Touching America's History

Touching America's History

From the Pequot War through WWII
Brown, Meredith Mason
Distribution: World
Publication date: 03/22/2013
Format: Hardback 27 b&w illus., 7 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-00833-6
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2014 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Things you can see and touch can bring to mind the time when the items were made and used. In Touching America’s History, Meredith Mason Brown uses twenty objects to summon up major developments in America’s history. The objects range in date from a Pequot stone axe head probably made before the Pequot War in 1637, to the western novel Dwight Eisenhower was reading while waiting for the weather to clear so that the Normandy Invasion could begin, and to a piece of a toilet bowl found in the bombed-out wreckage of Hitler’s home in the Bavarian alps in 1945. Among the other historically evocative items are a Kentucky rifle carried by Col. John Floyd, killed by Indians in 1783; a letter from George Washington explaining why he will not be able to attend the Constitutional Convention; shavings from the scaffold on which John Brown was hanged; a pistol belonging to Gen. William Preston, in whose arms Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston bled to death after being shot at the Battle of Shiloh; and the records of a court-martial for the killing by an American officer of a Filipino captive during the Philippine War. Together, the objects call to mind nothing less than the birth, growth, and shaping of what is now America.

Author Bio

Meredith Mason Brown is author of Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America.


Meredith Mason Brown’s family has a remarkable history. One or another of his ancestors seems to have been present at the pivotal moments in the American past. From his attic and office come an astonishing set of 'relics' that connect to these history-making events. As Brown notes, these pieces make for him a history he can touch, and he makes from them for us a very touching history.A new and interesting take on moments in America's past. It's a page turner . . . with good writing and an appreciation that big events are often, maybe always, populated and constructed by people other than the prominent leaders.In Touching America’s History, Meredith Brown uses family heirlooms as catalysts to lead us into our nation’s story. Be it a compass, rifle, diary, or even a piece of Hitler's toilet, through these artifacts we encounter the famous and the forgotten, and, in the process, we ‘touch,’ and learn about, key moments in America's history.Meredith Brown has taken many of his family artifacts that too often remain locked away in closets or quietly displayed on living room walls and has written them into living history. A compass belonging to a 1770s militia officer and pioneer land speculator, a rifle belonging to a relative who helped rescue Daniel Boone's daughter from the Indians, a pistol carried in the Civil War at Shiloh, the actual novel read by General Eisenhower when the Normandy Invasion was postponed for a day all become the steppingstones through almost 400 years of the American history of all of us.It seems to me that Brown has discovered a whole new way of doing history. We might call it 'the tactile approach.' Whatever it's called, Brown makes it into a novel form of story-telling.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps
Abbreviations and Short Titles
Prologue: History through Things You Can Touch
1. Axe Head, Adze Head: The Pequot War
2. A Compass, a Rifle, and the Opening of the West
3. Yr Most Obt Servt, George Washington: The Constitutional Convention
4. Daguerreotype and Sword: Seminole and Mexican Wars
5. Shavings from a Scaffold: The Hanging of John Brown
6. Diaries from Indian Country, Civil War Back Home
7. Travels of an English Pistol
8. A Killing in the Philippines
9. An Award from General Pershing
10. The Czar of Halfaday Creek, and Hitler’s Toilet Bowl
Afterword: The Shaping of America

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