Monday, January 5, 2009

USH 2: What I thought I knew...

I knew a little bit about US history before I started doing this research. Or at least I thought I did.

I thought that the founding of the United States was by idealists who had good ideas but conveniently ignored that the continent was already occupied. Don't get me wrong, I didn't think the 'Founding Fathers' were saints, but I felt their motivations were good ("All men are created equal"), if clouded by sexism and racism.

I didn't know of much that happened around then, other than the pilgrims, the colonists, and the revolutionary war--and, other than a bunch of presidents, the next big event was the civil war. Well, there was the war of 1812, but that seemed like a rematch/rehash of the revolutionary war. I heard about Shay's Rebellion but couldn't have said what it was. I knew about the Monroe Doctrine and what it was, but had no idea of the historical context.

The Civil War was followed by reconstruction and Jim Crow and then we were into the Twentieth Century and World War I. (I think I thought of a lot of history as a series of wars--at least, it seems like that was what I was taught.)

World War I had spawned the Roaring Twenties--a decade that included freethinkers and expatriot writers. The wild economic scene led to the Great Depression, which brought a lot of union organizing in the Thirties--this and the Sixties were the most radical of the decades in the US. The Forties was dominated by World War II.

The Fifties were a complex decade--on the surface, the calm, controlled Eisenhower years--but
underneath there was massive unease, from the rejection of all this by the 'Beat Generation' to the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. Most of all, this was the decade when McCarthyism and anti-communist hysteria trounced the Left in this country. By the beginnings of the Sixties people were afraid to have any radical leanings for fear that they would be denounced as "Communists". It was in this vacuum that the student movements of the Sixties were born.

There's a number of pieces in my head that don't fit into this history: Emma Goldman, Sacco and Vanzetti, and the various socialist and anarchist organizers in the early parts of the century; the Russian Revolution and its impact on the United States; and the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

I am well aware that this is an oversimplified view of history. I will be researching the founding of the US, the history of the eighteen and nineteen centuries, the social movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as political and economic currents in recent American history in order to understand how we got to our current situation. While I'm not totally clear about all the historical alleyways I may explore, I plan to move along, roughly chronologically, but often moving back and forth to look at economics, electoral politics, and social movements as I make my way to the midtwentieth century, and at that point focus on how we got to the 'Sixties', how we got from the sixties to the eighties, and how we got from the eighties to today--and what this all means for where we go from here.

I'll begin with the founding of the nation.

Quote of the Day: "History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are." - David McCullough

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