People's History, Founding Myths, and the American Revolution


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Ray Raphael
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Volume 92, No. 3: September 2013

Over the last two decades Ray Raphael has emerged as one of our leading writers on the birth of the United States. In 2001 his acclaimed People’s History of the American Revolution widened history’s lens to include those not generally present in tales of our nation’s founding. In 2002 The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord led to marked rethinking about the Revolution’s beginnings in academic circles. In 2004 Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past established new standards for future renderings of our nation’s birth. In 2009 he incorporated his work into an original synthesis featuring seven diverse characters, Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation, and in 2011 he was asked to create another broad synthesis for a different audience: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Founding Fathers and the Birth of Our Nation. Also in 2011, with Gary B. Nash and Alfred F. Young, he co-edited a book of biographical essays from 22 noted scholars, Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation. Recently he has focused on the historical context of the Constitution. Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive was published in 2012 and Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right in 2013. In 2015, with his wife Marie, he coauthored The Spirit of ’74: How the American Revolution Began. In 2017, spurred by the hit musical Hamilton!, Barnes & Noble asked Ray and Marie to provide a biography of Alexander Hamilton for a general readership: Hamilton: Founding Father. Also in 2017, Vintage (Penguin/Random House) asked Ray to provide an updated annotation of the Constitution: The U. S. Constitution: Explained—Clause-by-Clause—For Every American Today.

Before turning his attention to the American Revolution and the founding of the nation, Raphael published books on subjects as diverse as male initiation rites, education, regional history (Northwest California), and timber politics. His first book, An Everyday History of Somewhere, won the Commonwealth Club award for the best book of the year about California. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Reed College, he holds masters degrees from the University of California at Berkeley (Political Philosophy) and Reed College (Teaching Social Science and History). In addition to teaching at Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods, he has taught all subjects except foreign languages at a one-room public high school in his remote community.

Currently, Ray serves as an associate editor for the Journal of the American Revolution and is preparing a comprehensive set of decision-centered, document-based lesson plans on the Founding Era for the Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource). He lives in northern California, where he hikes and kayaks.

(A more personal version follows at the end of this section.)

Published books:

See Booklist.

Educational Background:

BA, Reed College, 1965 (Phi Beta Kappa)
MA, University of California, Berkeley, 1967 (Woodrow Wilson Fellowship)
MAT, Reed College, 1968 (Inner-city Fellowship)

Teaching experience:

1967-1968: Jefferson High School (Portland, OR)
1968-1971: Urban School of San Francisco
1974-1977: Urban School of San Francisco (part-time)
1976-1979: Whitethorn Elementary School (part-time)
1978-1995: College of the Redwoods (part-time)
1979-1997: Whale Gulch School, Leggett Valley Unified School District (grades 7-12)
1997-2000: Humboldt State University (fieldwork supervisor)

Courses taught at the college level:  United States history (all components), California history, Humboldt County history, Native American studies, critical thinking, and multi-cultural education. Courses taught at the secondary and middle school levels: United States history, world history, English, algebra I and II, geometry, basic math, natural science, physical science, civics, economics, global studies, geography, anthropology, folklore, critical thinking, forestry, and physical education.

Awards and recognition:

Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, 1965
Woodrow Wilson Fellow, 1966-1967
Inner-City Fellow, 1967-1968
Commonwealth Club of California award for the best book of the year about California, 1974 (An Everyday History of Somewhere)
Mentor Teacher, Leggett Valley Unified School District, 1993-1995
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, 1995-1996
Teacher Emeritus, Leggett Valley Unified School District, 1998
Gilder-Lehrman Research Fellow, 2005
Bay State Legacy Award, Massachusetts Humanities Council, 2013
American Antiquarian Society, elected member

Personalized Bio:

Ray Raphael, born in 1943 and raised in New York City, headed west the day after graduating Fieldston high school. During the 1960s he was active in the civil rights movement, spending two summers in the South and working on community organization in the North. In the 1970s he homesteaded in the hills of Northwest California, where he and his wife Marie raised their two sons, Nick and Neil. He taught a comprehensive one-room high school in his remote home as well as evening courses at the local community college, and he began writing about local history and contemporary issues.

Raphael Family

In his first book, An Everyday History of Somewhere, Raphael relied extensively on oral histories. In subsequent works dealing with topics of local and regional importance (Edges, Tree Talk, Cash Crop), he adapted this oral history approach, weaving his own narrative around the stories of real people as told in their own words. His treatment of more general topics (Teachers’ Voice, Men from the Boys) likewise relied on in-depth interviews, faithfully rendered. Little White Father, a historical piece, made extensive use of primary documents. He wrote a play on John and Jessie Fremont, which toured various towns in Northern California. With his son Neil, then 12 years old, he wrote a juvinile mystery called Comic Cops.

In the early 1990s, while preparing curriculum for his United States history courses, he became keenly interested in the history of common people during the American Revolution. Stimulated by a year-long grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, he traveled to Eastern archives to pursue his passion. Since that time he has been focused on the Revolution and the nation’s founding, with a particular emphasis on how historical narratives are created.

Raphael retired from teaching in 1997. He continued to supervise student teachers at Humboldt State University, but since 2000 he has worked primarily on his research and writing, teaching only occasionally.

In 2003 his son Nick, an environmental forester, was killed in a car crash at the age of 26. In his memory, Marie and Ray started “Nick’s Interns,” a program that gives summer work to teens in restoration forestry.
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