American Places: Encounters with History

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Overview


For anyone interested in history, the physical traces of the past, especially historical places, hold a special fascination. Whether it is a battlefield or the home of a notable American, there is no question that we understand the past in a different and more immediate way when we encounter it "on the ground."
In American Places, more than two dozen of America's most gifted historians write about their own encounters with historic places, bringing a personal viewpoint to bear on a wide variety of sites, ranging from Monticello to Fenway Park. Here James M. McPherson writes about the battlefield of Gettysburg, and how walking the ground of Pickett's Charge inspired one of his books. Kevin Starr visits the Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood and finds many of the flavors of California history there. Joel Williamson takes a bemused tour of Elvis Presley's Graceland, and David Kennedy tells the story of the "Pig War" of San Juan Island, where a spat between Britain and America over a speck of land in the Pacific helped determine the shape of the U.S. and Canada. William Freehling compares two places, Charleston's Battery and New Orleans' Jackson Square, showing how each reveals the different spirit of the society that created it. And Edward Ayers talks about spending time in Cyberspace, U.S.A., a virtual place that has much in common with the America visited by Alexis de Tocqueville a century and a half ago. Other pieces include Robert Dallek on the FDR Memorial, David Hackett Fischer on the Boston Common, and William Leuchtenburg on his native borough of Queens.
American Places celebrates the career of Sheldon Meyer, who over his years at Oxford University Press has published some of our most distinguished historians, including many Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize winners, virtually all of whom have contributed to this volume.
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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
Several years ago, one of America's most eminent academic historians had an unusual idea: to honor the publisher of the Oxford University Press, Sheldon Meyer, by assembling a volume of essays written by Meyer's protégées. This would be a frank exercise in mutual adoration, but because nearly all of the contributors were winners of the most prestigious prizes in the profession the book would be certain to draw attention and critical acclaim. Professor Leuchtenburg thereupon invited each historian to choose and describe some particular place where history comes alive to him. The result is a book that is somewhat offbeat, but decidedly interesting. Given their heads, Leuchtenburg's historians responded with a wide spectrum of personal choices, some of them staid and proper, and others quirky. It would hardly be surprising, for example, to find that a scholar would choose Monticello, the Boston Common, or Gettysburg to be living icons of American history. However, there were others, much less respectful of academic tradition, who went for places like Fenway Park, Queens, and even the Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood. One maverick soul made a brave, but not quite convincing, pitch for Graceland, and another found his historical locus in cyberspace. Nearly all history professionals have the knack of making just about anything seem interesting, and most of these 29 writers lived up to the challenge. The book certainly has no structure and in places the writing is uneven; a couple of the essays are obsequious, but others are virtual gems. In most of them, the casual reader cannot help but discover numerous fascinating tidbits about his country and its past. History teachers who have imaginationwill be able to use this book with immense profit. Category: History & Geography. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Oxford Univ. Press, 398p. illus. notes., ; Historian, Edwards Air Force Base, CA
Library Journal
This collection of essays is a tribute to longtime Oxford University Press editor Sheldon Meyer. Edited by New Deal historian Leuchtenburg (history, Univ. of North Carolina; The FDR Years), it gathers essays by nearly 30 well-known American historians, who reflect on personal encounters with historic places. The places range from cyberspace to Elvis's Graceland, and the writing varies from warm, personal reminiscences to dry, academic narratives. The most successful pieces weave the passion of personal discovery into the fabric of historical fact, allowing readers a glimpse of what drives historians to delve into the past. Essays like T.H. Breen's on a long-forgotten Massachusetts slave and James M. McPherson's sketch of Gettysburg remind us that history is found in places great and small. Other passages mourn the loss of historic districts and sports parks. Race and the South figure prominently in many of the essays. While this book might appeal to history buffs, it will be of interest chiefly to other historians. Recommended for academic libraries.--Duncan Stewart, State Historical Society of Iowa Lib., Iowa City Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Essays on historic and ever-changing American locations, celebrating the career of an innovative Oxford University Press editor, Sheldon Meyer. The festschrift, an anthology compiled in honor of a particular scholar, is an awkward format, and despite the conscientious efforts of Leuchtenburg (History/Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; The Supreme Court in the Age of Roosevelt, 1995, etc.), this assortment shows some of the predictable problems of the genre. Although Leuchtenburg confides that some authors found the personal essays challenging after decades of rigorous scholarly objectivity, others apparently had no trouble indulging in evidently self-centered or frankly self-indulgent writing, rambling on about their careers or their reminiscences of Meyer in pieces resembling the transcripts of speeches at a retirement party. The volume also includes a few of those wistful first-person meditations in which the author returns to his boyhood home after many decades and finds that it has changed in the interim, inspiring the usual reflections on transience and memory. A gratifying number of pieces, however, transcend the unpromising format to offer substantial information and fresh insights into the history implicit in the American landscape. In"Greensboro, North Carolina: A Window on Race in the American South," William H. Chafe provides context for the famous 1960 Woolworth's sit-in."Illinois's Old State Capitol: A Tale of Two Speeches," by Robert Johannsen, brings the Douglas-Lincoln campaign of 1860 to life. Donald Worster makes a powerful case in"The Grand Canyon" for the inclusion of geography and ecology in the study of human history."A Fan's Homage to Fenway (Or, WhyWeLove It When They Always Break Our Hearts)," by John Demos, and"The Polo Grounds," by Jules Tygiel, are zestful tributes to both baseball and place. The finest essay here, Kenneth T. Jackson's"Memphis, Tennessee: The Rise and Fall of Main Street," presents a stirring defense of urbanism and a gentle, hilarious tribute to the pleasures the city offered a teenager in the 1950s. Despite its flaws, a lively and enjoyable collection.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195152456
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Pages: 420
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

William E. Leuchtenburg is William J. Kenan, Jr. Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has served as president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. His books include The FDR Years and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940, winner of the Bancroft and Francis Parkman Prizes.

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Table of Contents

Introduction, William Leuchtenburg

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