Discussion Themes

Making Sense of the American Civil War

From the moment Americans founds themselves pulled into a civil war of unimaginable scale and consequence, they tried desperately to make sense of what was happening to them. From the secession crisis into the maelstrom of battle, from the nightmare of slavery into the twilight of emancipation, Americans of all backgrounds confronted the chaos with stories to explain how things had come to be. People continued to tell themselves those stories about the war and its meaning for the next century and a half, and they probably always will.

Modern Marvels

The graphic novel is an exciting new form of storytelling. Here, fi ve Jewish artists experiment with words and pictures to tell stories of childhood, war, and desire; to conjure up lost worlds, both real and imaginary; and to contemplate history, myth, and the individual psyche.

Objects of Art

Images from the Picturing America collection present Native American art from pre-historic Anasazi pottery, through nineteenth-century ledger art, to the pottery and basketry of the early twentieth century. Art created by non-Natives depicting Indian imagery are also included and give rise to a tension often expressed by Native American writers: how do we become the artists rather than the object of the art?

The Work of Freedom: Individual and Communal

The African American historical journey is characterized by a commitment to engaging in the work of freedom, while remaining focused on service of self and community. Each rung on liberation’s ladder has been forged by a collective handhold which grasps elusive promises and boldly builds toward tomorrow.

Making Tracks

In 1876, fewer than fifty years after the first railroad lines were laid in North America, Walt Whitman composed a poem—“To a Locomotive in Winter”—that captured the power and energy of the train, the machine that Whitman hailed as the “Type of the modern—emblem of motion and power-pulse of the continent.” The images in Picturing America suggest ways in which the railway transformed the American landscape and helped determine where settlements and industry would develop.

Land of Opportunity

The story of the championship racehorse Seabiscuit as told by Laura Hillenbrand is the story of the American Dream realized. The central figures—the horse, the trainer, the jockey, and the owner—seemed destined for ordinary lives—for obscurity, if not for failure. Yet they came together in the gloomy years of the Great Depression and through a combination of determination, perseverance, and previously unrealized talent, they achieved greatness and captured the hearts of people worldwide.

Places in the Heart

Images from the Picturing America collectionexternal link celebrate scenic as well as man-made wonders—those carved by the forces of nature and those crafted by human ingenuity. Some also suggest the ways in which human experience is shaped, even defined, by place.

Neighbors: The World Next Door

Jewish history is, in many ways, a history of encounters with neighbors, and the story of the Jewish neighbor is, in turn, a story of the wider world. But if the Jewish experience has been in some ways exceptional, the experience finds ready parallels in those of other peoples—especially in contemporary America.

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