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The 60th Anniversary of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 22, 2023
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Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press—November 15th, 2022) asks, what was it like to be a Jew in Lincoln’s armies? The Union army was as diverse as the embattled nation it sought to preserve, a unique mixture of ethnicities, religions, and identities. Almost one Union soldier in four was born abroad, and natives and newcomers fought side-by-side, sometimes uneasily. Yet though scholars have parsed the trials and triumphs of Irish, Germans, African Americans, and others in the Union ranks, they have remained largely silent on the everyday experiences of the largest non-Christian minority to have served.

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Primary Sources: Meaning, Reliability & Where To Find Them

Primary sources are vital to historical research. Researchers, both professional and amateur, use them to reconstruct the past.

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Arthur surprised everyone. In an America torn by Garfield’s assassination and party politics, he immediately set to work proving he was above partisan squabbles.

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With the Help of New Women Voters, Harding Wins in a Landslide – But Still Sees the Presidency as a Prison Term

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Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

October 18, 2020
LEVEL: 11th grade U.S. History
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTION: What were Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes toward religious minorities such as Jews and Catholics and how did it differ from others at the time?

Description: Students will work in groups to plan a temporary exhibit intended for visitors to a historic site or museum related to Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit will concern Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward religious minorities. Students will analyze primary sources and select three they would like to include in their exhibit. From analyzing their sources, students will develop a “thesis” or argument that the exhibit will convey to their audience.

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American Tourists in the Holy Land, 1865-1900

October 18, 2020
LEVEL: 11th grade U.S History
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTIONS: How were Americans able to visit the “Holy Land” in increasing numbers in the 1865-1900 period? What reasons did they have for going?

Description: Students take on the role of running a travel business in the United States in the 1880s. Their business will advertise travel itineraries to the “Holy Land,” (then called Ottoman Palestine, present-day Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory). Using primary sources and secondary sources as their “guide” students will develop a reason for traveling, the route and transportation, and where they will visit. Students will work in groups to create a brochure or other advertisement complete with travel posters, tickets, and maps that will communicate the travelers’ motivation for taking the trip (alternatively, teachers may have students create a digital brochure or advertisement or a tour using Google Earth).

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Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Election: What Happened & Why Did Roosevelt Run?

October 5, 2020
LEVEL: 11th Grade U.S. History or 12th grade U.S. Government
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTION: What qualities did Teddy Roosevelt possess that made his third party campaign appealing to voters

Description: It’s October of 1912 and Theodore Roosevelt is in the hospital after being shot while giving a campaign speech. Students will play the role of campaign advisors and work in groups to better understand Roosevelt and the election by analyzing primary sources. Then each group will create a campaign poster promoting Roosevelt’s candidacy. Students will consider what the key issues are in the election and how their poster will attract voters to Roosevelt’s campaign.

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Religion in the Civil War: The Jewish High Holidays

By Sara Willen and Ben Shapell | September 15, 2020
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Detail: US map of 1856 shows free and slave states and populations. Reynolds's Political Map of the United States

The manuscripts gathered here follow the course of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, from being ratified by President Franklin Pierce to Pierce defending it after his presidency. We also look back to Pierce’s presidential predecessor, Millard Fillmore, ruminating over an impending race war after reading Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Also present in this collection is the reaction of Abraham Lincoln to the bill when he was still an Illinois circuit attorney.

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The 50th Anniversary of the Shootings at Kent State

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 4, 2020
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The 20th Anniversary of the Transfer of the Panama Canal

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 30, 2019

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century when the United States, led by the intrepid Theodore Roosevelt – ever mindful of naval power – decided that it was not only a vital matter of American lives, time and money, but national principle, to create an American-controlled waterway across the Panamanian isthmus.

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Just three months into his presidency, Kennedy pledged, in his address to Congress on May 25th, 1961, ”that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” To which he added “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

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Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday: JFK on Jefferson

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 13, 2019

President Kennedy laments he hasn’t time to write about Thomas Jefferson, and then carefully does so.

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Map of Richmond, VA

August 23, 2018
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The Assassination & Funeral of Robert F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 5, 2018
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Truman Recognizes Israel: The Anniversary of Israel’s Founding

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 13, 2018

5 days before recognizing Israel, Truman writes to Clark Clifford, mentioning the pressure of Palestine.

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The Anniversary of the Founding of the State of Israel

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 17, 2018

Palestine, says President Truman in February 1948, is a “matter of considerable disturbance” to be determined by the U.N.

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One hundred years separate the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington. Yet, these two events are profoundly linked together in a larger story of liberty and the American experience.

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Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Also in the presidential limousine are Jackie Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie. Photographer: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News.

The Mortal Presidency Exhibition

January 15, 2018
May 10, 2010 - February 28, 2011
Beverly Hills Public Library, Beverly Hills, CA

The most dangerous job in America is not, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced, fishing. Nor is it logging, flying, or steel manufacturing. The job with the worst mortality rate is the hardest one to get: President of the United States.

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2 Years 1 Month: Lincoln’s Legacy

January 15, 2018
April 2014 - October 2014
April 2014 - October 2014, Oregon Historical Society

An in-depth look at Lincoln’s monumental presidency between two historic points: the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Congressional passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Through rare documents and artifacts, look at Lincoln’s legacy through the lens of slavery and the end of the Civil War.

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With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

December 14, 2017
February 2009 - April 2011
Library of Congress, February 2009 - April 2011

The exhibition reveals Lincoln the man, whose thoughts, words, and actions were deeply affected by personal experiences and pivotal historic events. This virtual exhibit includes some select items on display at the traveling exhibition.

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The Fading Light of Camelot

December 4, 2017
Novermber 15, 2013 - February 17, 2014
Oregon Historical Society.

It might have been the very instant that the newly sworn-in President declared “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” that the legend was born. For an electrifying 1000 days, the administration of John F. Kennedy would try to confront new challenges and right old wrongs – and with such verve and vigor, that it gave the country, indeed the world, a lift. But as no light burns forever, so in turn the shining moment that was Camelot, began to fade. War abroad, unrest at home, even privately, the death of an infant son – darkness edged in, until noon, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963, when it all turned black.

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John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_photo_portrait,_looking_up._White House_Press Office_February_20_1961

High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy

November 28, 2017
March 25, 2017 - November 12, 2017
March 25, 2017 - November 12, 2017. Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon

John F. Kennedy powered into the White House on the energy of a country seeking change. Stuck in a recession and dismayed by perceived political stagnation, voters embraced the vibrancy and wit of Kennedy and his young family, emboldening the president to edge toward a new frontier, both on the homefront and internationally – and even to outer space. The fervent hope that Kennedy brought to the White House and to the United States was quickly confronted by broad geopolitical threats, as well as by personal challenges.

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The Mortal Presidency

August 23, 2017

He is head of state, Commander-in-chief, and the country’s top legislator. The President of the United States has arguably the toughest job in America, and it turns out, the most deadly.

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Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands. October 1944. U.S. Army Signal Corps officer Gaetano Faillace. National Archives (NARA.)

World War II

August 20, 2017

World War to needs some preview text. Give me some preview text

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Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1911. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-36665.

The United States Enters First World War

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 6, 2017
Theodore Roosevelt Lambastes President Wilson for Refusing to Let Him Lead a Division in World War I

Theodore Roosevelt was dying to serve in World War I. He was, he reminded all who could hear, an ex-Commander in Chief of the United States Army, and ready to once again lead “his” First United States Volunteer Cavalry – the “Rough Riders” – into the fray. But President Wilson, whom Roosevelt detested, refused the appointment

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The Anniversary of the Funeral of the Apollo I Astronauts

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 31, 2017

President Lyndon B. Johnson writes to the parents of astronauts killed in the Apollo I disaster.

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1880 Republican National Convention

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 17, 2016

James A. Garfield didn’t want the job, and his arguments from the convention floor to that effect were so eloquent and moving, he was nominated forthwith.

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The_Custer_Fight_Charles_Marion_Russell_1903_Library_of_Congress

Custer’s Last Stand – June 25, 1876

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 23, 2016
Custer's Last Stand - The Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Days Before Leaving to Drive Out the “Indians” from the Bighorn Country, Custer Predicts Mining Fortunes To Be Made There

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The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 17, 2016
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The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 26, 2016

Schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe Writes About Her Excitement Going into Space on the Ill-Fated Challenger.
On January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:38 EST and, 73 seconds into its flight, exploded nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean. All seven crew members were killed, including 37 year-old McAuliffe, who had been selected from 11,000 applicants to be a “Teacher in Space.” Largely because of her presence, some 17% of Americans watched the live coverage of the launch.

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“The Union is Dissolved!”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2015

The Charleston Mercury had already given warning. If the “Black Republican” party succeeded in the upcoming presidential election, it declared in the summer of 1860, “loyalty to the Union will be treason to the South.”

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Mary Surratt’s daughter petitions Andrew Johnson for the return of her mother’s remains.

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Wilson wanted to ascertain all the facts; he wanted to reach a determination; he wanted, then and only then, to write the Imperial German government, a sharp letter. He was still gathering information when, on May 7th, another German U-Boat torpedoed and sank the British luxury ocean liner RMS Luisitania, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. This time Wilson did voice a protest – but that was all. “Americans must have a consciousness different from the consciousness of every other nation in the world,” he declared. “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right.” Roosevelt was apoplectic.

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Victory in Europe Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 7, 2015

Nazi Germany surrenders.
“The other day I visited a German internment camp. I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in this world!” – General Eisenhower.

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The Anniversary of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 14, 2015
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“We Have Not Yet Appointed a Hebrew”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | March 17, 2015
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Booth Plans Ahead

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 22, 2015

Rare and suspicious John Wilkes Booth letter, written just two months before Lincoln’s assassination.

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Robert Todd Lincoln, Witness to Presidential Assassinations

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 14, 2014

If in the annals of American history, there was ever an expert witness on Presidential assassinations, that person would be Robert Lincoln.

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Nixon on Watergate: He Took One for the Team

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 9, 2014

When the House Judiciary Committee passed Articles of Impeachment, and a tape recording revealed him ordering a cover-up, Nixon had to go – and so left, speaking vaguely of “wrong judgments” but never, his role in Watergate itself.

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America’s First Ladies

April 12, 2014
April 2014 - October 2014

Through over two hundred years of social upheaval, First Ladies have responded to the evolving burdens and challenges of this unofficial “office.” Some of these women became famous, but most have been forgotten. Yet we should not overlook the importance of these extraordinary women.

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California Earthquakes: “The Spirit of Humanity” and Mark Twain

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 17, 2014

The shock of the earthquake which struck San Francisco on the morning of April 18, 1906 – leveling countless buildings, starting a fire that lasted three days, and taking hundreds of lives – was felt all across the country.

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Lincoln Swears to Uphold the Emancipation Proclamation

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2013

Abraham Lincoln swears he shall not modify the Emancipation Proclamation, nor return to slavery any person freed by it.

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The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 22, 2013

If it had rained that morning; if Jacqueline Kennedy had not been with him; if the crowds to greet them hadn’t been so deep…

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March on Washington, August 28, 1963. U.S. National Archives.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 28, 2013

In 1864, Governor Michael Hahn pushed through a provision authorizing the legislature to enfranchise non-whites on the basis that Lincoln suggested: military service and intellectual fitness. This was a crucial development: voting rights for Blacks were now – incrementally – possible…

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The Korean War Armistice

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 27, 2013

A war that ended in deadlock, starting something that would last for thirty-five years: the Cold War.

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The Battle of Gettysburg

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 1, 2013

170,000 men fought for three days, often hand-to-hand, in encounters so epic they are known by name.

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March 2013 - March 2016

This exhibition deals with the relationship that developed between the United States of America and the Holy Land, starting in 1844.

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President for a Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 21, 2013

Who is in charge, when the presidential term ends on noon on the Sunday, but the Oath isn’t taken, until Monday?

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The Wright Brothers: Inventing the First Successful Airplane

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 17, 2012
The Wright Brothers: Inventing the First Successful Airplane

An Extraordinary Orville Wright Letter: How Watching Birds Led to Manned Flight at Kitty Hawk.

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The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 31, 2012

The most famous gunfight in Western history; three men had been killed, and someone, the law said, had to answer.

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 3, 2012

Lincoln, in a prelude to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, shadows Douglas around the Illinois.

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The Death of McKinley and the Presidency of Roosevelt

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 14, 2012

On the day he suddenly becomes president, Roosevelt writes of his heavy and painful task.

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Election Poster fod President Wm. McKinley, Vice President Theo. Roosevelt, c.1900. Source: Library of Congress.

The McKinley Assassination

By Sara Willen, Resident Historian | September 6, 2012

The afternoon that President McKinley was shot point-blank, his Vice President was on an island, xxxxx miles away. VP Theodore Roosevelt wired for news – and predicted a recovery for McKinley who would succumb to his wounds xxxxx days later.

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Assassination of William McKinley, Sept. 6th, 1901. c.1905. Library of Congress.

The McKinley Assassination Plot

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 30, 2012

Assassin Czolgosz, calling himself “Fred Nobody,” writes of Buffalo – the place he will murder McKinley in 5 weeks time.

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In 1956, Israel’s Prime Minister looks to George Washington’s army for inspiration.

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The Garfield Assassination

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 2, 2012
The Ultimate Irony: Assassination Is Like Lightning, Garfield Says, And Cannot Be Guarded Against

The assassin Charles Guiteau fired, twice, into his back. “My God!” the President cried, “What is this?”

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The Battle of the Little Bighorn

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 25, 2012

The Custers, of whom there were five in the 7th Cavalry, lived as a clan, fought as a clique, and died in their matching white buckskins at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on the same afternoon.

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Theodore Roosevelt in ’12

June 15, 2012
June 2012 - November 2012
June 2012 - November 2012

The Presidential election of 1912 featured old friends publicly transformed into bitter enemies; the creation of a new political party which out-polled the incumbent president; and an assassination attempt on a former president-turned-candidate, running for an unprecedented third term.

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Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” Speech

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 12, 2012

The Cold War may have began the day the Second World War ended, but its greatest battle did not start until the morning of August 13, 1961, when Berliners from both the Western and Soviet sectors awoke to find their city divided by a barbed wire barrier – soon to become a concrete wall 16 feet high and some 96 miles long – which, for the next 28 years would virtually imprison those unlucky enough to be on the Eastern side of the divide.

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The Beginning of the Peace Corps

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 27, 2012

When President Kennedy famously challenged Americans “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, thousands of young Americans responded by signing up for the Peace Corps – established just six weeks into his presidency, on March 1, 1961, by executive order.

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Running for President, Grant tries to lose the antisemite label engendered by his infamous “Jew Order” during the Civil War.

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The Electric Light Bulb is Invented

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 22, 2011

Thomas Edison: “I am busily engaged on the electric light.”

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