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The American ScholarThe American Scholar

The American Scholar

Spring 2019

Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous speech, The American Scholar is the quarterly magazine of public affairs, literature, science, history, and culture published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society since 1932.

United States
Phi Beta Kappa Society
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4 Issues


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AFTER THE BLOODY NATIONAL CATASTROPHES of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, the people of the reunited union deserved a period of calm. That was not to be. “Peace had come,” the journalist Matthew Josephson later wrote, echoing Jeremiah, “but there was no peace.” Brenda Wine-apple quotes Josephson in our cover story, an excerpt from her soon-to-be-published book on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. President Lincoln had been determined to undertake the reconstruction of the badly damaged South, while fulfilling the promise of emancipation to grant full citizenship to those who had been enslaved. Hopes that his successor—a southern Democrat who had argued against secession before the war—would advance Lincoln’s goals were soon dashed. As Wineapple writes, President Johnson instead “sought to obstruct, overthrow, veto, or…

access_time9 min.

What’s Race Got to Do With It? In the opening paragraph of “Black Lives and the Boston Massacre” (Winter 2019), Farah Peterson characterizes Crispus Attucks as an unarmed black man, shot and killed by men in uniform who “got away with it.” This bald statement seriously distorts or disregards the historical evidence.Attucks arrived at King Street heading a group of sailors, armed with clubs fashioned from the legs of marketplace stalls or from cordwood, each about the thickness of a man’s wrist—equivalent in heft to today’s baseball bats. The chaotic scene centered on a group of eight redcoats, armed with muzzle-loading muskets, facing not mere peaceful demonstrators but a rowdy, raucous crowd of at least 200 men and youths deeply hating the British government and its “hirelings,” throwing…

access_time15 min.
reading the river

WORDS FAIL TO CONVEY the magnitude of the Grand Canyon—that abyss almost a mile in depth that stretches to the horizon in three directions, containing a world of side canyons, peaks, and cliffs of all colors, usually washed with the moving shadows of clouds. To get a sense of the place, you have to see it for yourself—and in 2017, 6.3 million people did. Most of them took a quick look and got back into their cars. Fewer than 100,000 people scored a permit from the National Park Service allowing them to sleep in the backcountry, and about 29,000 were authorized to float through the middle of the canyon on the Colorado River. The most common means of doing so is to buy a seat on a 30-foot motorized…

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the lost lakes of iran

Solmaz Daryani grew up an hour’s drive from Iran’s Lake Urmia, where her grandmother and other family members lived. She recalls watching the lake shrink, year after year, as the effects of climate change and drought took their toll on the region. “This lake was here for thousands of years,” she remembers thinking. “This can’t happen, they’ve got to do something.” After documenting the economic and environmental toll of the vanishing lake in her photo series “The Eyes of Earth,” Daryani is turning her lens to Iran’s broader water crisis.Her ongoing series, “In the Desert of Iran’s Wetlands,” examines how Iranians, especially the most vulnerable, are dealing with this increasing scarcity of water. Here she describes her visit to Sistan province, near the Afghanistan border, where she photographed…

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growing up

MONICA L. SMITH, a professor of anthropology at UCLA, specializes in the history of cities with a focus on ancient urban development on the Indian subcontinent. She is the author of A Prehistory of Ordinary People and the forthcoming Cities: The First 6,000 Years. We asked her to pose five questions about the future of cities. (COURTESY OF MONICA L. SMITH TESEUM/FLICKR) 1. Cities are efficient places to get anything we want, from employment and education to museums and sporting events. This economy of scale entices consumers with its variety but also rewards producers. The diversity and density of people in cities mean there’s almost always someone adventuresome enough to be the trendsetter who buys something avant-garde. And for every person who aspires to leave the city…

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renaissance woman

To think of the Harlem Renaissance is to recall some of the greatest art of the early 20th century: the wailing trumpet of Louis Armstrong, the bold paintings of Jacob Lawrence, and the rhythmic stanzas of Langston Hughes. For many of these men, their activism informed their work. But less frequently celebrated are the women who also helped shape the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance as both artists and reformers. “[The] whole Harlem Renaissance looks different when you look at the women involved,” says Laurie Woodard, who champions the female actors, dancers, and singers who contributed to its success. A history professor at City College of New York, Woodard is writing a book about Fredi Washington, a black actress, dancer, and activist who rose to prominence in the 1930s…