Revised . . . updated . . . expanded. Much has happened since The Great American History Fact-Finder first appeared in 1993, and we are proud to present this new and current edition. Updated through the beginning of the new millennium, its additions include such topics as the dot com boom and bust, Clinton’s impeachment, the events of September 11, and America’s war on terrorism. Used as a handy reference, it continues to provide needed answers to complete an assignment, settle an argument, prepare for a test, or become a champion of trivia and information about the history of the United States.
The origins of The Great American History Fact-Finder date back forty years. We each began our teaching career many years ago with optimism and a bit of awe, inspired in part by the words of Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he never knows where his influence stops.” Both of us, fascinated by American history, have felt a continuing urge to share with others events that have deeply moved us: the experience of standing before the somber expanse of the Vietnam War Memorial; the eerie presence of Abraham Lincoln’s strength at the Lincoln Memorial; the sense of living history felt while walking the streets at Harpers Ferry or standing in the spot at Gettysburg where Lincoln delivered his famous address; the story of the Marquis de Lafayette who believed so fervently in America’s Revolution that he named his children George Washington and Virginie and took tons of earth back to France with him so that he could be buried in American soil.
In working with young people—our country’s future—we have been inspired by the words of Patrick Henry in 1775: “I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past”; and by those of Thomas Jefferson in 1784: “History, by apprizing [men] of the past, will enable them to judge of the future.” As teachers, we are also aware of the importance of approaching history as a story well told. California curriculum guidelines tell us that “the story of the past should be lively and accurate as well as rich with controversies and forceful personalities. . . . teachers must never neglect the value of good storytelling as a source of motivation for the study of history.” We are challenged to bring “students into close encounters with powerful ideas, great events, major issues, significant trends, and the contributions of important men and women.” In the course of our careers, we have looked for a reference book that could answer quickly a simple question, stimulate curiosity, and generate a broader interest leading to deeper research. We never found such a resource, which is why The Great American History Fact-Finder came into being. Here, in one compact volume, alphabetically arranged, approximately 2,200 entries provide concise summaries of people and events important in American history. Obviously, we could have included many times that number of entries without covering the subject completely. Rather than be exhaustive, however, we have tried to be accessible, to help students and general readers alike discover the answers to questions most frequently asked about our country’s history. For those who would like to follow the course of complex careers and events, we indicate cross references to related entries with small capital letters and provide a thorough index; for those whose curiosity is piqued by our necessarily brief entries, we offer a list of suggested further reading.
We conceived The Great American History Fact-Finder to enlighten and entertain as well as to inform. Many entries describe military and political leaders and events, but many also cover prominent people and events in the worlds of business, art, sports, entertainment, medicine, and science, because they too have made our country what it is. In making the difficult selection from among this wealth of material, we have tried to consider in each case who or what has made the greatest impact on a given aspect of American history, and we have also tried to include the stories too often left out of history books—the stories of women, blacks, and other minority groups. Finally, although we have approached our subject seriously, we include wherever possible colorful anecdotes, notable quotations, and humor.
The process of writing this book has been exciting, stimulating, and humbling. We were excited by our research, as we constantly learned new things, became immersed in the stories and the people, and dug deeper and deeper to pursue and check our facts. We were stimulated by our talks with people: with victims of World War II internment; with AIDS volunteers; with families of members of the 442nd Infantry, the Japanese-American World War II army unit; with tour guides, teachers, and students, all of whom expressed enthusiasm for this book. We were humbled by constantly fiiiiinding more to learn: new explanations, controversies, and contradictions. Each stage of the process seemed better than the last, and we loved every minute of it.
As Robert E. Lee said following the Civil War in 1866, “It is history that teaches us to hope.” We hope that The Great American History Fact- Finder will convey the pleasure and excitement that we experienced in writing it. As classroom teachers who have studied and taught the history of our country for a combined seventy years, we look upon this book as our contribution, our legacy, to our students and to all lovers of American history.
This new edition was only achieved with the support and enthusiasm of our editorial team at Houghton Mifflin. We wish to extend warmest thanks to our editor, Gordon M. Hardy, Director of Electronic Publishing and General Reference. It was through his persistence and encouragement that this revised and updated edition came into being; his expertise, insights, and painstaking care at every step were most valuable. We are also very grateful to Judy Moore and Wendy Holt for their editorial support and assistance. Our gratitude to our many friends and relatives whose encouragement and support made this project such a rewarding experience, and to our readers, whose letters have warmed and illuminated us, is immeasurable.
And finally, we express our deepest appreciation to the many students whose enjoyment of history and learning has been the catalyst that brought this book into being.
Copyright © 2004 by Pam Cornelison and Ted Yanak. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.