What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

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Places

The Monster That Stoked Americans’ Devotion to Faith Over Science

How a New York Farmer's Elaborate Hoax "Proved" Giants Roamed the Earth

feder-on-cardiff-giant-lead

By Ken Feder
October 27, 2016

One Sunday afternoon in October of 1869, Stubb Newell, a farmer in upstate New York, invited his neighbors over to view the remarkable discovery he made while digging a well on his Cardiff farm. When they arrived, he showed them the body of a ten-foot-tall “petrified” man, lying at the bottom of a shallow pit where Newell had instructed workmen to dig.

The giant was a magnificent sight: A stone man naked in repose, seemingly at peace. It could hardly have …

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Ideas

The 1900 World’s Fair Produced Dazzling Dynamos, Great Art, and Our Current Conversation About Technology

Henry Adams’ Influential but Largely Forgotten Warning About Science Superseding Soul is Especially Relevant Today

Molella on world fair LEAD

By Art Molella
August 30, 2016

Debates rage today about the risks and benefits of modern technology. Driverless cars, the use of drones in warfare and commerce, the deployment of robots in place of human soldiers, surgery by robotic rather than human hands. The Internet of Things that puts digital devices in just about everything. Artificial intelligence not only assisting but superseding the human brain. Genetic manipulation of food, organisms, and human parts. Human cloning—even the manufacture of human beings.

The National Institutes of Health recently …

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Ideas

What Would Jesus Read?

Americans Are Obsessed With Popular Religious Books Because They Give Us What Organized Religion Can't

Smith religion Jesus ceo

By Erin Smith
July 10, 2015

In the 1990s, my best friend—a brilliant historian with an “I read banned books” bumper sticker on her car—handed me a book that had changed her life. It was Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, a 1992 New York Times best-selling spiritual guide for “cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life.” I could not get past page 30 or so. I found it long-winded, simple-minded, and tedious—an ahistorical mess of Greek myths, Jungian psychology, and cranky critiques of the superficiality …

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Ideas

The Christian Roots of Modern Environmentalism

Presbyterianism Inspired Teddy Roosevelt’s Conservationist Zeal

theodore roosevelt WIMTBA

By Mark Stoll
June 26, 2015

Like only a handful of presidents, Theodore Roosevelt lives in our memory and popular culture. He is the bespectacled face gazing from Mount Rushmore, the namesake for the teddy bear, and the advice-giving Rough Rider, played by Robin Williams in the movie Night at the Museum. We remember him, too, as the trust buster who broke up monopolies, the avid outdoorsman and conservationist who preserved parks, forests, and wildlife, and the politician who crusaded for a “fair deal,” a just …

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Identities

Captain America Dons a Turban

Armed With a Beard, a Shield, and a Sense of Humor, I Learned Why the U.S. Needs New Superheroes

Singh Captain America Turban WIMTBA

By Vishavjit Singh
June 5, 2015

I was born in our nation’s capital in the early 1970s—but sometimes when people see me in my turban, they think of conflicts in faraway lands, terrorism here at home, Hollywood caricatures, and sensationalized news coverage.

Donning the costume of a superhero—complete with unitard and shield, in addition to the turban of my Sikh faith—changed all that. Suddenly, there was no question that I was American.

Like any good comic book, there’s an origin story. One that covers moving thousands of miles …

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Engagements

The Greatest Native American Intellectual You’ve Never Heard Of

The Short Life and Long Legacy of the 19th-Century Reformer William Apess

William Apess, Native American, reformer

By Philip F. Gura
April 17, 2015

On April 1, 1839, a New York City medical examiner performed an autopsy on a man at a boardinghouse in a working-class neighborhood of lower Manhattan. He had performed scores of such examinations each month, but this one was especially significant though he did not recognize the person: 41-year-old William Apess had written more than any Native American writer before the 20th century, and had attained fame and notoriety in his short life for championing native peoples’ rights.

Still largely forgotten …

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Engagements

When Homework Is a Matter of Life and Death

My Parents Fled Iran Because They Were Forbidden From Getting an Education There. I’ve Spent Over One-Third of My Life on a University Campus.

When Education Is a Matter of Life & Death

By Roxana Daneshjou
March 6, 2015

The first hint of sunlight glows off the horizon as I rush toward Stanford Hospital from the parking garage, white coat in hand, stethoscope bouncing against my chest. Every few steps, the diaphragm of my stethoscope ricochets off the silver pendant my mother gave me—a nine-pointed star etched with a symbol of my Bahá’í faith. My mother escaped Iran at 17 as the country was on the cusp of revolution—a revolution that would create a society where, to this day, …

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Encounters

Home Is Where the Border Is

Living in the Space Between Two Countries Forces You to Rethink Your Definition of Community

palm trees

By Felipe Hinojosa
November 21, 2014

As soon as I spot the rows of palm trees lining Highway 77, I know I’ve arrived home. That’s the point where I roll down my windows to feel the humid and hot winds of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. When I did just that on a recent trip from College Station, where I live now, my 9-year-old son asked loudly from the back seat, “Papi, why does it smell like steak?” My response was swift: “Because Friday night lights, …

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Identities

Caught Between Gefilte Fish and Campbell’s Soup

I Loved My Jewish Mother’s Cooking, But I Also Longed for PB&Js and Mallomars

gefilte fish, food, Jewish food, Passover

By Hasia Diner
November 7, 2014

When I first gravitated toward writing about food and immigration to the United States as an ostensibly serious academic, colleagues asked me—and, frankly, I asked myself—the obvious question. Why food? Food perhaps lacked the gravitas and significance of subjects like political, labor or immigration history.

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Artifacts

Searching for Utopia in Illinois

A Massive Limestone Carving From a 19th-Century Mormon Temple Reminds Us of Americans’ Many Quests to Forge New Communities

Mormon, sunstone, National Museum of American History

By Barbara Clark Smith
October 21, 2014

One of 12 sunstones that ornamented a Mormon temple built in Nauvoo, Illinois in the early 1840s.

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