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A Biography of America

Contemporary History

The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.

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Enhanced Transcript Page 1

Program 25: Contemporary History

Donald L. Miller with the entire historian team and television critic John Leonard

Miller: 1972 to the year 2000. Twenty-eight event-packed years. We struggle to make sense of this period. We’re historians. We’re past-haunted creatures, you know? And we keep looking back. Do we have a responsibility to immediately assess, almost like a reporter does, the swirling events of our time?

Brinkley: They say journalists write the first draft of history, and there’s some truth to that, meaning the newspaper reports. I think historians — contemporary historians — do the next draft.

Maier: Although I write sometimes on contemporary issues that have a historical dimension, I don’t find what is called contemporary history very interesting.

Masur: The most interesting kind of history is the history that does get at the pain and value of human experience. And it explains not just what happened, but what people do with what happens.

Martin: The fundamental issue in history is to provide historical perspective, to provide context, to provide a certain kind of understanding.

Miller: Historians look at the last quarter of the 20th century, today on A Biography of America.


[picture of Professor Miller]

Miller: July 4, 1976, America commemorated its bicentennial. It was an auspicious anniversary. Although few people knew it at the time, the very character of the country was changing.

[picture of Gerald Ford]

Gerald Ford was President. He had taken office three years earlier when a discredited President Richard Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment.

Nixon: I shall resign the presidency….

At the time of this political crisis, America was also in the grip of the Energy Crisis. In 1972, you could buy gas for 40 cents a gallon. A year later, you’d be paying double that. And the Energy Crisis triggered a long-term recession. Some of the country’s biggest industries, like the auto industry and steel industry, were hit hard.

Plants laid off hundreds of thousands of workers. And once-prosperous industrial cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit were in terrible trouble.

The Cold War persisted. Tensions and defense budgets running high. This is where America was in 1980.

If we fast-forward the picture to the late 1990s, it could not have been more different. The economy is booming. The Cold War is over. America’s riding high as the leader of a global economy and a global culture.

These changes occurred with dramatic, head-turning suddenness. And it’s hard to make sense of them, to put them into historical perspective. We’re too close to what happened.

Yet, we have a responsibility as historians to make sense of the history of our own times. Let’s look at some of this history through the headlines from the years 1972 to the year 2000.

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Headlines of the late 20th Century

[picture of Jimmy Carter]

Miller: Neither Gerald Ford, nor Jimmy Carter — who took office as President in 1977 — could reverse America’s economic decline. Carter warned that there were limits to growth, that Americans had to reduce their expectations.

Carter: Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you, about a problem that’s unprecedented in our history.

It was a sober time. In 1979, a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania threatened the meltdown of the plant, and raised fears about the catastrophic potential of all nuclear power.

At the end of the Jimmy Carter presidency, 52 Americans had been taken hostage by Iranian terrorists.

Carter: The United States of America will not yield to international terrorism.

They were released in 1981, the day Ronald Reagan took office.

[picture of Reagan]

By the time Reagan became President, the country’s economic problems seemed to be entrenched.

Reagan: The interest on the public debt this year we know will be over 90 billion….

Reagan and the Republican Congress moved quickly to institute tax cuts and cut government programs. Still, economic recession continued. Unemployment was 10% in 1982.

Man on news: We haven’t seen the bottom. It hasn’t bottomed out yet.

President Reagan increased the defense budget dramatically, attacking the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire.”

Reagan: To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire….

Reagan called for a supercharged American effort to defeat the enemy.

The Soviet Union, however, was beginning its own transformation with Mikhail Gorbachev, a president committed to democratic reforms. In 1989, the Berlin Wall, long the symbol of the Cold War, collapsed. And along with it, in several years, the Soviet Union.

The first cases of AIDS appeared in America in 1981. By 1988, the disease threatened to become an epidemic. The AIDS quilt expressed the grief of thousands of Americans for the epidemic’s victims.

In the 1980s, concern about the environment grew, especially in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. More than 10 million barrels of oil contaminated hundreds of miles of shoreline, and shattered the local ecosystem.

[picture of Sally Ride aboard the Space Shuttle]

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, spending six days in orbit. She was among the many women whose place in society had changed dramatically in the last quarter of the 20th century.

This was a period of fabulous technological achievement. By the mid-1980s the launching of a Space Shuttle was a regular event, until the tragic explosion of the Challenger in 1986.

In the biological sciences, recombinant DNA technology, the first step in cloning, was developed.

In the early 1980s, the first personal computer hit the market, and the first clumsy connections with the Internet were made in 1982.

Ronald Reagan restored the confidence of America. And his economic policy, the trickle-down theory, created a whole new class of millionaires. Those who had money spent it, and spent it lavishly. The 1980s came to be seen as the “Me Generation,” decadent with excess.

Ivan Boesky: One of the great things about this nation is that we can seek profit. And I’m proud of that. And if you can gain profit, that’s even better.

But the gap between rich and poor, whites and people of color, city and suburb, continued to grow. And so did conservatism in politics and in culture. George Bush was elected President in 1988, inheriting both the optimism of the Reagan years and the problems in the American economy.

By 1992, the federal deficit was $4 trillion.

Woman: We need jobs. This is not going to work.

In early 1991, an aroused nation united behind President Bush when he attacked the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, when Hussein invaded Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War was an overwhelming demonstration of American technological might.

The long siege of economic troubles had deep roots. Fueled by racism, they ignited the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

In November 1992, William Jefferson Clinton was elected President, despite rumors of personal scandal that would plague his presidency, and culminate in his impeachment in December, 1998.

Yet during his eight years as President, the country experienced an unrivaled economic boom. The stock market climbed to an all-time high, and was still climbing at the end of the century. America had become a service economy, with its biggest exports entertainment, information technologies, and its own culture.

[picture of a personal computer]

By the year 1998, over 40 million households had their own personal computers. More than 11 million had more than three televisions. And 44 million Americans had guns.

The complexion of the country continued to change. In 1998, 72% of the population was white, 12% African American, 11% Hispanic, and 4% Asian.

New technologies transformed virtually every aspect of life, even our own genetic makeup. By the year 2000, the Human Genome Project was nearing completion of the mapping of the entire human DNA code, offering startling possibilities for altering the design of life itself.

In the year 2000, America stood poised to take on the challenges of the Third Millennium.

Clinton: The torch is passed to a new century of young Americans.

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The Difficulty of Interpreting Contemporary History

[picture of the discussion group]

Miller: These are the headlines. They’re raw data. And it’s an incomplete set of data at that. I asked our team of historians to interpret, to shed some light on these events. At first, they resisted.

Masur: How do you write about a period through which you lived? Because that shapes our perspective as to what is important, what isn’t important, our own experiences. And the recent past isn’t just writing about the 1990s or the 1980s. Some of us have memories of the ’70s, the ’60s, and the ’50s.

Well, that’s half a century of history about which we have personal memories. Our own identities were shaped by these memories. Well, when we go to choose what’s important, how much are we drawn to those not because of our detached role as historians, but because we’re engaged — we’re engaged personally with the past. It raises questions about the tension between the role as historian and the role as participant.

Miller : Oh, historians have always had agendas, they’ve always had emotional and ideological agendas….

[picture of Professor Masur]

Masur: I’m not talking about it as an agenda in a negative sense. I’m talking about it as a set of issues that becomes raised, that comes to the very question of a tendency to identify things as being important, not as a predictive value, but which later down the line you’re not going to feel are important.

And why are you going to predict them or predict that they’re important? Because you lived through them, you experienced them, right? We all would have thought that Newt Gingrich and the Republican ascendancy would have been this momentous moment, and look how quickly it passed. At the moment, living through it, we would have offered one interpretation. Two years later, we would have offered another.

Maier: And the other thing is that when you work from newspapers, the period you live through, every day has an equal headline. When you’re a historian, you shuffle those in some way. You rank them. Some you forget, some you emphasize. That’s difficult to do until you study a period that has not only a past, but a future.

Miller: A period that not only has a past, but a future. It’s an interesting idea. We can’t yet see the future of the last 25 years of the century. But we do have some perspective on the first 75 years.

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Interpreting Recent History

[picture of Professor Miller]

Miller: I asked our historians to look at the history of recent times in light of the 20th century as a whole.

America in 1900 was seen as a confident place. It was a place where crisis was seen as an opportunity. And it was a nation — we were a nation known for making things. We were a nation known for our ceaseless change; the material change; the changing nationalities; it’s a country in constant turmoil. But we seemed to have this confidence that we could solve these kinds of — any problem that presented itself.

What kind of country are we now? How have we changed? This has been a raucous century, an unbelievable century.

[picture of Professor Brinkley]

Brinkley: I think people would find that democracy has prevailed in this century in very many fundamental ways. It’s been a bloody century. I mean, we’ve had to fight the Kaiser; we’ve had to fight Nazism, totalitarianism, communism. And at the end of the century, democracy — or American-style democracy — seems to be stronger and more vigorous than ever.

At the same time, it’s been the century of a struggle to bring more people into that democracy. I think the women’s rights movement, the right to vote in 1920, and on and on for equal rights, equal pay, has been pronounced and that’s something positive. And I think in civil rights, there have been extraordinary breakthroughs, beginning in 1950s, and into the ’60s with the signing of the Civil Rights Acts with Lyndon Johnson, that people could start seeing our democratic experiment is moving forward, that more people are taking part in it.

[picture of Professor Martin]

Martin: I think there’s this extraordinary momentum in the ’50s and the ’60s where through Civil Rights and through a whole range of social movements, people felt they could take control over their lives, and that they could form movements and make change.

And I think a lot of it goes to where do you think you can make change. If change needs to be made, can it be made in the political system? I think a lot of people feel that the political system is corrupt; it goes to whoever has the most money.

And it strikes me that that is very important. You know, where in their own lives people think they can make a difference.

[picture of Professor Scharff]

Scharff: I think Waldo’s point about people trying to make change in the ’50s and ’60s — the pace of social life has sped up so much, as a consequence of information revolution, as a consequence of transformation of the working and family lives of everyone, that people now, I think, are making those changes while coping with enormous change.

Since the 1970s we’ve had an incredible revolution in family life in this country. Most children under the age of five in the United States have mothers who work, and in the 1970s that wasn’t true. That was an enormous revolution in terms of who’s available in the work force, in terms of what the landscape looks like. It changes everything.

[picture of Professor Maier]

Maier: It changed so dramatically, I suspect it’s very difficult to imagine, for young people, how much it was assumed that a woman would stay at home, with her children, in the ’50s, and even the ’60s. People who were going the other direction were swimming against the stream.

Miller: It’s a huge change. When you think, in 1900, in the garment industry in New York, women worked, but Italian women that worked in that industry were single Italian women. The minute they married, as much as they needed the money, they went home.

Maier: And think of how difficult it was for school teachers. You could teach when you were single, but as soon as you married you lost your job.

Scharff: So, a lot of those school teachers didn’t tell. They didn’t tell. They kept their marriages secret through the Depression, because they were the first ones fired. Now, you wouldn’t think that a woman would have to quit her job when she’s married, and in fact mostly you want to keep your job, so that if you can have that kind of ideal two-income family that will bring the benefits of the mushrooming consumer economy home to your entire family.

If you look at the fact that the fastest growing family type in the United States by the end of the 20th century was a single woman and her children, and that those were families disproportionately below the poverty line — then you have a problem that maybe the government ought to do something about.

Masur: But this is also one of the themes, I think, of this century, if you take the long look, that’s changed dramatically. I mean, Americans have always had an on- again, off-again relationship with respect to the role that they think government should play in their lives. And when you think about the striking transformation in the last quarter of this century, where the argument has been that government is too big; let’s get government off of the backs of the people; let’s return power back to the states; the kind of new states rights, the kind of new federalism that has taken place, marks a tremendous shift at the end of the century from earlier in the century, when of course, during the Great Depression, during other periods, the whole idea was that that was the role of government. It was the responsibility of government to play an integral role in people’s lives. I think this is a crucial theme for the sweep of the century.

Martin: I think that one of the functions of government is to make life for those at the bottom better. And I don’t think you can think about a federal government just sort of like making sure that the pot doesn’t boil over. I think the government has to have some sort of a way to deal and to sustain, to support, and to make life better for those at the bottom.

It strikes me that if you don’t deal with the kinds of issues that inequality produces, then this society won’t continue to exist. I don’t think that just because we’re wealthy and we are dominant, that we will always be.

Maier: What do you mean, continue to exist? I mean, we’re going to disappear?

Martin: Continue to exist as sort of the dominant power that will always control everything. You know, empires rise and fall, and I don’t see any reason to think that the United States will always be dominant. And it strikes me that what you have to deal with are the core issues undermining the democracy.

Brinkley: There are foreign policy issues, and I think that what you’re saying’s true. But from 1945 to, really, 2000, the key was dealing with the external world, dealing with the Soviet Union. We’re in the middle of a Cold War. All that money you’re talking about, who should get it from the federal government, well, three-quarters of it was going to fight the Cold War, it was going to the military in the United States.

Masur: But this is part of the problem that Waldo is talking about. When we have on the one hand this ideal of democracy, and on the other hand this dissonance, this tension with the realities of growing inequality — I mean, the statistics about inequality in America at the end of the 20th century are staggering. I mean, it’s just growing and growing and growing.

You talk about people being alienated and disaffected from the political system — well, when you’re poor and you have a system that no longer is providing — or an ideology that no longer says it’s the responsibility of government to help you, we’re back to that old individualism: Do you have to help yourself? And by what means can you help yourself?

Martin: Well, my friends, self-help is the capitalism of fools. If you don’t have the wherewithal to help yourself, how are you going to help yourself?

Miller: I think with history, you get a perspective on things that can affect public policy. For example, poverty is different today than it was in 1900. There were more opportunities for unskilled people. And there was a transportation system in the city to take unskilled people from ghetto to factory. And today you take a large city; there’s a tremendous concentration of minorities in that large city; the jobs have moved to the suburbs. In a typical city like Detroit, a third of the black households in Detroit do not have cars. There’s no way to get to those jobs.

Martin: But I think the question, when you talk about all these urban — who’s in these cities, it strikes me that any of the major cities, L.A., places like that — these are fundamentally third world cities. You’re talking about cities where the population, as we go forward, are sort of like ringed by white and increasingly diverse suburbs, but they’re functionally third world countries.

Brinkley: Los Angeles is not a third world city.

Martin: I think it functionally is.

Brinkley: I don’t think so. I think it’s one of the capitals of the world.

Martin: It is, but I think when you talk about the people who constitute the population…

Miller: What is powering LA in the direction that you’re talking about? You’ve got to understand what caused it to become what it is — if you’re going to continue it or stop it.

Martin: We’re talking about patterns of immigration. And since 1965 you’ve had enormous shifts in terms of communities of colors and population streams of color: Asians, Latin Americans, Africans coming to this country, really transforming a lot of population centers. And it strikes —

Miller: What does this have to do with the history thing?

Martin: It has everything to do with it, because I think one of the problems that we confront as we go toward wherever we’re going, is who we are. And it strikes me that we are no longer who we thought we were.

Brinkley: We are a multicultural society. If we haven’t melted into the melting pot metaphor, we’re certainly interacting in different ways. The influx of Asian immigrants, and Hispanic immigrants, to the point that in the 21st century, you’re going to have an America that’s close to 50% non-white, which is I think something that’s quite extraordinary.

Martin: In the ’50s you could represent this nation as white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, and male. And we can no longer think about ourselves like that. What we are has been created on the back of a lot of oppression, a lot of difficult times for a lot of working people, poor people, and people of color, and women. And what I think we need to do is focus on the struggle, at least as part of a dual narrative.

It strikes me that you can’t just have America triumphant. That you also have to have sort of like what has informed that triumph.

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[picture of the discussion group]

Miller: As we talked, I could see my colleagues struggling with their own passionately-held perspectives. Each of us has to come to terms with the past, both as historians and as the memory-haunted creatures we are.

Maier: Don, like you, I came to history through newspapers. But I have to say, as a historian — although I write sometimes on contemporary issues that have a historical dimension — I don’t find what is called contemporary history very interesting. It doesn’t have the complexity of an earlier period. But, more than that, I’ve always thought of history has having a humanistic dimension; it was to understand what it is to be somebody else, and it isn’t at all challenging to know what it is to be somebody I am, or where I’ve known other people. It’s less of a challenge.

Scharff: You know, Pauline, I want to stand up for the contemporary historians among us here for a minute, because I don’t feel like, when I write about the United States at this point, I’m writing about who I am. I feel like I’m writing about the kind of diverse array of people that Waldo is talking about here, and trying to take account of those experiences. And the kind of rapid change that we have, it seems to me, bespeaks a complexity that’s every bit as compelling and every bit as difficult to get your head around as the kind of complexity that comes into play when you’re trying to make a country out of 13 colonies.

Masur: Part of the process, right, is to recover these stories. But it’s not enough just to tell them. Because if all we do is tell them, we’re not historians; we’re antiquarians. And we’re just chronicling events without putting them into any order or lending any interpretation to them.

The most interesting kind of history is the history that does get at the pain and value of human experience. And it explains not just what happened, but what people do with what happens, what it means.

Miller: I think history can be just as good as great fiction in that regard, in illuminating character, in illuminating the tragedy of the human condition, and what it’s like just to be alive on this Earth.

Masur: There’s an aphorism that I think says a lot about what we do. And the aphorism is that the only thing that’s certain is the future, because the past is constantly changing.

TV and History

[picture of John Leonard]

Leonard: Once our history was what white men did in the daylight. Now it’s what happens to other people while we watch.

We are at times just curious: an Oscar, or a Super Bowl. We are at times compelled: a Watergate or Berlin Wall. We may hope at exalted moments like a moonshot, and on dreadful occasions like an assassination, to experience community as a nation.

But mostly, we just sit there, hungry, angry, lonely, or tired; needing novelty or distraction, gossip or laughs; remedial seriousness, or vulgar celebrity; a place to celebrate, and a place to mourn; a circus, and a wishing well.

This is a mixed curse. On the one hand, as never before, we are privileged with the best seat in the house for coronations and impeachments, civil rights and civil riots, earthquakes, OJ, and Vietnam. As if looking down from a zeppelin, our vantage is superior to the fixed positions of official participants and court historians, with multiple views of the action, in intimate focus or broad scan, and an IV feed of raw data and expert chit-chat on demand, by royal whim.

On the other hand, TV has stolen our memory, yours and mine. It’s gone to another bank. I was a student at Berkeley in the early ’60s, but the images in my head are Mario Savio’s and Ronald Reagan’s, not my own. I reported from Chicago on the Democratic Convention of 1968, but the cassette in my hand is Abbie Hoffman’s. I marched in favor of integration and against war. But the tapes in my head are Eyes on the Prize.

On the third hand — and there’s always a third hand — we are agnostics about reality itself. We’ve been docudramatized and dutched, as if every narrative, however problematic, had been dumbed down to love gone wrong.

And while TV sells us cars by promising adventure, and sells us beer by promising friendship, it also robs us of chronology. With channels for weather, food, history, nostalgia, cartoons, and porn, we see everything that ever was, all at the same time, and increasingly remote.

How come, while television has told us over and over again to be nicer to women, children, minorities, immigrants, poor people, sick people, old people, odd people, and strangers, the nation got so mean?

Interactive Map: The New West

Is the New West still a distinct region, or just another place in a homogeneous American Landscape?


By the 1990s, the vast spaces that had once made most places in the American West hard to reach were shrinking as more and more towns and cities built airports. Trips that had once taken weeks were now matters of mere hours.







Internet Connections

This 1997 map represents the dawning of the Internet age in the region once termed “remote beyond compare.” But within months, this map was obsolete. The Internet, the World Wide Web, cellular telephone service, and a growing array of portable communications devices made even backcountry wilderness areas instantly accessible to anyone with the ability to dial up.





Population Growth

The Rocky Mountain West was, at century’s end, the fastest growing region in the U.S. Eight Rocky Mountain states were in the top ten fastest growing states in the nation, and the region attracted net population gain from every region of the country.







Tourist Industry

The American economy as a whole now relies on services and information rather than industrial production. Westerners have turned to services too, but with a distinctive twist, catering to tourists in search of outdoor adventure. Skiers, hikers, fishers, mountain bikers, and golfers now power the local economies of dozens of Western towns.






Public Lands

From the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the West has embodied the public domain in the U.S. And to a remarkable extent, Western land is still public land. Uses of the public’s real estate range from wilderness preservation to logging and grazing to bombing and storage of nuclear waste. This land truly is your land.

The Growth of the 'New West'

By the end of the twentieth century, the American landscape had been transformed by revolutionary technology, an influx of people, and an unprecedented economic boom. No region of the nation was more affected than the West. Indeed, the shape and meaning of the West was, by the millennium, in doubt. According to popular thinking, the old Rocky Mountain West had been a wild, untamed place. But now it seemed that a somehow smaller, more accessible “New West” had arisen. This New West, a region as much cultural as geographical, seemed in danger of becoming just another place in a homogeneous landscape.

Between 1990 and 1996, the far-flung cities of the intermountain New West showed phenomenal rates of population growth, although the total population of most were still small compared to the megalopolises of the Northeast, the Far West and the sunbelt South. Consider the following U. S. Census data on the 10 largest urbanized areas of the region in 1996:

1996 Population and ’90 – ’96 growth rate:
Phoenix, Arizona 2,746,703 22.7%
Denver, Colorado 2,277,401 15.0%
Salt Lake City, Utah 1,217,842 13.6%
Las Vegas, Nevada 1,201,073 40.9%
Tucson, Arizona 767,873 15.1%
El Paso, Texas 684,446 15.7%
Albuquerque, New Mexico 670,092 13.7%
Colorado Springs, Colorado 472,924 19.1%
Spokane, Washington 404,920 12.1%
Boise City, Idaho 372,587 25.9%

Other urban areas in the region with growth rates of over 15% include Provo, Utah; Reno, Nevada; Fort Collins and Grand Junction, Colorado; Richland, Washington; Las Cruces and Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Yuma and Flagstaff, Arizona.

As the West has become more accessible, has it lost its mythic power?  Can a landscape of jetports, city streets, golf courses, and ski slopes offer the sense of openness, the challenge of freedom, that Americans treasure as part of their heritage?  Some argue that we can never recover the wildness of the West; domesticating the continent, we’ve lost the connection to the best in our national character.   But others believe that there is still plenty of room to connect both with nature and with a past not simply heroic, but human.

Questions to Ponder

By the end of the twentieth century, the American landscape had been transformed by revolutionary technology, an influx of people, and an unprecedented economic boom. No region of the nation was more affected than the West. Indeed, the shape and meaning of the West was, by the millennium, in doubt. According to popular thinking, the old Rocky Mountain West had been a wild, untamed place. But now it seemed that a somehow smaller, more accessible “New West” had arisen. This New West, a region as much cultural as geographical, seemed in danger of becoming just another place in a homogeneous landscape.

1. On the whole, are the changes in the Western landscape positive or negative?

2. Is the West still “Western?”

3. Can you imagine other ways of mapping historical change in the West?


Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.

All feature map information is based upon:
Riebsame, William, ed. The Atlas of the New West. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

Scharff, Virginia. “Honey, I Shrunk the West,” Pacific Historical Review, August, 1998.

White, Richard. “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own:” A New History of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.


  • Jimmy Carter
    • Jimmy Carter
      A portrait and a biography of Jimmy Carter.
    • American History (8): Jimmy Carter
      A photo of Carter and an account of his presidency.
    • James Earl Carter, Jr.
      A biography of Jimmy Carter with links to photos; a timeline of events; and information on his impact and legacy, family life, etc.

  • Bicentennial – 1976
    • 1976: Events
      A chronology of events that took place in the 1976 Bicentennial year.

  • Ronald Reagan
    • Ronald Reagan
      A portrait and a biography of Ronald Reagan.
    • Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
      Provides links to galleries of photos, biographical sketches of the Reagans, etc.
    • The American Experience/Reagan
      Section of The American Experience Presidents site. Includes information about Reagan’s presidency and a tour of the presidential library.
    • Character Above All: Ronald Reagan Essay
      An excerpt from an essay by Peggy Noonan on the character of Ronald Reagan.
    • Ronald Reagan
      A biography of Ronald Reagan with links to photos; a timeline of events; and information on his impact and legacy, family life, etc.

  • AIDS first identified in U.S. – 1981

  • Fall of the Berlin Wall – 1989
    • BiW: The Berlin Wall
      An outline of the history of the Berlin Wall from its construction to its fall. Includes links to related sites.
    • The Fall of the Berlin Wall: 1989
      An account of the fall of the Berlin Wall with photos and related links.

  • George Bush
    • George Bush
      A portrait and a biography of George Bush.
    • Bush Presidential Library and Museum
      Provides links to information about the Bush Presidential Library and Museum as well as links to biographies of George and Barbara Bush illustrated with photos and with related links.
    • George Bush
      A biography of George Bush with links to photos; a timeline of events; and information on his impact and legacy, family life, etc.
  • Persian Gulf War
    • Frontline: The Gulf War
      A Web site on the Gulf War featuring a video clip, a chronology of the war, maps, an oral history, transcripts, etc.

  • William Jefferson Clinton
    • William J. Clinton
      A photo and a biography of William J. Clinton.
    • Bill Clinton
      A biography of Bill Clinton with links to photos; a timeline of events; and information on his impact and legacy, family life, etc.

  • Clinton Impeachment
    • Clinton Accused
      Washington Post stories on President Clinton’s impeachment and Kenneth W. Starr’s investigation of the first family and their associates. Includes a timeline of events leading to the impeachment, Senate trial texts and information, a photo gallery, etc.
    • News Unlimited | Special reports | Clinton’s impeachment trial,2763,209027,00.html
      The text of a report on the impeachment trial with links to many related stories.

Series Directory

A Biography of America


Produced by WGBH Boston in cooperation with the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, and with the assistance of Instructional Resources Corporation. 2000.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-202-7