10 of the best American cultural history books for your TBR

Oxford University Press.

How did the Peanuts gang react – and shape – postwar American politics? What role did the cinema of the Soviet era play in the emotional education of the people? What’s in the name of a British house? Explore Oxford’s rich collection of books and articles on cultural and social history to learn more about the history that shapes our lives and experiences.

Do you know what I remember from history class? A bunch of dates, wars, guns and white people. Do you know what I find more interesting than these things? Food, fashion, holidays, elections, toys… I’m not saying I should not I know some of these important things like warfare, but that’s not exactly what I’m going to achieve when I read for fun. Personally, I think there’s a lot to be learned about this big picture from reading the little picture – because it’s not that little after all.

What people eat, wear, celebrate, vote and play with is not only interesting in itself, it is also deeply related to a society’s position in space and time. War breeds propaganda, new jobs and industries, and technological innovations. Latitude has an impact, whether your wardrobe is geared towards a swimsuit, fur coat or Bermuda shorts. As immigrant and refugee groups integrate into their new communities, food, dance, and music blend with local produce. Cultures and microhistories contextualize (and humanize) those big events your teacher asked you about to prepare for the AP test. Whether you’re a professor of anthropology or a regular reader, at least one of these American cultural history books should spark your interest.


The Chronicles of Fortune Cookie: Adventures in the World of Chinese Cooking by Jennifer 8. Lee

Yes, you read that right: I said it was a list of American cultural stories, and the first thing I mention is Chinese food. But here’s the thing: the central topic (but not only) here is American Chinese food, not Chinese Chinese food or American Chinese food. I read this book for our Read Harder # 11 challenge task, and it didn’t disappoint. Come on for the big reveal (!!) of who actually invented fortune cookies, stick around for some totally crazy stories like when there was a big rabbinical hubbub and New York area deli over kosher duck or how , legally, soy sauce does not need to contain soy.

The power of style: how fashion and beauty are used to reclaim cultures by Christian Allaire

I have hardly worn non-stretch clothes since 2019, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t drooling on this blanket when I saw it. Surely you’ve seen at least one incident or scandal when a clothing designer has been arraigned for cultural appropriation (like headdresses), misrepresentation (like calling a ‘Navajo’ print), or insensitivity (putting on a child model). black in a shirt that says “little monkey” is not a good look). Allaire covers a mind-boggling range of stories from fashion, hair and makeup, artists, designers and more, depicting how people whose cultures have been torn away, diluted or hijacked are taking back the things that belong to them.

Explore American childhood through 50 historical treasures by Ashley E. Remer and Tiffany R. Isselhardt

Spend a week with me and see if you not hear me talk about American Girl, Polly Pockets (OG, thanks a lot, not rubber stuff), or paper dolls. I love a good toy to impose my imagination on, and there is a special place in my heart for anything particularly aimed at girls and femininity – not because I’m attached to a gender binary or because that I believe in gender essentialism, but because I don’t I dislike the dominant attitude that defines feminISM as being anti-feminine. Princesses, dolls and dresses are awesome! Don’t you like them? Don’t wear them. Don’t hit them. Also, I grew up in the Girl Power / Spice Girls era. Anyway, this book isn’t all about toys, but there are are toys in it, and there are also monuments, dresses, books and other items to lean on.

I’ve been here all the time: Black Freedom on Homeland by Alaina E. Roberts

The United States has had a little problem with geography for * checks notes * its entire existence, ever since a group of refugees arrived and, instead of seeking asylum, just took over. That’s a lot of ground to cover (sorry, I had to), so this book deals only with a tiny bit of that story, exploring how the “40 Acres and a Mule” offer extended to newly slaves. liberated interspersed with “Indian territory” and the long-standing conflict between indigenous and white imperialists over land, property and ownership. What I like about this approach is that we generally think of racial and cultural conflict or collaboration in the United States as a white people x [Insert minority group here] question and not as interactions between two marginalized groups.

Manufacturing hysteria: a story of scapegoat, surveillance and secrecy in modern America by Jay Feldman

It’s a daunting looking book, but it will also make you a great dinner guest or news reader / writer, as you’ll have so much in your toolbox to make sense of political arguments and political arguments. current events. No political figure goes unnoticed here. It’s one of those books that so timely, it was pretty much obsolete when it was released in 2011, as privacy and security concerns continued to escalate. It’s time to write a second edition, Uncle Jay! (No, seriously, it’s my uncle.)

Footnotes: Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way by Caseen Gaines

Please don’t tell me that you think Hamilton It was the first time black people were allowed to enter Broadway. (I recognize that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work is a major player in Broadway history, but come on – it’s not the first or the only one.) This book dates back to the Harlem Renaissance and describes Black-created , Black-star, Black -central Mix along, which was created in 1921. Once you’ve read this book, check out Sissle and Blake sing “Shuffle Along” an actual archival record from when. Be forewarned: There are at least three outdated racial epithets in various song titles.

Archie of twelve hundred by Bart Beaty

When I was young I was given my first Betty and Véronique summed up by a friend because we both needed reading while his moms drove us to the pumpkin patch outside of town (I’m lucky to have so many friends who understand that sitting together and reading silently always counts as a social visit with each other). It wasn’t that long ago that the book cost me 12, but there’s still a lot of nostalgia, okay? There are 100 micro-stories here, covering various elements of the cultural impact of the entire Riverdale gang and their contribution to the invention of the American teenager, and it only spans ten years. Who is going to write about the next decade of Archie comics?

Anarcha Speaks: a story in poems by Dominique Christina and Tyehimba Jess

I love when fiction or non-fiction lovingly finds ways to restore some dignity to people or groups who have been abused (to put it mildly) in the past. This book of poems does so for Anarcha, the name of the female slave who was one of the many medical subjects who forcibly underwent the gynecological research of J. Marion Sims, whose label “father of gynecology” begins. to dissipate as more and more people attempt to honor the women he tortured on the road to success. Many of his invented techniques and specula are still in use today, but he could not have gone anywhere without the slave women who had no choice but to sacrifice their health, their bodies or even their lives for his work. .

The Snatch Racket: the kidnapping epidemic that terrorized 1930s America by Carolyn Cox

I didn’t even watch the subtitle of this book before downloading it because the title was so * blinks fast *, but it turns out that is the real nickname of what happened in the 1930s, because apparently baby Lindbergh was just one of a series of kidnappings. This cover looks like it came straight out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s personal library, doesn’t it? To be fair, however, the kidnapping is indeed an eyesore.

From Jumpsuits to Zoot Jumpsuits: The Lives of Mexican-American Women on the Home Front of WWII by Elizabeth R. Escobedo

There’s actually more to zoot costumes than Edward James Olmos and the Cherry Poppin ‘Daddies (hate the band name, love dancing to the song, amirite?). This book takes a look at the Mexican-American culture and communities of the 1940s and focuses specifically on women, which I love, because usually when we talk about America and WWII, we act as if Rosie the Riveter represented all women equally. Escobedo uses the first-hand testimony of Mexican American women of the time to provide detailed insight into what happened when the boys returned from the war.

What is one of the coolest American cultural history books you have never read?


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