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When completed, this interactive, multimedia timeline will be the backbone of the Web site - providing a broad-sweeping view of heroism's evolution throughout the course of our country's history. Highlighting key events, issues and mainstream and non-mainstream heroes, the record will be comprised of still images, biographies, Real Audio (when available), periodical excerpts, archival documents, historical summaries and scholar commentaries.

Students at University of California Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism researched, wrote and produced part of this timeline. With a focus on the twentieth century, students worked in pairs to create decade sites that reflect their unique design and editorial decisions. The current version of The Hero Chronicles includes an introduction and selected pages from the student timelines.

Learn about heroic
lives and times of
decades past:

Choosing America's Heroes
By Leena Pendharkar
Student, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Research Assistant, The Heroism Project

When ten students at UC-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism sat down to explore the American notion of the hero and then select individuals whom they deemed to deserve this title, they thought that it would be a simple task. For America is a land of heroes-Davvy Crocket, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Steinem and many others.

Yet, the very first problem emerged when the students were asked to define what a hero is. Webster's New World Pocket Dictionary defines a hero as a strong, brave person. Students thought that a hero should represent courage, strength, humility, and advancing the greater good.

But others in the class were quick to point out that while many people exemplify these qualities, not everyone can be placed on the canon of heroes.And others pointed out that people such as Hitler, who was a villain to most of the world, is a hero to some. To that end, some students thought that any person who is held in high regard by a people could be a hero. That discussion clearly indicated that the notion of a hero spans across many different views--the definition session ended with no clear answers-instead, students ventured off into the abyss of history to find answers, seek questions, and collect thoughts.

As a student in the class, I was afraid to place boundaries and definitions on what a hero is. I was one of those people who thought that anyone could be a hero. As I researched the 1970's, a decade which is particularly sparse in heroes, I though about selecting people like Jessica Savich, Donna Summer and other pop icons.

When I dug deeper and found people such Barbara Jordan, an African American, disabled Congresswoman from Texas, poet and writer Maya Angelou and environmentalist Edgar Wayburn, I was ashamed at putting people like Donna Summa next to them. The distinction between a hero and a celebrity (a distinction which is difficult for a many gen-X's like myself to make), I realized, is that a hero is someone who stretches him / herself for other people, whereas celebrities are in search of attaining fame and money. My definition of a hero came to include going above and beyond normal expectations of goodness, bravery, courage and nobility-a person who makes other individuals want to be better, kinder human beings.

Another important realization that many of us had while researching this project is that societal values change over time, and so does the notion of a hero. Many people who may have been heroes during their time may not be looked upon as heroes today. Davy Crocket, for example, chased away the Indians, raped the land and killed animals. He might not be considered a hero today, but he was during another time in history. Some of the people that we chose as part of our roster are controversial. Malcolm X, for example, is questionable to some people as a hero. And yet to others, he represents everything that is heroic.

This web site looks at the lives of many different people. Most would still be considered heroes. Some, however, can be questioned. The purpose of the site is to start a dialogue among people, get people to think about their heroes. By its very nature it is an interactive project and requires as many comments as possible. This part is only the beginning-we hope that you will share your thoughts with us and help continue what we have started.

Copyright 1999, The Heroism Project