What's the deal with George Washington and that cherry tree? As author Steven Biel explains in the July issue of Common-place, the deal is more than quaint folklore. Through the brush of Grant Wood, among twentieth-century America’s most celebrated painters, this myth becomes a touchstone for American identity and intellect on the uncertain eve of World War II. American myth and identity are also the subject of editor Edward Gray’s musings on the good old days when historians asked the big question: what does America mean? That big question turns out to be at the center of another essay in this issue: historian Jenry Morsman’s exploration of the 1856 collision of the steamship Effie Afton and the Rock Island Bridge. At the heart of this incident, and the litigation which followed, lay a profound question about whether America’s economy would grow organically, according to the dictates of the nation’s natural waterways, or inorganically, like the ribbons of rail that were beginning to crisscross the countryside. Read too Thomas Bahde’s discussion of the notorious Potter’s Field—New York City’s paupers’ burial ground—and the nineteenth-century debates over how New Yorkers would inter the ever-growing population of indigent dead. In addition to these articles, find essays by Catherine Corman, Carole Berkin, David Morgan, Brendan McConville, and much more in the new issue of Common-place.
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