In 1987, E.D. Hirsch sparked a national debate with his book Cultural Literacy, claiming that there is a foundation of common knowledge every American should know — and codifying it in a list of 5,000 facts and cultural references. Hirsch’s list was attacked, celebrated, and much discussed. Today, amidst giant demographic and social shifts, the United States needs such common knowledge more than ever. But a 21st century sense of cultural literacy has to be radically more diverse and inclusive. And it needs to come not from one person but from all of us. So, we ask: What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate? Give us your top ten!
Their works taught us who to be.
Originally written off as an absurd public works project, the canal set the standard for US infrastructure.
The best way to commemorate our complex, messy American story is to study it, to learn uncomfortable truths about America’s conflicted leaders, and to probe for the stories of unknown heroes—some fierce, some simply fed-up—who devoted their lives to make this country more fair and free.
"What Every American Should Know” (WE-ASK) is a project of the Aspen Institute Citizenship & American Identity Program, and grew out of an essay by executive director Eric Liu. The Program was created in 2014 to explore how, in an age of increasing diversity and widening inequality, this country can cultivate a sense of shared destiny and common civic purpose. Learn more here.