Now that I am home after a summer as an intern at Manassas National Battlefield Park, I have begun casting about for new challenges. I have some exciting news to keep an eye out for, and I’m well aware that I need to write a blogpost about my experiences this summer, but for now, I’d like to share with you a new project I’ve taken on. For lack of a better term, I’ll call them clustered reading units.
Essentially, without classes to focus my learning, I’ve decided that it’s necessary to plan and devote time to learning about certain subjects in relative depth. A clustered reading unit is my fancy way of saying that I’m going to read a bunch of related books, supplemented by films and other materials, altogether over a period of two months or so, in order to get a better sense of the themes they convey.
Because I spent so much time this summer in historic Virginia, with several trips to presidents’ houses (including Monticello) and gravesites, I thought it would be appropriate to begin with a two-month unit on the birth of the United States of America. I plan to call this unit A Perfect Storm: The Making of an Independent America.
What issues and ideologies converged to facilitate the emergence of the country I call my own? Sure, I can give the standard high school answers to that question, but I want to get a bit deeper into it, because most of my American history classes in college covered events either before or after the Revolution, but not during. This is especially important to deciphering and dismissing many of the origin mythologies that hold so much sway over popular discourse today.
My planned reading list for the unit is as follows:
- Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson
- Benjamin Franklin, a PBS documentary
- John Adams, by David McCullough
- John Adams, the HBO miniseries
- American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis
A notable absence from that list? Alexander Hamilton. Given the musical’s current popularity, I feel remiss in this, but perhaps I can do him along with a unit on the Early Republic.
As you can probably tell by the titles I’ve selected, my goal is not to engage with the material on the serious, academic level I would have in college. As a young professional, I doubt I’ll have time or inclination to do so. Instead, I hope this project will encourage me to continue filling holes in my knowledge base while helping me organize my reading and getting me to engage with new ideas and cultures.
Other subjects I’m considering for this project:
- Japanese history, culture, and language
- Welsh culture, mythology, and language
- History and key figures of the Early Republic
A bit random, I know, but all things of interest to me.
Mostly for my own sake—to keep me honest—but also to satisfy anyone’s curiosity, I plan to post short reflections during and after each unit. Hopefully I’ll have the willpower to keep this project going for a bit. If you have any suggestions or thoughts on the project or books, post in the comments and I’ll let you know what I think.