Where Would Emerson Find His Scholar Now?

His speech was called “our intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Its theme was the universe itself; its hero, Man Thinking. Now, one hundred and seventy-five years later, a noted scholar sees Emerson’s great vision as both more beleaguered and more urgent than ever.

ON AUGUST 31, 1837, THE DAY AFTER COMMENCEMENT—they don’t seem to have gone in for vacations in those earnest times—the academic year at Harvard was ushered in with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s address to Phi Beta Kappa on a stock topic, “The American Scholar.” The meeting was held in the First Parish Church, on the exact spot where Anne Hutchinson had been examined for heresy two centuries before. Read more »

101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

You Asked for It

When American Heritage suggested last year that I put together the article that became “101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know about American History,” I accepted the assignment eagerly. None of the many articles I have published in this magazine over the years have attracted half so much attention, and I became so absorbed in thinking of items to include that I soon had far more than could fit into an article. I therefore decided to gather still more.Read more »

How I Became A Royal White Elephant, Third Class

A distinguished American poet recalls one of his more unusual jobs

When I was twenty-five, I spent a year tutoring the son of the king of Siam and his friend, the son of the Siamese prime minister. Fifty-five years later I am still filled with wonder when I think about it. 1 had just finished two years at Cambridge University in England and was full of myself. I had returned home a month before the 1929 Crash, which changed the lives of everybody and changed mine right away. Here I was, filled with energy and enthusiasm for life and feeling good about my career at Cambridge.Read more »

American History Is Falling Down

If the historians themselves are no longer interested in defining the structure of the American past, how can the citizenry understand its heritage? The author examines the disrepair in which the professors have left their subject.

In the mid-sixteenth century, a blind and deaf old Spanish soldier named Bernai Díaz del Castillo set out to write an account of what he had seen and done as a follower of Hernando Cortés during the conquest of Mexico. “Unfortunately,” he noted by way of introduction, “I have gained no wealth to leave to my children and descendants except this story, which is a remarkable one.” Read more »

”…to Thy Jubilee Throng”

On Harvard’s 350th anniversary, a distinguished alumnus salutes his proud and often thorny alma mater

This September Harvard University will observe the 350th anniversary of its founding. It will do so with ceremony only somewhat less resplendent than the celebration of its tercentenary in 1936. For four days, indoors and out, oration and proclamation, festschrifts and fireworks, a brass band, a symphony orchestra, and a procession of crimson gowns and hoods will assert the ancience, the eminence, and the permanence of our country’s oldest, richest, and, some argue, foremost university. In 1936 Franklin D.Read more »

Getting To Know Us

After a year at the University of Missouri boning up on American history, a Chinese professor tells what she discovered about us and how she imparts her new knowledge to the folks back home in the People’s Republic.

In my mind, my life has been very uneventful. But to other people, it seems that I should have nothing more to wish for: my husband and I both work at Lanzhou University in northcentral China, where my husband is a professor of Russian history and I teach the history of the world’s Middle Ages as well as ancient Chinese history. At the university, we are considered to have a good future. Besides this, I have two adorable children. It seemed that I should be content because life had blessed me with so much.Read more »

101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

This is not a test. It’s the real thing.

How precise is the educated American’s understanding of the history of our country? I don’t mean exact knowledge of minor dates, or small details about the terms of laws, or questions like “Who was secretary of war in 1851?” ( Answer: Charles M. Conrad.) But just how well does the average person remember the important facts—the laws, treaties, people, and events that should be familiar to everyone? Read more »

Knowledge Beyond Numbers

At a time when our civilization is trying to organize itself on scientific principles of mathematical probabilities, statistical modeling, and the like, is traditional narrative history of any real use? Yes, says a distinguished practitioner of the discipline; it can always help us. It might even save us.

I was recently sent a well-argued report written by sensible people which insisted that a larger place must be found in our schools and colleges for instruction in mathematics and “quantitative thinking.” Scarcely had I finished reading it when a full professor came by to tell me that cliometrics (which applies statistical analysis and the theoretical explanations of social science to investigations of the past) was sweeping the country and threatening to destabilize all future tenure decisions in history departments.Read more »

Five Classic Cases

Packages that explode when dropped, cows that unexpectedly turn fertile, hands that sprout hair, and little boys who pull chairs out from under old ladies are the foundation of the American legal profession. Every student in every law school in the land learns his or her trade by studying a body of true cases that often seem the stuff of Rube Goldberg drawings but that are invaluable for vividly illustrating basic elements of the law. Read more »

The Magazine That Taught Faulkner, Fitzgerald, And Millay How To Write

When many of our greatest authors were children, they were first published in the pages of St. Nicholas

At first, it might seem F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eudora Welty, and E. B. White have little in common besides their country of birth and their line of work. But when they were growing up, these writers all were devoted readers of the same publication: St. Nicholas, the monthly magazine for children. Founded in 1873, St. Nicholas delighted and instructed children for almost seventy years. Read more »