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Witness to America sweeps the vast territory that is our nation, illuminating the movements, ideas, inventions, and events that have shaped and defined us-from the Pony Express to the PC; from the frontier to the rise of suburbia; from farming to modernization and the information age. Within these pages discover the art of whaling, learn about survival on the gold rush trial, experience the glory and trauma of war, and glean new insight on the great leaders. Here are debates and speeches, diary entries, letters, ...
Witness to America sweeps the vast territory that is our nation, illuminating the movements, ideas, inventions, and events that have shaped and defined us-from the Pony Express to the PC; from the frontier to the rise of suburbia; from farming to modernization and the information age. Within these pages discover the art of whaling, learn about survival on the gold rush trial, experience the glory and trauma of war, and glean new insight on the great leaders. Here are debates and speeches, diary entries, letters, memoirs court records, and more-including many first-person accounts that make history come alive as never before, such as a powerful description of the atomic explosion from a correspondent on the Enola Gay and a young student's evaluation of the changing roles of women at her high school. The selections explore the diverse facets of America's cultural and political heritage and the constant shift and flux of everyday life, indelibly demonstrating both the variety and vitality of the American character.
Illustrated with spectacular photographs, drawing, and paintings and featuring a 74-minute audio CD with actual clips and dramatizations of many of the entries, Witness to America is a fascinating, highly readable, and entertaining collection that shows us what American is -and where it may go-as it enters the next century.
Americans are instinctively looking forward.So it's not surprising that so few have traveled the rivers of history transcribed in America since November 1773, when Samuel Adams incited New England merchants and shopkeepers to spill tea in Boston Harbor.They are unaware of just how broad and variegated are history's forms, how filled with adventure, drama, and color.Still fewer realize how much of that history has been set down on paper by both contemporary participants and observers--countless vivid, enlightened, can-did narratives penned by settlers, soldiers, traders, boatmen, gold seekers, runaway slaves, fur trappers, railroad builders, merchants, educators, preachers, civil rights activists, computer wizards, and politicians.The writers range from pioneers to presidents, from nurses to nabobs, from admirals to aviators, from engineers to environmentalists."America is woven of many strands," Ralph Ellison wrote in his indispensable 1952 novel The Invisible Man."I would recognize them and let it so remain ... our fate is to become one, and yet many--This is not prophecy ... but description."
For too many, the word history implies an arid pedantry associated with dusty libraries and musty monographs.That association must be broken.History is not a matter of libraries but of life.At its best, history pulses with hope and despair, ardor and endurance, and the joy and sorrow of ordinary people everywhere.As editors of Witness to America, we tried to bring home this point.We hope the bookwill contribute to an understanding of the variety, the vitality, and the fascination of that immense part of our historical literature that flows from the pens of the men and women who helped to make history.
Dr. Samuel Johnson once remarked that "A man will turn over half a library to make one book." This bit of poetic license became a reality in the hands of our distinguished predecessors, historians Henry Steele Commager and Allan Nevins.It was these men who first compiled between 1939 and 1949 an anthology of first-person narratives titled Heritage to America.Our Witness to America is modeled on that pioneering effort.Dissatisfied with traditional textbooks and the interposition of a ghostly curtain of interpretation between writer and reader, Commager and Nevins wanted American history to ring with the voices of history's eye-witnesses.These trailblazers hoped to help readers rediscover a collective heritage that seemed to grow more remote with each passing sunset.All the articles from the Boston Tea Party to World War II were selected by Commager and Nevins; we provided the contributions from the Enola Gay to 1999.
On its face, there is nothing radical about Commager and Nevins' approach to history.After all, generations of dedicated scholars have relied on the same narratives excerpted in Witness to America as primary sources: diaries, letters, newspapers, court records, travel journals, memoirs, popular broadsides, sermons, speeches, and random jottings people leave behind, in one printed form or another, for posterity to ponder.But instead of synthesizing these historical nuggets into our own narrative, we've decided, like Commager and Nevins before us, to serve them up raw.This approach was recently popularized by Ken Burns' PBS Civil War and Baseball series, which used spo-ken diary entries to great dramatic effect.It allows people to feel what life was like when Patrick Henry burst into a classic bit of tidewater eloquence or when the horseless carriage was a dubious contraption in Henry Ford's Dearborn garage."We go forth all to seek America," Waldo Frank wrote in his largely forgotten 1919 classic Our America."And in the seeking we create her.In the quality of our search shall be the nature of the America we created."
Of course, no single volume can embrace the totality of America within its covers, and this was not our intent as we expanded and revised Witness to America.Our book is a smorgasbord of tasty dishes comprising the American feast, and we invite everyone to partake of it.We hope to whet the appetites of those with ready access to libraries to explore further on their own.For those without such access, we hope this book will suffice unto itself, a generous meal representative of the large body of writings, some of which are not widely available.We make no claim that this collection is the best" of anything, because best is too self-limiting a concept.We offer it simply as a fairly comprehensive harvest, representing what we ourselves have found the most illuminating and delightful, chosen to capture the interest and awaken the imagination of a broad swathe of readers.In making our selections we have applied various touchstones.The principal criterion, besides our insistence upon a reasonable accuracy and authenticity, has always been that of broad human interest.The volume is not for specialists, nor does not it fall into, or even approximate, the category of "collected documents" or "source books," of which large numbers already exist.Our hope is that it will afford instruction to students as well as pleasure to general readers.
No collection of personal writings, no matter how extensive, can provide a connected narrative of America's history.Many personal narratives are tangential rivulets.Reflecting more or less unique experiences, they lie somewhat apart from the general stream of affairs, or traverse it from an angle.So we have tried to supply some coherence, context, and integration.The book is divided into sections, each representing a different phase or era of American life.Within each section we have attempted to group narratives so that they have some relation to one another and so the section provides some overall conception of the era.Editorial additions (or italicized headnotes) provide background and offer a measure of continuity.We believe that the book can be studied from begin-ning to end without the reader feeling any glaring gaps.Surely that is sufficient, for had we added more, we would have found ourselves writing another general history of America, something we both had no interest in doing.
Our guiding principle in dealing with original texts has been to serve the general reader and the ordinary student, not to minister to the needs of scholars.Witness to America. Copyright © by Stephen Ambrose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.