By PATRICIA COHEN in The New Yorker
“We didn’t want to call it a cultural history because it’s too trendy,” Greil Marcus, an author and one of the volume’s editors, said; that might suggest it was “intellectually soft.”
Soft? Probably not. The academy these days is nothing if not trendy. Idiosyncratic? Most definitely.
At the project’s start four years ago, Lindsay Waters, an editor at Harvard University Press, told the book’s editors, “This is not an encyclopedia, but a provocation,” recalled Werner Sollors, a Harvard professor and the other half of the book’s editing team. “We wanted people to surprise themselves with their essays,” Mr. Sollors said.
So how does one select which moments and artifacts from North America’s last 500 years deserve inclusion? With a meeting. Mr. Sollors and Mr. Marcus gathered a dozen scholars to be the editorial board and the group began brainstorming, ultimately suggesting over 400 topics. Some were obvious: the Declaration of Independence, “Leaves of Grass,” Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Great Gatsby.”