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Litchfield MN 55355

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Are You Interested in American History?

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
This week, I should first let you know that the library is open for business, even though the state government is shut down as I write this.  The regional library systems aren’t state agencies, and most of our funding comes from our counties and cities.  Perhaps by the time you read this, everything will be resolved and back to normal; we can hope.
Since the 4th of July was this week and the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War is this year, I thought we could take a look at American history resources in this week’s column.  We have some interesting new books, and I’d also like to share an online resource that’s great if you enjoy history.
The Library of Congress has a wonderful digital library called American Memory.  You can find it at http://memory.loc.gov.  This online library has a large collection of digitized photos, maps, sound recordings, videos, print documents, and sheet music, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions.  It’s a free way for anyone to view these primary historical documents that otherwise are tucked away in archives around the country. 
You can browse the collection by topic, such as advertising, cities & towns, and war/military, by time period, by type of material (maps, manuscripts, motion pictures, etc.) or by region of the U.S.  I think it’s fascinating to browse through the George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln papers, viewing scans of letters and other documents in their own handwriting.  You can browse a collection of over 1000 Civil War photographs.  Many, many resources are available for you to explore.
The digital library works best when you browse it by topic or collection, but it is possible to search it, as well.  If you search “Litchfield Minnesota”, you will find several photos from the 1940s and text from various Congressional publications from the 1800s that mention Litchfield.  Unfortunately, the text searching in the “Century of Lawmaking” collection does also bring up documents about Litchfield, Connecticut, when the Senate report or House bill also includes the word “Minnesota”.  The photos are classified by subject, United States—Minnesota—Litchfield, so the photo results are accurate.
If you’d like to find some good books on American history, we have some new ones in our library that you may want to check out.  The Union War, by Gary W. Gallagher, has been described as a revisionist history of the Civil War.  One review I read described it as “the Civil War: Northern edition”.  Gallagher, a professor at the University of Virginia, draws upon original documents from the time to present the viewpoint that the North fought the war with massive numbers of volunteer soldiers primarily in order to preserve the union, and that they also happened to free the slaves. 
The book Lincoln on War is an edited collection of the writings and comments of Abraham Lincoln on the topic of war from his days as an officer to his years as the commander-in-chief.  Lincoln’s speeches, letters, memos, orders, and spoken remarks are presented in chronological order, so that the development of his ideas on war through the years can be seen. 
The Civil War: A Visual History is published by DK Publishing in association with the Smithsonian Institution.  It’s a large, comprehensive book filled with photos and illustrations from the Smithsonian’s collections.  Timelines, first-person accounts, and examinations of broader issues in the war all add to the very thorough coverage of the war.  Reviewers from School Library Journal to the Wall Street Journal have praised this book.
Going back to the beginning of the United States, the book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction looks at the history of a controversial issue of today.  The author, John Fea, holds a Ph.D. and is the chair of the history department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.  Reviewers say that the book is a very balanced view of the debate, providing no easy answers and allowing the reader to decide for him or herself.  Fea draws upon primary sources from throughout America’s history, tracing the development of the idea of America as a Christian nation, examining the effects of religion on the American Revolution, and studying the beliefs of the founding fathers.
If you need some help finding books or websites on American history, come and talk to us at the library.