by Richard Beeman, ed., 2012
You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad. The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”
“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”
by Ron Chernow, 2010
I’ve never been much for reading biographies, so when I saw an acquaintance pledge to read a biography for each president last year I thought, that’s nice, but not for me. It wasn’t until I read this Book Riot piece, in the midst of our political upheaval, that I started to understand the reasoning behind the challenge. I, too, have felt woefully uneducated about our country’s history and, if the “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” aphorism has any truth to it – and I believe it does – then I need to learn me some history stat. That’s how I came to decide that I, too, would embark on the challenge to read a biography of each American president and hopefully offer a little less ignorance to the world.
by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, 2012
I don’t remember where I ran across this book, but its title and subject matter immediately caught my eye. You see, I grew up at White Sands Missile Range, a place whose large territory encompasses the Trinity testing site. Nuclear weaponry is part of our specific narrative as New Mexicans and it’s as common to learn about this in history class as it is to learn about the presidents. I wouldn’t say nuclear science is a particular area of my interest, but the idea of the area’s history told in graphic form was something I hadn’t seen before and the WSMR school child in me just had to get her hands on it.
Finally, finally, I finished watching Roots! I had never seen the six-part 1977 miniseries, so after finishing the book earlier this year it was high on my must-watch list. It was, shall I say, difficult to get through, not because of the harrowing story or the reminder of our nation’s violent history, but because it is so cheesy. I hate to say that about one of the most important pieces of television produced, and I respect everything it did to bring light to the harsh reality of slavery, but wow, it does not hold up for a 21st century audience.