June 2015: How Much US History Do Americans Actually Know?

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 7.04.33 PMWhen it comes to having a deep knowledge and understanding of the history of the United States, how much do you really know? “It might be less than you think,” writes Saba Naseem on Smithsonian.com, which asked Grateful American™ Foundation founder David Bruce Smith what he believes can be done to fix this problem. Click here to learn what he has to say.

Because we always want to increase your history IQ: This month, we bring you an interview from News Channel 8’s “Let’s Talk Live,” where Smith and historian Allida Black give us a glimpse into what the country might have been like had President Lincoln not been assassinated 150 years ago. Click here to watch their TV appearance.

That’s not all: On May 20, we attended the 2015 Washington Book Prize at Mount Vernon, where one of four finalists was named the winner of this year’s $50,000 prize. Who took home this coveted honor? Scroll down to find out. And click on the links below to read our Q&As with the other three finalists, who are featured this month in our growing History Book Club.

Here’s to restoring enthusiasm in American history for you, and your kids. — David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer, the Grateful American™ Foundation

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Selma, and the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, how would the Reconstruction Era and tademancipation have played out if the president had lived?

May 27, 2015 — On today’s episode of News Channel 8’s “Let’s Talk Live,” reporter Sonya Gavankar asked Grateful American™ Foundation founder David Bruce Smith: What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated? How would the United States be different today, and what was the first step toward emancipation in US history?

Accompanying Smith was historian Allida Black, a research professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University. She is also the founding editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, a project designed to preserve, teach, and apply Eleanor Roosevelt’s writings and discussions of human rights and democratic politics.

Here’s what Gavankar asked Allida Black and David Bruce Smith: 

David, given your interest in American history, and your interest in Lincoln, how do think Lincoln would assess “emancipation” today?

Allida, do you think that if Lincoln had lived, the civil rights movement might have played out differently?

And Allida, as an expert on Eleanor Roosevelt, what do you think the famous first lady learned from Lincoln? What would she ask him if she could have consulted with him?

David, we love hearing a fascinating fact about the first 100 years. Since we are focusing on Lincoln today, what is something about him that our viewers might not know?

For their answers, be sure to watch the entire segment.

Grateful American™ Series

Four questions for Pulitzer Prize finalist Nick Bunker — winner of the Washington Book Prize — regarding his book, "An Empire on the Edge"

EmpireIn addition to being a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in History, Nick Bunker’s “An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America” (Alfred A. Knopf, September 2014) is the winner of the 2015 Washington Book Prize, and winner of the 2015 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award. 

Written from a strikingly fresh perspective, “An Empire on the Edge” is a new account of the Boston Tea Party and the origins of the American Revolution that shows how a lethal blend of politics, personalities, and economics led to a war that few people welcomed but nobody could prevent.

In this powerful, fair-minded narrative, British author Nick Bunker tells the story of the last three years of mutual embitterment that preceded the outbreak of America’s war for independence in 1775.

“It was a tragedy of errors, in which both sides shared responsibility for a conflict that cost the lives of at least 20,000 British and a still larger number of Americans,” explains Nick Bunker, winner of the 2015 Washington Book Prize. “It teaches us how the British and the colonists failed to see how swiftly they were drifting toward violence until the process had gone beyond the point of no return.”

WashBookPrizeGrateful American™ Foundation: Nick, what inspired you to write this book?

Nick Bunker: In 2009, when I began my research, I intended to write a very tightly focused narrative account of the Boston Tea Party, with the story told for the first time from a British perspective. Back in the 1960s the American scholar Benjamin Woods Labaree produced a superb analytical account of the Tea Party, but I felt that he’d neglected the human side of the affair, which I wished to emphasize.

However, as my project unfolded, I soon realized that I would have to make the scope of the book far wider, to encompass the whole of the chain of events that led to bloodshed at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. There was a revolutionary explosion, and it came about from a chemical reaction of all kinds of unstable elements. On the British side, we find ignorance, prejudice, bad economics, and misplaced priorities. In America, there were too many people too inclined to believe the very worst about King George III and his politicians.

NickBunkerGrateful American™ Foundation: What are three big lessons you hope readers will take away from “Empire on the Edge”?

Nick Bunker: If I were a professor teaching a strategy course for senior officers in the military, or if I were a professor of political science, I would give my students a case study on the American Revolution. The question would be: If you had been Lord North — the British prime Minister — how would you have tried to prevent Americans from seceding from the British Empire? Soon enough, the students would see that the British made three crucial mistakes.

First, they failed to keep their ears to the ground and listen with an open mind to their aggrieved colonial subjects, preferring instead to take their information about America from biased accounts given by royal officials such as Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts.

Second, the British never made adequate contingency plans to cover the possibility of an armed insurgency in New England, even though such an event could have been predicted.

And third — this applies to the colonists as well — there was a tendency to make moral and political decisions based on narrow-minded ideology.

Grateful American™ Foundation: When was the moment in your childhood or later life when you developed a passion for American history? And what do you think can be done to inspire more kids to get excited about learning about the past? 

Nick Bunker: I can tell you the moment very precisely. It was 7 a.m. on November 23rd, 1963. It was a cold but sunny day in England, with a bright blue sky. It was two days away from my 5th birthday, and my mother came into my bedroom and — almost in tears — told me that the day before, President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

In the years that followed, night after night our television screens were filled with images from the USA, or from Vietnam: the Tet offensive in 1968, the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, and then the Apollo moonshots, for which we would stay up all night. Watergate came next!

The United States of America always seemed to be a larger-than-life place, where everything happened in Technicolor and 3-D. What was more, America seemed to be the nation where life was most vivid, most intense, and where human beings were most deeply committed to ideals, wherever those ideals might lead them. But the USA also has a very complicated terrain, impossible to comprehend entirely, but endlessly fascinating nonetheless! And that’s what I’d say to encourage young people in America to learn about their history.

Grateful American™ Foundation: Now that you have won the Washington Book Prize, what will you do with the prize money — and what goal would you like to accomplish during your year of being the reigning award winner? 

Nick Bunker: My wife, Sue, and I enjoy the great privilege of inhabiting a wonderful medieval house in Lincoln, England, built in the 12th century, within a few hundred yards of a great cathedral from the same era.

Since we are determined to preserve our house for future generations, we have to spend money to maintain it, and that’s where much of the award will be allocated. I would also hope to give as much time as I can to visits to the USA, encouraging young Americans to remember their British antecedents. I also have to research my next book, which has to do with the young Benjamin Franklin.

Congratulations to Nick Bunker, winner of the 2015 Washington Book Prize. 

Be sure to check out the other books that were also finalists for the 2015 Prize.