What It Means to Be American
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Identities

The Many Conflicting Identities of the Statue of Liberty

Eastern and Western, Feminine and Masculine, Motherly Yet Ready for War, the Sculpture Holds a Multitude of Meanings

By Francesca Lidia Viano
November 5, 2018

The Statue of Liberty’s creator, the Alsatian artist Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, grew up in a world apart from the “huddled masses” who arrived in the New World, sailing toward her beacon. Born in 1834, into a rich and prestigious family in Colmar in northeastern France, his ancestors were doctors, pharmacists and bureaucrats who never felt the need to leave their homeland in search of opportunity. And yet he managed to capture something ineffable about the America he visited in 1871, which—along …

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Identities

Our Revelatory Culinary Road Trip Through the New South

What Chorizo, Hummus, and Chiles Rellenos Say About a Changing Region

By By Ashli Q. Stokes and Wendy Atkins-Sayre
October 2, 2017

It was New Year’s Day in Charlotte, North Carolina, and seemingly half of Mecklenburg County had come to the K&W Cafeteria for black-eyed peas, greens, and hog jowls—foods to bring good luck for the year ahead. The Formica tables were packed with local ladies in their fancy hats, college kids, tired families, and business folks in suits, all snaking slowly through a winding line to order.

We were at the K&W reflecting on a year-long mission to understand how Southern …

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Identities

How Bullwinkle Helped Us Laugh Off Nuclear Annihilation

The Dim-Witted Moose and His Squirrelly Sidekick Calmed Our Cold War Fears with Subversive Humor

By Beth Daniels
September 25, 2017

“Mr. Chairman, I am against all foreign aid, especially to places like Hawaii and Alaska,” says Senator Fussmussen from the floor of a cartoon Senate in 1962. In the visitors’ gallery, Russian agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are deciding whether to use their secret “Goof Gas” gun to turn the Congress stupid, as they did to all the rocket scientists and professors in the last episode of Bullwinkle.

Another senator wants to raise taxes on everyone under the age …

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Identities

How Recipe Cards and Cookbooks Fed a Mobile, Modernizing America

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

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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Identities

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

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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Identities

What Grandaddy Taught Me About Race in America

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

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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Identities

How Irish American Athletes Slugged Their Way to Respectability

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

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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Identities

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

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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Identities

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

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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Identities

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

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

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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