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When Emmett Till’s body arrived at the Illinois Central train station in Chicago on 2 September 1955, the instructions from the authorities in Mississippi were clear: the casket containing the young boy must be buried unopened, intact and with the seal unbroken. Later that morning, Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, instructed funeral home director Ahmed Rayner to defy this command.

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America’s darkest hour: a timeline of the My Lai Massacre

On the morning of 16 March 1968, soldiers from three platoons of Charlie Company entered a group of hamlets located in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam on a search-and-destroy mission. Although no Viet Cong were present, the GIs proceeded to murder more than five hundred unarmed villagers.

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William Dean Howells and the Gilded Age [excerpt]

Through his writing, novelist and critic William Dean Howells captured the political and social aftermath of the Civil War. Given his limited involvement in politics, Howells’ works focused on the lives of common people over the uncommon, whom he deemed “essentially unattractive and uninteresting.” In the following excerpt from The Republic For Which It Stands, […]

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Rebuilding New York City

In the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New York City’s position as the center of the financial world came into question. Now, 16-years after the day that could have permanently changed the course of New York’s history, downtown Manhattan rebuilt both its buildings and status of importance. Lynne B. Sagalyn examines the economic impact of the World Trade Center’s fall and rise in the following excerpt from Power at Ground Zero.

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Allen Ginsberg and Ann Coulter walk into an auditorium…

Ann Coulter, a controversial right-wing author and commentator, was tentatively scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley on April 27 until pre-speech protests turned into violent clashes, and her speech was canceled. In response, Coulter tweeted, “It’s sickening when a radical thuggish institution like Berkeley can so easily snuff out the cherished American right to free speech.”

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George Washington’s early love of literature [excerpt]

Unlike his contemporaries Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton—George Washington isn’t remembered as an intellectual. But for what he lacked in formal education, Washington made up for in enthusiasm for learning. His personal education began at an early age and continued throughout his adult life. In the following excerpt from George Washington: A Life in Books, historian Kevin J. Hayes gives insight into Washington’s early love of literature.

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America’s forgotten war

You probably don’t know it, but we are now in the centennial year of US entry into World War One. On April 2nd 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. Wilson had narrowly won re-election the year before by campaigning under the slogan “he kept us out of the war.”

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Revisiting the My Lai Massacre almost 50 years later

How should we look at My Lai now, nearly fifty years after the events? For most Americans, it was a rude awakening to learn that “one of our own” could commit the kind of atrocities mostly associated with the nation’s enemies in war.

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Zebulon Pike’s journey across the Louisiana Purchase

On July 15, 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike departed St. Louis at the head of a military expedition to explore America’s public lands. The recently acquired Louisiana Purchase as yet held no states and almost no private property owners—at least not in the Lockean sense by which the country conferred exclusive individual rights to pieces of land.

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The political legacy of Andrew Jackson

Sometime after rising to international fame in 1815, Andrew Jackson lamented that his critics had him all wrong. Whether from ignorance or malice, they spread rumors and lies about his actions and motives. They also smeared his wife, Rachel, with whom he often shared his sense of persecution.

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That someone else: finding a new oral history ancestor

Dan Kerr acknowledges in his article, “Allan Nevins Is Not My Grandfather,” that most historians of oral history tend to dismiss the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) as a mere “prehistory” of the field, because the vast majority of FWP interviews were recorded with pen and paper rather than with machine.

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A dangerous mission: loyalty and treason during the American Revolution

The American Revolution was at once a national, a continental, and an imperial phenomenon. It produced a new American republic, rearranged power relations and territorial claims across North America, and altered Europeans’ global empires. It inspired stirring statements about universal rights and liberties even as it exposed disturbing divisions rooted in distinctions of class, ethnicity, race, and gender.

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Conquering distance: America in the Pacific War

Following a wave of Japanese attacks, the American, British, Canadian, and Dutch forces entered the Pacific War on 8 December 1941. As American forces moved across the Pacific they encountered a determined and desperate enemy and a harsh inhospitable environment. By early 1944, armed with new fast carriers, the Americans stepped up the pace of operations and launched the campaigns that would bring them to the doorstep of the Japanese homeland. But every step closer to Japan was a step farther from the United States.

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Journal of Social History cover

Curing (silent) movies of deafness?

Conventional wisdom holds that many of the favorite silent movie actors who failed to survive the transition to sound films—or talkies—in the late-1920s/early-1930s were done in by voices in some way unsuited to the new medium. Talkies are thought to have ruined the career of John Gilbert, for instance, because his “squeaky” voice did not match his on-screen persona as a leading male sex symbol. Audiences reportedly laughed the first time they heard Gilbert’s voice on screen.

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The perils of political polarization

Political polarization in the United States seems to intensify by the day. In June 2016, surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that majorities in both parties held highly unfavorable opinions of their opponents. Many Democrats and Republicans even admitted to fearing the rival party’s political agenda. Such strong feelings have scarcely dissipated—and likely escalated—since those surveys were completed.

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Why can mailboxes only be used for U.S. mail?

Because it is against Federal law to put anything in a mailbox, “on which no postage has been paid,”. If a person is caught doing so, they could be fined up to $5,000 and an organization could be fined up to $10,000. This is called the “Mailbox Restriction Law”, which does not exist in most countries.

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