History Helpers

By David A. Fryxell Premium

20th-century America

The Hungry Years: A Narrative History of the Great Depression in America by T.H. Watkins (Henry Holt): Through vignettes and anecdotes, Watkins gets beyond the bureaucratic response to the Great Depression — the CCC, WPA and other agencies — and shows how the years 1929-1939 changed America and Americans. The Hungry Years draws on oral histories, local newspapers, memoirs and scholarly monographs to re-create the experiences of ordinary men and women in an extraordinary time. Watkins, whose biography of Harold Ickes, Righteous Pilgrim, was nominated for a fistful of literary prizes, has crafted an essential guide to understanding what your parents or grandparents experienced.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas: The Library of Congress Revisits the Spirit of Christmas During World War II by the Library of Congress (Delacorte): Through letters, photos and diary excerpts from the library’s archives, this bittersweet collection brings alive the wartime holidays. If someone from your family ever spent Christmas in a foxhole, this book will put you in their boots.

American Photography <>: This handsome companion to the PBS “A Century of Images” TV series captures the US in pictures, from wars to presidents to pop culture. There’s also a teacher’s guide and an “Image Lab” (for which you’ll need the free Flash and Shockwave plug-ins for your Web browser).

Mapping Boston by Alex Krieger, David Cobb and Amy Turner (MIT Press): If your ancestors hail from Boston, this will be an invaluable addition to your library. Historic maps and accompanying essays trace the development of the city and the place of Boston in the nation’s past.

The African-American experience

Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Basic Civitas Books, $89.95): Appiah and Gates, two Harvard scholars, have fulfilled W.E.B. DuBois’ 35-year-old dream of creating an encyclopedia that would be to Africa and the African diaspora what the Encyclopedia Britannica is to the Euro-American world. From the ancient worlds of Egypt and Nubia to Colin Powell and Tiger Woods, this book covers the African experience in continent-sized depth: 2,144 pages, 3,500 entries by 220 contributors, more than 2 million words.

Wonders of the African World <>: This Web site companion to the PBS TV series hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes you on a virtual tour of Africa. “Africa is the mother of civilization itself,” says Gates. “We have our roots here. And until we know Africa, we can never truly know ourselves.”

Millennium mileposts

20th Century Day By Day: The Ultimate Record of Our Times (DK Publishing): Written in a breathless present-tense style and packed with pictures, this hefty tome entices you to flip through the years until your fingers get calloused (or your arms get tired — it weighs in at a muscle-straining 1,540 pages). It’s a perfect way to match important events in your genealogy to dates in history, from 1900 (“Gold! Klondike region still lures miners”) through the war years (“1943 — Corsica is first French territory liberated”) to the present day (“Shakespeare in Love wins seven Oscars”). An excellent, detailed index lets you look up individuals, events or key words to work backward in time if you don’t know the year.

Millennium Year by Year (DK Publishing): If the 20th century isn’t enough for you, try this similar recounting of the past 1,000 years in 888 pages. The style suggests newspaper headlines (“Horseless carriage frightens the cattle”); the look is lavish. Here’s an easy way to dip into the world of your ancestors or to check historical events (let’s see, when was the Irish potato famine…?).

Celebrate the Century in Stamps <>: Philatelists, rejoice. From the 1900s to the 1960s, this site lets you relive history through the pictures on postage stamps.

Interactive history

• Civil War: Unstilled Voices by Chuck Lawliss (Crown): This low-tech but lovely interactive package lets you pull out and pop up letters, code wheels, photos and newspaper clippings. You can pull out a copy of the note John Brown handed to the guard on his way to the gallows, flip through reproductions of pages from Mary Chesnut’s diary, or try a code wheel. There are even “tickets” for Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot. It makes for a charming introduction to Civil War history.

The Library of Congress: Eyes of the Nation (SouthPeak Interactive): Put a sampling of the Library of Congress in your computer with this collection of more than 3,000 historic images plus music, maps, posters, movie clips and guided tours of the library’s treasures. If you’ve got a DVD drive for your computer, spring for the expanded version that adds 1,000 images, 19 exhibits and three hours of full-screen video. You can find more information at <>.

If This House Could Talk: Historic Homes, Extraordinary Americans by Elizabeth Smith Brownstein (Simon & Schuster): Brownstein looks at history through the houses of the famous (Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt) and of ordinary folks (a Manhattan tenement, a 17th-century homestead). She tours 28 homes in all, each generously illustrated with photographs.
From the April 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine