The New World
American history has always been a fascinating topic for me. As someone who is indigenous, it's always been important to me to learn more and understand the people and stories who came before me. My eclectic life experiences have also drawn me in different directions as well, taking me to new places I'd never thought to explore before. The selection of books in this Read Feed are a reflection of some different niches of American history that may not otherwise be showcased. While these aren't necessarily the end-all, be-all of the books I'd recommend to someone interested in American history, these are hidden gems that might not otherwise be showcased. These are stories from the people who came before us that you might not otherwise think about, so I'd highly encourage you to take a look.
Jamestown: The Buried Truth by William M. Kelso
When you're asked to think about America's colonial past, it's more likely than not you'll think of Jamestown. The story of Jamestown as one of the earliest European settlements in North America is one that's deeply ingrained in our collective memory. William M. Kelso's work in excavating the colony and deepening our understanding of it has been absolutely essential (and can be viewed with a visit to the low-cost Colonial Park!). His work in Jamestown: The Buried Truth is a reflection of his expertise and is just one of a series of books he's written about his archaeological work. Having visited the site, I can tell you that it's really thrilling to see the reconstruction process in person – talk to any of the Park Rangers and they can tell you so too. The Buried Truth gives us a glance into what it's like on the other side of the caution tape.
Masters of Empire by Michael McDonnell
As a member of the nation discussed in this book, I was thrilled to see this on our shelves. Much like Coming Out Under Fire below, this was a book that made me feel seen. Having grown up in Michigan, this was not a history I was taught even in classes with curricula focusing on Michigan history or indigenous history. This is one facet of our nation's history that is absolutely integral to understanding it – namely, how different colonial forces interacted with established, distinct nations across North America with their own connective webs. The map of North America that you will most often see is one of the colonies, with the rest of the map a blank slate ready for settlement. Not only is this untrue, it's an erasure of the complex cultural relationships that defined the continent before those three barquentines hit the Taino. If this information is new to you, I'd especially recommend you read this book: it's an excellent start into a huge missing piece in America's history.
"I Am A Man" by Joe Starita
One more narrative from an indigenous perspective for this Read Feed. "I Am A Man", written by former investigative reporter Joe Starita, is a work written about Standing Bear's life and his struggle for the livelihood of his people. As the first American Indian person in the United States to access the right to habeus corpus, his story of survival in the face of stolen homeland and forced removal is a truly remarkable and harrowing one. This book reads a lot like historical fiction in its narrative style - I had to remind myself several times while reading it that it was, in fact, nonfiction. Unfortunately this is not a happy story, but in terms of American history it is a necessary one to understand what precisely went into the founding and expansion of this nation. It includes pictures of several of the figures and places mentioned in the book as well, which helps to drive home the imagery Starita presents. Woven throughout the narrative are stories from Ponca now - this emphasizes the critical point that much of what Starita details in his book happened within just a few generations' time. The memory and generational trauma are real but are presented with a great deal of care, as evidenced by Starita's bibliography at the end of the book. Ultimately, this is an essential read to better understand not only America's early history but also a lot of the issues facing Indian Country now.
The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin
There is a strong chance that Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of my favorite historians out there. As one reviewer puts it, she "combines academic rigor with accessibility". What more can you ask for when learning something new? Already well-known for her work in Team of Rivals, The Bully Pulpit is no different in narrative care and primary source access. Framing the volatile period of the early 20th century in terms of ruptured friendship, muckraking journalism, and numerous dramatic cultural shifts, Goodwin guides us through the Gordian Knot of understanding how Taft's and Roosevelt's relationship affected the country for decades to come. Every character in this story is given new life through Goodwin's writing - she doesn't only focus on Taft and Roosevelt, but on the people at their sides and in the periphery which help us to more fully understand what happened. If you're at all interested in American history, Goodwin's works are a solid foundation on which to build your study.
Coming Out Under Fire by Alan Berube
My first encounter with this book was in college in an American History prerequisite course, and I couldn't be happier that I ran into it. Despite having started my equal rights activism in middle school, this was one facet of my community's history of which I wasn't aware! It was amazing to read about the methods of communication between branches of the military and different bases as well as the origins of some elements of LGBTQIA+ culture that are part of the mainstream. Anybody can tell you that one of the most important things an LGBTQIA+ person can experience is the sensation of being 'seen' - this book went a long way for helping me with that feeling by showing me a new side of American history. Berube's work in archiving and interviewing people to gather their experiences during World War II and their lives as LGBTQIA+ people is an important reminder for us to value and honor the lives of those who came before us and how far we've come.
In Our Own Hands edited by Brian Greenwald and Joseph Murray
This is the most modern book in this particular Read Feed despite it covering up to about 1970. I've had an interest in deaf culture and language for a long time and was lucky to start studying American Sign Language a little while ago - it's been very useful for communicating with our patrons. Despite having a little background in deaf cultural studies, In Our Own Hands was a massive foray into a new world of understanding. By taking a deep scholarly dive into essays written about various facets of deaf life and culture that I hadn't considered before, my understanding of what it means to be capital-D Deaf was tremendously broadened. The history of oralism and the fight for citizenship and the right to marry struck several chords with me as well. Parts of this book can be dry - it is a heavily academic series of essays by different authors, so not all of them have the same tone and style. Still, I would highly recommend picking up this book, especially if you're interested in learning more about Gallaudet University.