Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Over six months have passed since my last blog post.  Why?  New baby, busy family and a busy work schedule.  These are good reasons, right?  Now that the school year is closing, I finally have a chance to write.

This year marks several significant anniversaries in U.S. and local history - and an exciting time to study history.   Here's a compilation of the milestones of 2012 (in order):

450th Anniversary of the French Arrival on the First Coast
In May of 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault entered what the French called the "River May," today the St. Johns River.  The French later founded Fort Caroline on a high river bluff which became a refuge for Huguenots escaping religious persecution.  The French did not last very long at Ft. Caroline after their slaughter in 1565 by Pedro Menendez of Spain.  Though the French did attempt to re-settle here, they were never successful at regaining a foothold in Florida.  Instead, Florida became a Spanish possession and the river was re-named for Saint John.

I took this picture on the AP U.S. History field trip to Fort Caroline on May 17th.

For further information about this milestone, explore the following:

225th Anniversary of the United States Constitution
In an election year filled with questions of constitutionality and the proper role of the federal government, it is very timely that we mark this important milestone.  The United States Constitution of 1787 is our nation's second constitution, the first being the ineffective Articles of Confederation.

To the right is a picture I took of the actual Constitution at the National Archives in 2005.

As this anniversary approaches, be sure to follow the hashtag #constitution225 on Twitter

200th Anniversary of the War of 1812
The War of 1812 is often considered America's second war for independence.  Though militarily this war was a disaster resulting in the burning of the national capitol and emerging sectionalism, the two and half years of war did result in a surge of nationalism and the drafting of the Star Spangled Banner, later to become the national anthem.  Andrew Jackson's fame was solidified as the victor of New Orleans and Americans began to move west in stronger numbers.  By standing up to the British, the United States legitimized itself as an independent nation.

I have acquired several books on the War of 1812 and I hope to have more posts later this summer.

Some additional resources:

150th Anniversary: Civil War Events of 1862, the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act
I have written several posts regarding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  The year 1862 was certainly pivotal as by the close of the year, a long and deadly conflict was now impossible to avoid, a fact now recognized by both sides.  Bloody battles at Shiloh, Antietam and in Virginia foreshadowed the terrible years to come.  By September, Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation fundamentally changing the war from one of union to one for freedom.

With southern Democrats absent from Congress, Republicans were able to pass two significant laws, the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act.  These acts opened the west to settlement with free land, business opportunities and an emerging transcontinental railroad network.

To the right is a picture of a homestead grant, taken at the National Archives in 2005.

For further interest:

  • Twitter - #CW150 #HomesteadAct150
  • The Homestead National Monument of America in Nebraska - on Twitter @HomesteadNM
  • Union Pacific's 150th Anniversary Website:
75th Anniversary: The Golden Gate Bridge
Last week, San Francisco celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.  A technological marvel for its day, the Golden Gate bridge rose above San Francisco Bay at a time when Americans needed a sense of hope, trying desperately to rise above the worst economic depression in history.

Here's a picture I took from the San Francisco side of the bridge in September 2006 while my wife and I were on our honeymoon.

50th Anniversary: The Cuban Missile Crisis
October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the climax of tensions in the Cold War and the closest the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of thermonuclear war.  As I read oral history papers submitted by my students, I continue to learn more about the true fear experienced by Americans during those thirteen troubling days.  One colleague recently shared a story with me about how he, as a second grader here in Jacksonville, wore a dog tag and was issued ration cans in case the civil defense alarms sounded.  I doubt many students in the United States today could share such an experience.

Jacksonville certainly was on heightened alert in those days with three major naval bases all within Duval County.

In regards to the Cold War, since the release of Russian documents after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians are learning much more about the very real dangers of the era.


Every year brings a series of anniversaries, though this year does include some of the most significant events in U.S. history. Why do these commemorations and celebrations matter?  Will our knowledge of these events change or improve just because this is an anniversary year?  Maybe.

These anniversaries and commemorations matter because they enhance our collective "American memory."  Celebrating or remembering historical events helps us connect to our national story and build a sense of heritage.  Anniversaries also help reinvigorate discussions and debates on key historical issues - as several of this year's commemorations demonstrate.

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