Touching America's History

Touching America's History

From the Pequot War through WWII
Meredith Mason Brown
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 03/22/2013
ISBN: 978-0-253-00844-2
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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.


“From a piece of Hitler's toilet bowl to a letter from George Washington, Meredith Mason Brown uses twenty family artifacts to tell America’s history across 400 years.”

“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.”
 — Joseph J. Ellis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

“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.”
 — Bob Hill, columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal

“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.”
 — Walter Nugent, author of Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion and Into the West: The Story of its Peop

“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.”
 — James J. Holmberg, Curator of Special Collections, The Filson Historical Society; co-author of Exploring with Lewis and

“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.”
 — Stephen Aron, author of American Confluence: The Missouri Frontier from Borderland to Border State (IUP, 2005)

“[Touching America's History] combines an easy-flowing style and scholastic rigor, carefully treading the line between approachable volume and imposing monograph.”
 — H-War

“In today's era, when it seems that so many Americans are disengaged from or uninterested in civic engagement, Brown's fine little book reminds us that individual human beings can influence their world and in many cases remain master of their own destinies. Brown's book also reminds us that one person's 'junk' may be another person's 'artifact.'”
 — Groton School Quarterly

“Brown . . . demonstrates the power of sight and touch in eliciting historical memory in his latest work, Touching America's History. ”
 — Journal of Military History

“Brown’s method has produced a fascinating mix of military history, memoir, and family lore. . . . Brown’s writing is consistently engaging and on certain topics such as military history his expertise shines.”
 — Ohio Valley History

“Touching America’s History is structured ingeniously around 20 objects that Brown, esteemed biographer of Daniel Boone, has in his possession: historically evocative artifacts ranging from a Pequot stone ax . . . to a letter written by George Washington . . . and a piece of Adolf Hitler’s shattered toilet bowl . . . Taken together, they tell a remarkably rich story of America.”
 — The Weekly Standard

“They say you cannot judge a book by its cover, but what about its title? The whole idea behind Meredith Mason Brown's second trade book is right there...[Brown] uncovers how his own ancestors played a role in what shaped this country, war after war after war. It is a unique approach...”
 — Publishers Weekly BEA Show Daily

“Clearly written, buttressed by maps and portraits, Brown's book regales while showing the objectivity and nuance of a historian. The tales make distinctive what to professional practitioners are familiar yet intriguing accounts primarily of America's military and war-related past.”
 — Library Journal

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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