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How Bullwinkle Helped Us Laugh Off Nuclear Annihilation

By | 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 …

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The 1938 Hurricane That Revived New England’s Fall Colors

By | September 21, 2017

This morning, while driving in central Vermont, listening to the latest news about hurricanes in Florida and Texas, I caught up with my first leaf peeper of the season. Poking along at about 20 mph in his rental car, the tourist was peering at our hills of orange and crimson and gold leaves while simultaneously looking for a place to pull over to snap a …

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How Recipe Cards and Cookbooks Fed a Mobile, Modernizing America

By | 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 …

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Chuck Taylor—the Shoe Salesman Whose Name Became Synonymous With Basketball

By | September 14, 2017

When Chuck Taylor, who was born in rural southern Indiana in 1901, left home at age 17 to play professional basketball, he was following an unlikely dream. The game of basketball—invented by James Naismith, a YMCA physical fitness instructor in Massachusetts in 1891—was still a minor sport in America. Few competitive leagues existed, and those that did were regional. Most organized teams were subsidized by …

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When the Idea of Home Was Key to American Identity

By | September 11, 2017

Like viewers using an old-fashioned stereoscope, historians look at the past from two slightly different angles—then and now. The past is its own country, different from today. But we can only see that past world from our own present. And, as in a stereoscope, the two views merge.
I have been living in America’s second Gilded Age—our current era that began in the 1980s and took …

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How Prince Introduced Us to the “Minneapolis Sound”

By | September 7, 2017

The pop music genius Prince Rogers Nelson, better known to most of us as Prince, made his national television debut on American Bandstand in 1980. Performing “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” his first big hit in the United States, he gave the country its first taste of the Minneapolis Sound, an infectious blend of rock, R&B, funk, and New Wave that would become a significant …

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How Colleges Migrated Into Cities And Democratized Higher Education

By | August 31, 2017

Since the end of World War II, most American college students have attended schools in cities and metropolitan areas. Mirroring the rapid urbanization of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this trend reflects the democratization of college access and the enormous growth in the numbers of commuter students who live at home while attending college.
Going to college in the …

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Capturing the Architecture of American Agriculture—and a Passing Way of Life

By | 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, …

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What Riding Trains Taught Me About Americans

By | August 17, 2017

Amos, a one-legged Amish man, was having trouble with his new prosthesis. He left the leg in his sleeping compartment and came to the diner on crutches—a hazardous ambulation on a moving train.
Because Amish do not buy health insurance nor take Medicare or Social Security, he rode The Southwest Chief from Chicago to California and went to Mexico to see a doctor. He paid cash …

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The Bostonian Who Armed the Anti-Slavery Settlers in “Bleeding Kansas”

By | August 8, 2017

On May 24, 1854, Anthony Burns, a young African-American man, was captured on his way home from work. He had escaped from slavery in Virginia and had made his way to Boston, where he was employed in a men’s clothing store. His owner tracked him down and had him arrested. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the United States Constitution, Burns had no …

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