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WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN

The Heartbreaking Love Letters That Spurred an Ohio Blacksmith to Join John Brown’s Raid

Dangerfield Newby’s Enslaved Wife Wrote Increasingly Desperate Missives That Inspired Her Husband to Join the Abolitionist Rebellion

by Eugene L. Meyer

Every October 16 marks the anniversary of John Brown’s historic raid on Harpers Ferry in West Virginia in 1859. Accompanied by 18 supporters, Brown, a radical abolitionist, hoped to seize the federal arsenal at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and foment a slave rebellion that would ultimately bring down the South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery.
  The anniversary always triggers much ado about Brown, whose failed raid is often described as the spark that ignited the Civil War. But lost in all the commemoration of Brown is the story of the five African Americans who went with him to Harpers Ferry. Over the years, they’ve been treated as footnotes, if mentioned at all, overshadowed by their martyred commander, whose soul, and legend, go marching on...

ESSAY

How Museums Help Diverse Nations Reimagine Themselves

By Embracing the Ambiguity of Old Myths, the Best Exhibits Broaden a People’s Sense of Belonging

by Elizabeth Weiser

Museums are often dismissed as irrelevant diversions, as places apart, as tombs for pasts that don’t have much to do with the present.
  But I study the world’s heritage museums—the national, state, or city museums that tell stories from the past—and I am convinced that the best of these institutions forge national identity and impact our civic actions far more profoundly than we recognize. National identity is a myth we create together in order to cooperate as large societies, and heritage museums tell the stories that perpetuate—and also modify—those national myths.
  To understand what makes museums most effective, the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa makes an especially useful example. Te Papa embraces its role as the nation’s cultural glue, celebrating unity...

Connecting California Joe Mathews

Poetry

  • by Corey Oglesby

    In the airless, fluorescent lung of a department store,
    I am trying not to laugh at the wolf’s face...

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