History Lesson

George Washington (Lansdowne portrait), First President (1789-1797)It’s late on a Sunday when I walk down the hill to meet a friend for an evening beer. I am humming some tune in a mindless way, which nevertheless keeps a spring in my step. I get to the pub and see my friend walking in the door.


“Why are you humming the National Anthem?” he asks.

“Oh yeah.”

And this is just the tip of the patriotic iceberg.

As part of a recruitment program the university does for high school students, the teachers are asked to do a series of themed lessons. A couple of weeks ago, I did a lecture on academic and creative writing and this week I have to do two lectures on America. I have chosen to do Ellis Island and the Founding Fathers. Um…not in the same lecture.

My week has been full of reading and watching videos. I’ve read about Ellis Island, the millions of people who gave up everything to get to the U.S, and its enormous legacy on our country. It’s also been a week of research into the Revolutionary War, battles, dates, and its cast of characters. I have read about some great American heroes like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin.

As a result, I have been feeling rather patriotic. This week I will have high school students shouting “No taxation without representation!” I will have them come up with an Ellis Island questionnaire, and introduce them to our Lady Liberty.

To many these days, even Americans, America is a place known for having a zillion lawyers, a compensation culture, and the NRA. It’s a place where murder happens in the streets, or in schools, on a weekly basis. It’s a place where people like Snooki, Paris Hilton, and Rush Limbaugh are VIPs.

And in the midst of all that crap, I suppose it’s easy to forget the United States’ awesome history. It’s easy to forget the tough gritty attitude that led to the Revolutionary War, the intelligence that led to the Declaration of Independence, and the foresight that went into the establishment of its government. It’s also easy to forget that millions of people came from all over the place to start a new life in the U.S.

And I suppose it’s then easy to let pride in your country disappear. And that’s a tragedy. So, maybe you could use a refresher course in U.S. history.

If you’re a reader, buy David McCullough’s 1776 or John Adams. You could also get A People’s History of The United States by Howard Zinn. As for movies, there is The Patriot, which is Mel Gibson violent, but perfect if you are feeling particularly more aggressive towards Britain (the 4th is approaching after all). There is also John Adams, the miniseries based on the book and starring Paul Giamatti. There are also documentaries all over YouTube and other sites.

If you happen to be in the U.S. this summer, visit a historical site. Places that are so familiar – Boston, New York, and Philadelphia – are teeming with American history. So instead of visiting a hipster pub in Brooklyn, do the New York Freedom Trail. Instead of hanging out at the Reading markets, go out and see where Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas, 1776. Go to Ellis Island.

Or, if you want, just take a walk and hum the national anthem.

  1. #1 by greg galeone on June 16, 2014 - 5:58 pm

    A short stocky twenty year old Italian gets on the “Piedmont” ship in Naples in 1904 and disembarks for the United States. Arrives in New York(Ellis Island) and proceeds to see relatives in Ocean City, New jersey. Decides to settle in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. A few years later he marries a girl who was working as a servant in her brother’s house. They raise nine children. The fifth of whom will become your grandfather. This is just a microcosm of what Ellis Island represents to us. Biagio Galeone and Chiara DiChristofaro, my grandparents, came here, worked assiduously and created a new and better world for their descendents-that is America. Good post Damo.

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