When, nearly thirty-five years ago, Oliver Jensen helped found this publication, photographs were largely regarded as second-class historical material—interesting enough, but frivolous in the company of such scholarly apparatus as footnotes and text citations. That’s all changed now, and Jensen had a good deal to do with the change. In a lively and personal essay, he follows the apotheosis of the old photograph from novelty to vital historical tool, and chooses some of his favorite images from a lifetime of looking.
There’s a crisis you’ve probably forgotten about. In the 1950s it was widely believed that television was a powerful new opiate capable of changing the American people into mindless automatons prey to the whim of whoever controlled the broadcasting. Of course, it didn’t happen. Whatever the corrosive effects of television, the medium has not made Americans docile. Walter Karp explains how so many people could have been so mistaken.
The history of the European settlement of America can be read in the weathered stone battlements of an arc of forts that stretches from Canada to the tropics. Built by France and Spain at crippling expense and titanic effort, they were all doomed to failure. But each has a lively history, and Jack Rudolph, himself a professional military man, visits the most interest- ing and significant survivors of a violent epoch.
To his contemporaries, George Templeton Strong was a staid, socially prominent, somewhat stuffy New York lawyer. But as the Civil War gathered, he watched it all and recorded the terrible portents—along with all the fascinating trivia of daily life—in what is perhaps the greatest diary ever kept by an American. Daniel Aaron explains what makes Strong’s journal so remarkable, and also offers a moving picture of the maturation of Strong’s thinking from his initially sardonic dismissal of Lincoln as a prairie buffoon to his conviction that the man was the savior of the country.
An unusual monument to hard times in DeKaIb, Iowa, inspires a quietly moving memoir of Depression days … America’s first dinosaur and all the trouble it caused … seeking history in Hawaii … a newly discovered essay by Benjamin Franklin explains with all his usual pith and wit why the rattlesnake is the only logical symbol for America … and, with the openhandedness that our readers have long since come to expect from us, more.