Here’s one thing Presidents Bush and Obama have in common: both had the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” featured at key points in their presidencies. But how did a song with such clear sectional roots become an “American hymn”? As we commemorate the Civil War, the song’s history sheds light on key aspects of who we are as Americans.
When Barack Obama addressed the “Trayvon Martin ruling” Friday, he did more than offer his “thought and prayers” to the family of Martin, applaud them for their “incredible grace and dignity,” and narrate a history of racial surveillance that often leaves African Americans frustrated and even afraid. The president did more than acknowledge that the democratic judicial system had done its work, urge demonstrations to be peaceful, and call for close evaluations of “stand your ground” laws.
Obama took a moment where the nation was viciously debating its most cherished values through the death of a child and cast a vision for a better future through other children.
In the opening scenes of World War Z, a news montage assaults the viewer. Clips document epidemics, wolves, global warming, reality television, pundits and others forms of dangerous nature. They evoke a world in seeming decline, in which one pivotal moment could lead to the global disaster from which we might not recover. Chaos and inevitable decline set the tone for the film.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, debates about the effects on religious groups have dominated the religious blogosphere. “Gay marriage fight now becomes a religious liberty fight,” claims the headline of one Washington Examiner column. Behind such headlines lies a far less univocal history, and no doubt a much more complicated present reaction among religious communities. From this perspective, the fight for marriage equality has always been deeply engaged in religion.
Along with fireworks and barbecue, the fourth of July has traditionally been an occasion for speeches that blend thanksgiving for military sacrifices with some appeal to divine favor for America. Last year President Obama continued this tradition with his speech from the White House.
It begins in February. Parents scour websites in the often-competitive sport of hunting for summer camp options. The goal is to keep our children happy, occupied and perhaps even learning something during the long summer.
Summer camps are a relatively new invention, introduced in the early 20th century.
“P.S. please excuse this scribble and burn it as soon as you read it. Good by.”
If you spend days in university archives reading the chicken scratches of everyday folks from the 19th century, then you will run into lines like this. And when you do, your eyes may get big. A request to destroy or keep private a letter oftentimes means there is something juicy.
The musical The Book of Mormon portrays two naïve Mormon missionaries in Uganda proclaiming that “in 1978, God changed his mind about black people.” The joke isn’t mere whimsy; the LDS Church is widely perceived as racist. The irony is that had the church followed its initial trajectory, by now it likely would have become the most racially integrated and progressive church in America.
It has become cliché to note that we live in a world of information overload. Being cliché, of course, does not make it any less true. We professors are well aware of our inability to keep up with the fantastic production of new knowledge in our own specialties, yet the torrent of words overwhelms not only scholars but all readers. Who can possibly read all the books, magazines, journals, newspapers, blogs, tweets and posts worth reading? And what is worth reading, anyway?
This deluge is often ascribed to the digital revolution, and indeed the internet and pervasive connectivity have greatly expanded our reading options. Nevertheless, the historically minded will recognize in our current situation merely the ongoing ripples of earlier information revolutions.