What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities

How Recipe Cards and Cookbooks Fed a Mobile, Modernizing America

Scientific Methods and Rising Literacy Were Key Ingredients for a Culinary Revolution

The recipes in late 19th-century American cookbooks—precise and detailed—met the needs of cooks in a highly mobile and modern country. Image from "Recipes: cards with text; depicting a woman in a kitchen reading, a server, meat, fish and a scale." Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

By Helen Zoe Veit
September 18, 2017

The first edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book—now known as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook—reads like a road map for 20th-century American cuisine. Published in 1896, it was filled with recipes for such familiar 19th-century dishes as potted pigeons, creamed vegetables, and mock turtle soup. But it added a forward-looking bent to older kitchen wisdom, casting ingredients such as cheese, chocolate, and ground beef—all bit players in 19th-century U.S. kitchens—in starring roles. It introduced cooks to recipes like hamburg steaks …

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When the Idea of Home Was Key to American Identity

From Log Cabins to Gilded Age Mansions, How You Lived Determined Whether You Belonged

Parlor scene of G. Burk, Warwick, New York. 3D stereoscopic photos of house interiors in New York in the 1800's.

By Richard White
September 11, 2017

Like viewers using an old-fashioned stereoscope, historians look at the past from two slightly different angles—then and now. The past is its own country, different from today. But we can only see that past world from our own present. And, as in a stereoscope, the two views merge.

I have been living in America’s second Gilded Age—our current era that began in the 1980s and took off in the 1990s—while writing about the first, which began in the 1870s and continued …

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Capturing the Architecture of American Agriculture—and a Passing Way of Life

For 45 Years, David Hanks Has Photographed Feed Mills in Every Season and Mood

A feed mill in Grant Mill, Michigan. Photo by David Hanks.

By David Hanks
August 24, 2017

“Why would anyone want to take pictures of a place like this?”

That’s the question I often get when I enter the office of a feed mill or grain elevator, asking permission to make photographs on the property or inside the buildings.

Showing other photos that I’ve taken usually satisfies the operator that I’m not working for the local tax assessor or real estate agent, and I receive permission to proceed.

A mill in New Era, Michigan. Photo by David …

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What Grandaddy Taught Me About Race in America

From Little Rock to L.A., Learning to See Colors Beyond Black and White

From left to right: The author's grandfather; sister, Faith, age 15; mother, Karen; the author, age 14; and grandmother, Lucy. Photo courtesy of Myah Genung.

By Myah Genung
July 13, 2017

I lived most of my childhood convinced that my grandfather, Calvin Muldrow, was Superman. On summer evenings, I’d perch atop his knee as we sat on the creaky back porch of his red brick house in North Little Rock. He’d weave elaborate tall tales about his magical excursions gliding over the jungle canopies of Sierra Leone, or wrestling boa constrictors, or floating aloft past my bedroom window at night to check up on me.

Grandaddy had a way of blending …

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When Pac-Man Started a National “Media Panic”

Video Games Revived a Perpetual Debate Over the Virtues and Vices of Technology for Kids

A youth tries a Ms. Pac-Man TV game in New York, in October 2004. Photo by Richard Drew/Associated Press.

By Michael Z. Newman
May 25, 2017

In the early 1980s, spurred by the incredible popularity of Atari, Space Invaders and Pac-Man, everyone seemed to be talking about video games, if not obsessively playing them. A 1982 cover of Time magazine screamed “GRONK! FLASH! ZAP! Video Games are Blitzing the World!” If you turned on the radio that year you’d likely hear “Pac-Man Fever,” a Top 40 hit by Buckner & Garcia. Children begged their parents to buy them an Atari for Christmas or to give them …

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How Irish American Athletes Slugged Their Way to Respectability

Sportsmen with Roots in the Emerald Isle Reshaped the Image of the Shantytown Ruffian

In 1949, 86-year-old baseball legend Connie Mack was honored in front of 65,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. The Philadelphia Athletics manager, known for his upright and gentle character, helped pave the way for an emerging Irish American establishment. Photo by Jacob Harris/Associated Press.

By James Silas Rogers
May 19, 2017

In his 1888 book The Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport, a high-minded treatise on the ennobling effect of sports, the journalist, poet, and Irish exile John Boyle O’Reilly wrote that “there is no branch of athletics in which Irishmen, or the sons of Irishmen, do not hold first place in all the world.” The boast was closer to true than many would realize. By the turn of the 20th century, America’s professional sports were bursting at the seams with …

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The Faux “Sioux” Sharpshooter Who Became Annie Oakley’s Rival

By Reinventing Herself as Indian, Lillian Smith Became a Wild West Sensation—and Escaped an Unhappy Past

Lillian as Princess Wenona, with beloved horse “Rabbit.” This was probably taken around 1915, while she was contracted with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West. Image courtesy of University of Oklahoma Libraries, Western History Collection, Nesbitt-Lenders Collection, No. 601.

By By Julia Bricklin
May 5, 2017

At about 10:30 a.m. on the morning of August 3, 1901, more than 100,000 people jostled to catch a glimpse of Frederick Cummins’ Indian Congress parade at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. The crowds shrieked with excitement when they heard the Carlisle Indian Band strike up a tune, and drew a collective gasp when three celebrities appeared on their respective steeds. There was Geronimo, the aged Apache chief, and Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary, the frontierswoman and scout of …

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The Passion for Ojibwe Culture I Inherited from My Native-American Mom—and Austrian-Jewish Dad

Championing My Heritage Began with Their Half-True American Dream

All in the family: The Treuer clan, boiling maple syrup. From left: Anton Treuer, Margaret Treuer, Robert Treuer, Caleb Treuer, Evan Treuer, Blair Treuer, Elias Treuer, Luella Treuer, Margret Krueger. Photo courtesy of Anton Treuer.

By Anton Treuer
April 21, 2017

In my professional life, as a professor of the Ojibwe language and culture, I work to teach and revitalize the Ojibwe language, one of more than 500 tribal languages spoken here before Europeans arrived. I also travel frequently to run racial equity and cultural competency trainings.

My work is a passion and a calling. Sometimes it surprises people to hear that it grows out of an inheritance I received from both of my parents: my Native American mother, to be …

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A Devastating Mississippi River Flood That Uprooted America’s Faith in Progress

The 1927 Disaster Exposed a Country Divided by Stereotypes, United by Modernity

Even images depicting floods and other disasters tended to romanticize the South, as in this lithograph by Frances F. Palmer, "High Water in the Mississippi," published in 1868 by Currier & Ives, and reprinted in The New York Times, May 1, 1927, when a major flood devastated the area.

By Susan Scott Parrish
April 14, 2017

On May 1, 1927, The New York Times announced: “Once more war is on between the mighty old dragon that is the Mississippi River and his ancient enemy, man.” Illustrating the story was a reprint of an 1868 Currier & Ives lithograph called “High Water in the Mississippi,” to which had been added the phrase, “In Days Gone By.”

Through the curtain-like trees, the 1927 viewer—perhaps a Manhattanite drinking her Sunday morning coffee—peeped at a gallant steamboat, a columned Great House, …

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How Andrew Carnegie’s Genius and Blue-Collar Grit Made Pittsburgh the Steel City

A Third-Generation Mill Worker Pays Homage to the Controversial Industrialist

Teeming a crucible of steel at the Colonial Steel Company, Pittsburgh in 1912. Photo courtesy of Colonial Steel Collection, University of Pittsburgh, Archives Service Center.

By Ken Kobus
April 7, 2017

I’m a retired steelworker—third generation at the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. on the south side of Pittsburgh. Both of my grandfathers were steelworkers, and my father was a first helper, meaning he was in charge of one of the steelmaking furnaces in the plant. When my father was ill and dying and on a lot of pain medication, he would mystify doctors with certain motions he would make with his hands and arms. But I knew right away that …

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