In honor of this AmericanStudier’s 34th birthday, here (from oldest to most recent) are 34 of my favorite posts from the first year for this newest addition to the Railton family (forgive the self-indulgence, but it is my birthday, and for newer readers to this blog this might be a good reminder of some of my work over these last 9 months or so):
1) The Wilmington Massacre and The Marrow of Tradition: My first full post, but also my first stab at two of this blog’s central purposes: narrating largely forgotten histories; and recommending texts we should all read.
2) Pine Ridge, the American Indian Movement, and Apted’s Films: Ditto to those purposes, but also a post in which I interwove history, politics, identity, and different media in, I hope, a pretty exemplary American Studies way.
3) The Shaw Memorial: I’ll freely admit that my first handful of posts were also just dedicated to texts and figures and moments and histories that I love—but the Memorial, like Chesnutt’s novel and Thunderheart in those first two links, is also a deeply inspiring work of American art.
4) The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Most Amazing Baseball Game Ever: Probably my favorite post to date, maybe because it tells my favorite American story.
5) Ely Parker: The post in which I came up with my idea for Ben’s American Hall of Inspiration; I know many of my posts can be pretty depressing, but hopefully the Hall can be a way for me to keep coming back to Americans whose stories and legacies are anything but.
6) My Colleague Ian Williams’ Work with Incarcerated Americans: The first post where I made clear that we don’t need to look into our national history to find truly inspiring Americans and efforts.
7) Rush Limbaugh’s Thanksgiving Nonsense: My first request, and the first post to engage directly with the kinds of false American histories being advanced by the contemporary right.
8) The Pledge of Allegiance: Another central purpose for this blog is to complicate, and at times directly challenge and seek to change, some of our most accepted national and historical narratives. This is one of the most important such challenges.
9) Public Enemy, N.W.A., and Rap: If you’re going to be an AmericanStudier, you have to be willing to analyze even those media and genres on which you’re far from an expert, and hopefully find interesting and valuable things to say in the process.
10) Chinatown and the History of LA: At the same time, the best AmericanStudiers likewise have to be able to analyze their very favorite things (like this 1974 film, for me), and find ways to link them to broader American narratives and histories.
11) The Statue of Liberty: Our national narratives about Lady Liberty are at least as ingrained as those about the Pledge of Allegiance—and just about as inaccurate.
12) Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” and Parenting: Maybe the first post in which I really admitted my personal and intimate stakes in the topics I’m discussing here, and another of those texts everybody should read to boot.
13) Dorothea Dix and Mental Health Reform: When it comes to a number of the people on whom I’ve focused here, I didn’t know nearly enough myself at the start of my research—making the posts as valuable for me as I could hope them to be for any other reader. This is one of those.
14) Ben Franklin and Anti-Immigrant Sentiments: As with many dominant narratives, those Americans who argue most loudy in favor of limiting immigration usually do so in large part through false, or at best greatly oversimplified and partial, versions of our past.
15) Divorce in American History: Some of our narratives about the past and present seem so obvious as to be beyond dispute: such as the idea that divorce has become more common and more accepted in our contemporary society. Maybe, but as with every topic I’ve discussed here, the reality is a good bit more complicated.
16) My Mom’s Guest Post on Margaret Wise Brown: The first of the many great guest posts I’ve been fortunate enough to feature here; I won’t link to the others, as you can and should find them by clicking the “Guest Posts” category on the right. And please—whether I’ve asked you specifically or not—feel free to contribute your own guest post down the road!
17) JFK, Tucson, and the Rhetoric and Reality of Political Violence: The first post in which I deviated from my planned schedule to respond directly to a current event—something I’ve incorporated very fully into this blog in the months since.
18) Tribute Post to Professor Alan Heimert: I’d say the same about the tribute posts that I did for the guest posts—both that they exemplify how fortunate I’ve been (in this case in the many amazing people and influences I’ve known) and that you should read them all (at the “Tribute Posts” category on the right).
19) Martin Luther King: How do we remember the real, hugely complicated, and to my mind even more inspiring man, rather than the mythic ideal we’ve created of him? A pretty key AmericanStudies question, one worth asking of every truly inspiring American.
20) Angel Island and Sui Sin Far’s “In the Land of the Free”: Immigration has been, I believe, my first frequent theme here, perhaps because, as this post illustrates, it can connect us so fully to so many of the darkest, richest, most powerful and significant national places and events, texts and histories.
21) Dresden and Slaughterhouse Five: One of the events we Americans have worked most hard to forget, and one of the novels that most beautifully and compelling argues for the need to remember and retell every story.
22) Valentine’s Day Lessons: Maybe my least analytical post, and also one of my favorites. It ain’t all academic, y’know.
23) Tori Amos, Lara Logan, and Stories of Rape: One of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard helps me respond to one of the year’s most horrific stories.
24) Peter Gomes and Faith: A tribute to one of the most inspiring Americans I’ve ever met, and some thoughts on the particularly complicated and important American theme he embodies for me.
25) The Treaty of Tripoli and the Founders on Church and State: Sometimes our historical narratives are a lot more complicated than we think. And sometimes they’re just a lot simpler. Sorry, David Barton and Glenn Beck, but there’s literally no doubt of what the Founders felt about the separation of church and state the idea of America as a “Christian nation.”
26) Newt Gingrich, Definitions of America, and Why We’re Here: The first of many posts (such as all those included in the “Book Posts” category on the right) in which I bring the ideas at the heart of my second book into my responses to AmericanStudies narratives and myths.
27) Du Bois, Affirmative Action, and Obama: Donald Trump quickly and thoroughly revealed himself to be a racist jackass, but the core reasons for much of the opposition to affirmative action are both more widespread and more worth responding to than Trump’s buffoonery.
28) Illegal Immigrants, Our Current Deportation Policies, and Empathy: What does deportation really mean and entail, who is affected, and at what human cost?
29) Tribute to My Grandfather Art Railton: The saddest Railton event of the year leads me to reflect on the many inspiring qualities of my grandfather’s life, identity, and especially perspective.
30) My Clearest Immigration Post: Cutting through some of the complexities and stating things as plainly as possible, in response to Sarah Palin’s historical falsehoods. Repeated and renamed with even more force here.
31) Paul Revere, Longfellow, and Wikipedia: Another Sarah Palin-inspired post, this time on her revisions to the Paul Revere story and the question of what is “common knowledge” and what purposes it serves in our communal conversations.
32) “Us vs. them” narratives, Muslim Americans, and Illegal Immigrants: The first of a couple posts to consider these particularly frustrating and divisive national narratives. The second, which also followed up my Norwegian terrorism response (linked below), is here.
33) Abraham Cahan: The many impressive genres and writings of this turn of the century Jewish American, and why AmericanStudiers should work to push down boundaries between disciplines as much as possible.
34) Terrorism, Norway, and Rhetoric: One of the latest and most important iterations of my using a current event to drive some American analyses—and likewise an illustration of just how fully interconnected international and American events and histories are.
That’s it for now! Thanks for all the readings and responses, and more tomorrow,
PS. As I’ve asked before, any topics or figures or texts or issues you’d like me to feature here?
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