Plus: Brexit and ‘Gone With the Wind’ |

June 30, 2016

By Lily Rothman

As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, now is the perfect time for Americans to look both forward and back at the way the nation has evolved. One lesson from any consideration of that history is that a single action—often when you least expect it—can have immense consequences.

In the spirit of that observation, we asked 25 experts to chime in with their picks for 20th-century moments that changed America. The results were unsurprisingly fascinating—as they were last year when we asked others the same question. I couldn’t possibly pick just one to highlight, and if you take a look at the list I think you’ll see why.

If you were to nominate a moment, which would you choose? Find us on Twitter at @TIMEHistory and let us know.

Here’s more of the history that made news this week:

This Is How the HIV Test Was Invented

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day

Muriel Fox on NOW at 50 and Finding Success in Anger

A founding member of the National Organization for Women on what has changed and what still needs to be done

The Origins of Corruption in the New York Police Department

Daniel Czitrom, author of New York Exposed, explains why corruption was endemic in the early days of the New York Police Department

How Referendums Like the Brexit Vote Became a Thing

The history of the referendum goes all the way back to Roman times, but their rise to common usage has more to do with the 1980s

Behind-the-Scenes on the Making of Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell's acclaimed novel was released 80 years ago, on June 30, 1936


July 5, 1976

The Big Bash (1976)

“From New York harbor, the tall ships will move up the Hudson River under a cumulus of sail, like a stately apparition from another century. A few hours later, more than 200 million miles away in space, America's Viking lander will glide through the thin Martian atmosphere and settle on the Red Planet like a gray metal mantis. Within such brackets of past and future, the United States will celebrate its 200th anniversary this weekend—a culminating moment of raucous blowout compounded of Disneyland pageantry and kitsch, perfervid oratory, sentiment and sentimentality, dissent, 10,000 miles of bunting, phalanxes of politicians and majorettes in a din of John Philip Sousa brass, and tons of fireworks splashing in the dazzled night air.” (July 5, 1976)

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July 7, 1980

Rediscovering America (1980)

“Americans have an almost physiological need to think well of themselves, to be likable and to be liked. More than most people, they seem to have a passion for self-analysis. If the nation was constructed upon abstractions, Americans somehow need to be reassured constantly about who they are, about what they are up to and what they mean in the scheme of things.” (July 7, 1980)

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July 6, 1987

We the People (1987)

 “The Constitution has the aura of the sacred about it. It occupies a shrine up in the higher stretches of American reverence. A citizen imagines sun-shot clouds, the founders hovering in the air like saints in religious art. But the Constitution has its other, mundane life. Down at sea level, where people struggle along in law courts and jailhouses and abortion clinics, where lives and ideas crash into each other, the Constitution has a more interesting and turbulent existence. There the Constitution is not a civic icon but a messy series of collisions that knock together the arrangements of the nation's life. Those arrangements become America's history — what its people do, what they are, what they mean.” (July 6, 1987)

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Great War Hashtag This week marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in WWI. Check out the hashtag #Somme100 on Twitter to keep track of remembrances and commemorations.

The Hard Stuff The New York Times reports on the decision by the Jack Daniels distillery to acknowledge more publicly than before that the man who taught Daniels how to make whiskey was a slave.

Angels in America in America Oral histories at Slate are usually worth setting aside some time for, and Isaac Butler and Dan Kois’ look at the massive impact of Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America is no exception.

Map World KQED Radio goes behind the scenes on a development that’s good news for cartography fans: Stanford’s map library is open to the public, and 67,000 of the items in its collection can be seen online.

“He Has Spit in My Coat” At Atlas Obscura, Tucker Leighty-Phillips introduces readers to English as She Is Spoke, an 1883 Portuguese-to-English phrasebook that Mark Twain called a “perfect” specimen of absurd humor.

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