History lessons

Dan and I saw Frost/Nixon last weekend, and it brought up a point that he and I have talked about many times before: When were we supposed to learn about contemporary American history? It didn’t happen in school, but we’re too young to have lived it ourselves. We were born just after the Frost/Nixon interviews happened, so I, at least, didn’t start paying attention to American politics or the rest of the world until the very late 1980s.

My US history class in high school, which was a very good, AP-based class, only made it to a bit past World War II. We simply ran out of time in the school year to cover anything later. Since the AP exam, at the time, only covered that far, we didn’t worry about cramming in Kennedy, civil rights, Vietnam, Watergate, etc. So I feel like I have a big hole in my knowledge of American history.

Journalists, at least those covering politics and world events, are by and large older than I, so when they refer to events from the 1960s or ’70s (or especially 80s), they do so as if they were givens. They don’t bother to fill in details that their readers, whom they assume experienced the events first-hand as well, would already know. Not sharing that first-hand cultural history, I don’t have a good way to catch up on it. Watching a movie like Frost/Nixon, or Milk, which is the next one I want to see, points up my deficiencies. Any suggestions for how to fill in these gaps?

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