The Canal Builders (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
In January, 2009, when Barack Obama became the first African American president of the United States, another unprecedented event also took place: Elizabeth Alexander recited her poem “Praise Song for the Day,” celebrating the workers of past generationsincluding slaveswho created the American infrastructure; “who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,/built/ brick by brick the glittering edifices . . .” While workers like those honored in Alexander’s poem might well have constructed the building where Obama was sworn in, historically their contributions have been little noted. More common is the sentiment of the poem “Dedication,” composed by Robert Frost for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and forecasting “The glory of a next Augustan age.”
In the same vein, histories of the Panama Canal have typically emphasized the engineering feats involved in its construction and the glory reflected on the political and professional leaders who promoted the project. A celebrated 1906 news photograph, featured in at least three major books on the history of the canal, shows a white-suited President Theodore Roosevelt atop a giant Bucyrus steam shovel at the building site. The picture, says University of Maryland historian Julie Greene, “telegraphed to the world the importance of the Panama Canal project.” Like Alexander, Greene shifts attention from the planners to the builders: “Absent from the picture,” she notes, “are the...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Booklist 105, no. 11 (February 1, 2009): 12.
The Economist 390, no. 8620 (February 28, 2009): 89.
Foreign Affairs 88, no. 3 (May/June, 2009): 176-177.
Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 23 (December 1, 2008): 1241-1242.
Library Journal 134, no. 3 (February 15, 2009): 116.
The New York Times Book Review, March 29, 2009, p. 11.
Times Higher Education, April 2, 2009, p. 49.
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