What It Means to Be American
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Encounters

How the Kellogg Brothers Taught America to Eat Breakfast

Informed by Their Religious Faith, the Siblings Merged Spiritual with Physical Health

By Howard Markel
August 3, 2017

The popular singer and movie star Bing Crosby once crooned, “What’s more American than corn flakes?” Virtually every American is familiar with this iconic cereal, but few know the story of the two men from Battle Creek, Michigan who created those famously crispy, golden flakes of corn back in 1895, revolutionizing the way America eats breakfast: John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother Will Keith Kellogg.

Fewer still know that among the ingredients in the Kelloggs’ secret recipe were the teachings …

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Encounters

Was Wounded Knee a Battle for Religious Freedom?

By Clamping Down on the Indian Ghost Dance, the U.S. Government Sparked a Tragedy

By Louis S. Warren
July 6, 2017

The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 appears in many history textbooks as the “end of the Indian Wars” and a signal moment in the closing of the Western frontier. The atrocity had many causes, but its immediate one was the U.S. government’s effort to ban a religion: the Ghost Dance, a new Indian faith that had swept Western reservations over the previous year.

The history of this episode—in which the U.S. Army opened fire on a mostly unarmed village of …

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Encounters

Why Has America Named So Many Places After a French Nobleman?

The Marquis de Lafayette's Name Graces More City Parks and Streets Than Perhaps Any Other Foreigner

By Laura Auricchio
June 22, 2017

If you live in the United States, you’ve probably come across a county, city, street, park, school, shop, or restaurant named for Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the most beloved French hero of the American Revolution. In New York City, my home town, I’ve spotted three different Lafayette Avenues, one Lafayette Street, a Lafayette playground, and four public sculptures of the Marquis. Although there’s no official count, Lafayette probably has more American locations named for him than any …

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Encounters

The Civil War General Whose Godly “Mission” Went Astray

Oliver Otis "Uh Oh" Howard Was a Crusader for Ex-Slaves and a Scourge of Native Americans

By Daniel Sharfstein
May 12, 2017

When God first visited him in 1857, Oliver Otis Howard was a lonely army lieutenant battling clouds of mosquitoes in a backwater posting that he described as a “field for self-denial”: Tampa, Florida. Howard had spent his life swimming against powerful tides. Ten when his father died, he had to leave his family in Leeds, Maine, and move in with relatives. Through constant study, he made it to Bowdoin College at age 16, graduating near the top of his class …

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Encounters

Why Groundhog Day Now Elevates Science Over Superstition

For a UCLA Biologist, Celebrating the Lowly Marmot Could Shed Light on Global Warming

By Daniel T. Blumstein
January 31, 2017

I am a scientist who loves Groundhog Day, that least scientific of holidays. Every February, as Punxsutawney Phil shakes the dust off his coat, emerges from his burrow, glances at his shadow (or not) and allegedly prognosticates winter’s end, I gather a group of professors, graduate students, and other assorted science geeks at my UCLA lab to nibble, drink, schmooze, and revel in ground-hoggery in all its magnificent splendor.

I study the behavior, ecology, and evolution of groundhogs and the …

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Encounters

Remembering 1876, the Year of the Inconclusive Vote

There Has Never Been Anything Like It Before or Since

By John Copeland Nagle
October 10, 2016

We are told that this year’s presidential election is unprecedented in many ways. The American voters are faced with the choice between an unlikely candidate who has been repudiated by many within his own party, and a seasoned politician whom the head of the FBI characterized as “extremely careless.” The tumultuousness of the race makes many long for the good old days when elections were civil, thoughtful, and quickly resolved

In other words, we are not longing for 1876.

A …

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Encounters

Think The Press Is Partisan? It Was Much Worse for Our Founding Fathers

A Scheming and Salacious Newspaper Reporter Targeted Hamilton and Jefferson—and Nearly Ruined Them

By Christopher B. Daly
October 10, 2016

It is a common complaint that the drive for traffic at news sites in the digital age has debased our political dialogue, turning a responsible press into a media scramble for salacious sound bites. But partisanship and scandal-mongering go way back in the American political tradition. And there was no internet to blame in 1793, the year an especially vicious and salacious newsman arrived on American shores and soon after set his sights on the founding fathers.

Despite efforts to unify …

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Encounters

How Herbert Hoover Skirted Scandal to Win the White House

The Public Was Charmed by His Presentation as an Antidote to Politics, Until the Great Depression Hit

By Charles Rappleye
October 10, 2016

It was not the craziest election of the 20th Century, but it might have been the strangest.

One candidate was a natural politician, affable and gregarious, a true man-of-the-people who favored flashy suits and a trademark derby hat. Reporters loved him and admirers thronged his events.

The other contender could easily be classified a misanthrope. He was a miserable public speaker who hated crowds and disdained the campaign regimen of shaking hands and kissing babies. For months, even after secretly directing his …

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Encounters

Handle Your Presidential Debates With Care

The Institution of Multiple Meetings Between Presidential Nominees Might Seem Old and Tired, But Such Gatherings Are a New—and Fragile—Phenomenon

By Joel Fox
October 10, 2016

Today, presidential debates between candidates are considered fixtures of our political scene. Though they generate the occasional dust-up—like Donald Trump complaining that some of this year’s debates conflict with high-profile sporting events, or third-party candidates demanding places on the stage—it’s hard to imagine election season without them.

But I can attest from personal experience that not long ago our presidential debates were fragile. During the 1988 presidential campaign I had a close-up view of the near-cancellation and 11th-hour rescue of a …

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Encounters

The Untold Story of the Presidential Candidate Once Named “Our Other Franklin”

Massive Rallies, an Emulated Style, and Votes From Both Democrats and Republicans Couldn’t Save This Quixotic Candidate’s Campaign—Or His Life

By R. Craig Sautter
October 10, 2016

A populist desire for “reform” runs deep in the psyche of American voters. Every few decades, a presidential candidate channels this rebellious spirit. Andrew Jackson was such a candidate in 1828. So were William Henry Harrison in 1840, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, William Jennings Bryan in 1896, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Barack Obama in 2008.

But no candidate for President carried the reform banner for honesty and competence more naturally, or …

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