Access America

Popular Culture, History, and Current Events

We Sing America

By Bobbie Kirkhart

I think it’s likely true that the people of all nations love their patriotic songs even when they don’t agree with their message.

I love American patriotic music, although some of the lyrics are much too bellicose and virtually all of it is much too religious for this atheist to embrace. And the music itself may or may not be American. Indeed, the music of one of our most prominent songs, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” is the British national anthem “God Save the Queen.” This rendition is sung by Aretha Franklin at Barack Obama’s inauguration:

Perhaps more ironic is the fact that our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” a poem written in praise of our efforts against the English in the War of 1812, is set to the tune of a British drinking song, “The Anacreontic Song.”

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Happy Pride Month!

By Henrike Kattoll

The month of June commemorates a turning point in many countries’ LGBTQ+ history. In the U.S., the Stonewall Riots mark this turning point.

The Stonewall Inn is a gay bar located in Greenwich Village. Before the riots, the police routinely raided the Mafia-run gay bars to harass or detain members of the LGBTQ+ community. On the morning of June 28, 1969, a surprise raid took place at the Stonewall Inn. The angry patrons and neighborhood residents, fed up with the constant police harassment and social discrimination, gathered outside the bar and became increasingly agitated about the police aggressively manhandling people. Soon afterward, the onlookers began to throw objects – pennies, bottles, and cobble stones – at the police. The full-blown riot continued for five more days, involving thousands of people clashing with law enforcement on Christopher Street and neighboring roads. The fabulous Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, is credited for throwing the first stone – although she’s never confirmed it.

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Call Him by His Name: Rapper Lil Nas X Marks the Spot Where Viral Becomes Substantial

By Hannah Quinque

CC BY 2.0, DiFronzo,

In the digital information age, sensationalist headlines are all around us, all around the clock.

To stand out from the general noise even for a split second, a genuinely momentous sensation has to shake the collective foundation on- and offline. Enter Montero Lamar Hill, aka Lil Nas X. The 22-year-old Georgian rapper knows how to jump-start the pop cultural wave pool like few others as demonstrated by the virtually inescapable splashes he made with his new single, released this March.

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Happy Belated Birthday, Bob Dylan!

“Bob Dylan (Bring it All Back Home Sessions)” by ky_olsen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Let’s keep it simple. Bob Dylan, the only singer and songwriter who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, turned 80 on May 24th. We would be surprised if you couldn’t name at least one of his songs.

The American Studies Blog decided to honor him not with a list of his numerous achievements, awards, and fun facts as others have already done that for us. Instead, we want to share a bit of his music that continues to inspire new generations.


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Harriet Tubman and the 20-Dollar Bill Controversy

By Sabrina Völz

Public Domain,

Mere days after Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States, the new administration announced its intention to put Harriet Tubman – known as Moses – on the twenty-dollar bill. The currency redesign – a relatively common occurrence in the 19th century – was originally set for release in 2020 to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. The majority of Americans supported the redesign in 2016 when the last poll on the issue was taken. President Donald Trump put the project on hold, citing security issues and attributing the Obama initiative to sheer political correctness. While Trump may still view Andrew Jackson as an American hero, historians are quick to point out the complexities of the former U.S. president’s biography. Jackson owned hundreds of slaves and was responsible for the Indian Removal Act that led to the death of about 4,000 Cherokees, forced to walk from the Southern states to modern-day Oklahoma on what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears. Even though he probably should be, Jackson will not be completely removed from the twenty-dollar bill – he’ll just be demoted to the back. The irony of placing Tubman on one side and Jackson on the other on a symbol of national identity has not gone unnoticed and certainly speaks to the division in American society today.

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By Michael Lederer

I first read Hemingway at college in 1978, an intro course called Modern Existential Literature. The Old Man and the Sea was like looking at an x-ray to see how we are put together. The Sun Also Rises was a look at how we fall apart. It was also a siren’s call: “This way, follow me.”

Photo credit: Katarina Lederer: Michael Lederer with Hemingway’s statue, Havana, 2013

In spring 1980, I had five hundred bucks, a Eurail Pass and a backpack, and two months in which to see as much of Europe as I could. From Paris, following the characters from Sun, the train took me as far as Bayonne and from there it was thumb out. An old man named Jesus picked me up in a white car and drove me up the mountain to Pamplona. As a boy during the San Fermin festival, he had shaken Hemingway’s hand. When I got out of the car and he shook my hand, I was convinced if not a torch at least a spark had been passed.

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