Tradition1… cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.
—T. S. Eliot
The white American has charged the Negro American with being without past or tradition (something which strikes the white man with a nameless horror)…;andthe Negro knows that both were “mammymade” right here at home. What's more, each secretly believes that he alone knows what is valid in the American experience.
T HE MEANING of a nation's history is always at issue, always up for grabs; and it is consistent with America's egalitarian ethos that anyone can reach for the interpretive gold ring. As the historian James M. McPherson has written, “no license is required to practice history in the United States. ” 1 Amateur historians, journalists, and history buffs have a long record of participation in public historical discourse. The emergence of the Internet has provided a new forum for the discussion and exegesis of historical topics open to all with the desire and the wherewithal to participate. A curious mix of academics and amateurs with a wide range of interests and levels of knowledge can be found in cyberspace discussing Lincoln's attitudes toward black suffrage, the relative bloodthirstiness of male and female potentates, and even the appropriateness of aficionados without academic credentials considering themselves “historians. ”
But if, at some level, everyone can be his or her own historian, factors of time, money, access to public discourse, and perceived legitimacy severely restrict the impact that the perspective of an individual can have on the rest of society. Academic historians in the 1990s expressed alarm that the Disney Corporation's proposed historic theme park, “Disney's America, ” would deliver its version of the American past to more people in a single business day than a college professor might reach during the course of a career. And, at the level of the individual, the survivor of an attempted lynching, without access to some public forum, cannot really communicate his or her distinctive perspective on the past beyond family and friends. Egalitarianism may