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Editor’s Note

By David Skinner | HUMANITIES, Winter 2018 | Volume 39, Number 1

The literary admirers of Ulysses S. Grant—commanding general of  the Union Army, eighteenth president of the United States, and one heckuva memoirist—are legion. Ta-Nehisi Coates called Grant a superhero. Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein considered cowriting a biography of him. Mark Twain served as his literary agent.

The retired warrior was not drawn to writing by any lofty motives. Grant was a money writer. He wrote to earn his way out of a financial crisis, as Meredith Hindley shows in an essay inspired by the new annotated edition of Grant’s memoirs from the editors of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, a project NEH has supported since the 1960s.

William James was born and raised to be an intellectual. He avoided military service, and, if he could have, he might have avoided writing and teaching as well. He was the kind of person who had to fight his way out of bed. A victim of depression, he was also a great student of psychology and especially wise on the benefits of doing instead of dwelling. Peter Gibbon writes about the unusual mix of qualities that made James one of the most important thinkers of his day and one who is still influential a hundred years later.

Yet another student of the human mind, Shirley Jackson wrote from a terrible awareness that evil can be found even in a nice small town on a sunny afternoon. Her short story “The Lottery,” one of the most famous ever, may find its greatest expression in the audio version read, Peter Tonguette writes, by Jackson herself.

The system that underwrites all written language in digital formats, Unicode supports not only English, Chinese, Russian, and emoji. It has also made room for numerous minority languages and some quite ancient. Erica Machulak explains how the study of Mayan hieroglyphs has benefited from NEH-supported efforts to bring historical languages into the digital age.

In his new documentary about historically black colleges and universities, director Stanley Nelson tells the story of the fatal shooting of two unarmed students at Southern University in Louisiana in 1972. Interviewing Edward Pratt, who is in the film and was at the protest where the students were shot, Danny Heitman in Baton Rouge revisits this wrongly neglected tragedy.

And there is more: An interview with Hamilton editor Joanne B. Freeman, a course in the blues in Alabama, the history of Storyville in New Orleans, and a story about a pumpkin and a princess from Bhutan.

About the Author

David Skinner is editor of Humanities.

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