Class Texts

“Culture is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world.”―Matthew Arnold
“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”―Alexis de Tocqueville


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  1. The Narrative of Frederick Douglass
  2. The Catcher in the Rye

Revolutionary War

  1. Patrick Henry’s Liberty or Death
  2. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (and some historical background)
  3. Thomas Paine’s The Crisis (or the unabridged version and some historical background)
  4. Abigail Adams’s letter to John Adams, Remember the Ladies
  5. George Washington’s Farewell Address (or the unabridged version, some historical background, and a fun video summary)

Civil War

  1. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (and some historical background)
  2. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural (with brief intro lectures from Dickinson College historian Matthew Pinsker and my friend, Yale professor Steven Smith)
  3. Frederick Douglass’s What to the Slave is July Fourth? (hear a reading by James Earl Jones, explore a brief biography of Douglass, or see my reconstruction of his argument)
  4. Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! (with some historical background about the poet and poem)

Just for fun: Judy Garland (Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz) performs Battle Hymn of the Republic, the Union soldiers’ marching song, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And, of course, some historical background for the song. Lyrics here.

20th Century

  1. Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech (some background on Teddy Roosevelt and on the speech in popular culture)

Civil Rights

  1. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech (with some historical background about the March on Washington)