There Is a Real Bedford Falls—It’s My Upstate New York Town

An Uncanny Physical Resemblance and a Frank Capra Visit Connect Seneca Falls to His Holiday Classic

Bedford Falls, the town that is the real star of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, is a fictional place. But it closely resembles a real town.

I live there.

The evidence is strong, if circumstantial, that Seneca Falls, New York—where I’m executive director of the historical society—provided the basis for Bedford Falls. Our town and Frank Capra’s mythical town share geography, appearance, and stories in ways that are uncanny, and reveal how thin the line can be between matter and myth.

Both Bedford Falls and Seneca Falls are in the same place—in …

How Traffic Circles Became Ground Zero for the French Middle Class

Garrisoned in Roundabouts, ‘Yellow Vest’ Protesters Want Urban Elites to Respect Their Suburban Dream

Just over 50 years ago, Jacques Tati’s Playtime opened in French movie theaters. In the comedy, Tati once again features his iconic character, Monsieur Hulot, the confused but courtly Parisian …

How Our View of National Parks Shapes American Identity

What We Seek and Find in Our Sacred Environments Reflects Our Country’s Character

Few natural regions have been photographed as often, or in such varied ways, as the American West. Many of these alluring, emotionally resonant landscapes lie within the boundaries of national …

Why the ‘New Nationalism’ Can Only Flourish in Conflict

Built on Hatred, and the Need for an Adversary, It Thrives on Contempt for Other Cultures, Religions, and Even Languages

Nationalism as we know it today—a global movement of states led by strongmen decrying globalization—is a recent invention. But a brief and broad history of nationalism reveals its important paradoxes …

The Savvy Press Agent Who Invented Buffalo Bill

"Arizona John" Burke Perfected the Art of Hype That Converted a Bison Hunter Into a Symbol of National Character

To appreciate the wonder and luster of a star in the sky, one must look off to its side—“averted vision,” it is called.

So it was in the late 19th century …

What Does It Mean to Be a ‘Local’ in Hawai‘i?

A Honolulu-Born Mainlander Reflects on How Demographic and Economic Change Are Making an Idealized Aloha State Identity Obsolete

The story of the modern Hawai‘i diaspora is a paradox: Many of us who grew up in Hawai‘i in the second half of the 20th century developed a powerful sense …