years. It’s literally true that I wouldn’t be here without them, but we all know it goes deeper than that. I love you guys!
Again, thank you all. Here’s to the next four years!
Next series starts Monday,
Ben

PS. Whether you’ve been vocal or silent, or anything in between, I’d love to hear from you now! What brings you to this blog? What would you like to see here? Or just say hi, that’s okay too!