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The 50% American
Immigration and National Identity in an Age of Terror
Stanley A. Renshon
Georgetown University Press, 2005

The United States is the only nation in the world that allows its citizens to hold one or more foreign citizenships, vote in another nation's elections, run for or be appointed to office in another country, and join the armed forces even of a nation with interests hostile to those of the U.S. while retaining their citizenship. These policies reinforce the often already strong emotional, political, and economic ties today's immigrants retain to their home countries. Yet few studies have addressed what dual citizenship means for the United States as a nation and the integration of immigrants into the American national community. Is it possible to reconcile two different nationalities, cultures, and psychologies? How can we honor immigrants' sense of identity without threatening American national identity? What do Americans have a right to expect of immigrants and what do they have a right to expect of Americans?

In The 50% American political psychologist Stanley Renshon offers unique insight into the political and national ramifications of personal loyalties. Arguing that the glue that binds this country together is a psychological force—patriotism—he explains why powerful emotional attachments are critical to American civic process and how they make possible united action in times of crisis. In an age of terrorism, the idea that we are all Americans regardless of our differences is more than a credo; it is essential to our national security. Comprehensive in scope, this book examines recent immigration trends, tracing the assimilation process that immigrants to the United States undergo and describing how federal, state, and local governments have dealt with volatile issues such as language requirements, voting rights, and schooling. Renshon turns a critical eye to the challenges posed over the past four decades by multiculturalism, cultural conflict, and global citizenship and puts forth a comprehensive proposal for reforming dual citizenship and helping immigrants and citizens alike become more integrated into the American national community.

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Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory
Barry Schwartz
University of Chicago Press, 2000
Abraham Lincoln has long dominated the pantheon of American presidents. From his lavish memorial in Washington and immortalization on Mount Rushmore, one might assume he was a national hero rather than a controversial president who came close to losing his 1864 bid for reelection. In Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory, Barry Schwartz aims at these contradictions in his study of Lincoln's reputation, from the president's death through the industrial revolution to his apotheosis during the Progressive Era and First World War.

Schwartz draws on a wide array of materials—painting and sculpture, popular magazines and school textbooks, newspapers and oratory—to examine the role that Lincoln's memory has played in American life. He explains, for example, how dramatic funeral rites elevated Lincoln's reputation even while funeral eulogists questioned his presidential actions, and how his reputation diminished and grew over the next four decades. Schwartz links transformations of Lincoln's image to changes in the society. Commemorating Lincoln helped Americans to think about their country's development from a rural republic to an industrial democracy and to articulate the way economic and political reform, military power, ethnic and race relations, and nationalism enhanced their conception of themselves as one people.

Lincoln's memory assumed a double aspect of "mirror" and "lamp," acting at once as a reflection of the nation's concerns and an illumination of its ideals, and Schwartz offers a fascinating view of these two functions as they were realized in the commemorative symbols of an ever-widening circle of ethnic, religious, political, and regional communities. The first part of a study that will continue through the present, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory is the story of how America has shaped its past selectively and imaginatively around images rooted in a real person whose character and achievements helped shape his country's future.
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The Amalgamation Waltz
Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory
Tavia Nyong’o
University of Minnesota Press, 2009

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The American Aeneas
Classical Origins Of American Self
John C. Shields
University of Tennessee Press, 2001



Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Book??

“John Shields's book is a provocative challenge to the venerable Adamic myth so exhaustively deployed in examinations of early American literature and in American studies. Moreover, The American Aeneas builds wonderfully on Shields's considerable work on Phillis Wheatley. “?—American Literature??

“The American Aeneas should be of interest to classicists and American studies scholars alike.” ?—The New England Quarterly??

John Shields exposes a significant cultural blindness within American consciousness. Noting the biblical character Adam as an archetype who has long dominated ideas of what it means to be American, Shields argues that an equally important component of our nation’s cultural identity—a  secular one deriving from the classical tradition—has been seriously neglected.??Shields shows how Adam and Aeneas—Vergil’s hero of the Aeneid— in crossing over to American from Europe, dynamically intermingled in the thought of the earliest American writers. Shields argues that uncovering and acknowledging the classical roots of our culture can allay the American fear of “pastlessness” that the long-standing emphasis on the Adamic myth has generated.

John C. Shields is the editor of The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley and the author of The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self, which won a Choice Outstanding Academic Book award and an honorable mention in the Harry Levin Prize competition, sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association.  

 

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American Artifacts
Essays in Material Culture
Jules David Prown
Michigan State University Press, 2000

When defining culture, one must indeed take into account even the minutest of details. What of a lighter, for example, or a telephone? The essays in this new collection examine just that. The contributors pose not only a historical, pragmatic use for the items, but also delve into more imaginative aspects of what defines us as Americans. Both the lighter and the telephone are investigated, as well as how the lava lamp represents sixties counterculture and containment. The late nineteenth-century corset is discussed as an embodiment of womanhood, and an Amish quilt is used as an illustration of cultural continuity. These are just a few of the artifacts discussed. Scholars will be intrigued by the historical interpretations that contributors proposed concerning a teapot, card table, and locket; students will not only find merit in the expositions, but also by learning from the models how such interpretation can be carried out. This collection helps us understand that very thing that makes us who we are. Viewing these objects from both our past and our present, we can begin to define what it is to be American.

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The American Historical Imaginary
Contested Narratives of the Past
Caroline Guthrie
Rutgers University Press, 2023
In The American Historical Imaginary: Contested Narratives of the Past in Mass Culture Caroline Guthrie examines the American relationship to versions of the past that are known to be untrue and asks why do these myths persist, and why do so many people hold them so dear? To answer these questions, she examines popular sites where fictional versions of history are formed, played through, and solidified. From television’s reality show winners and time travelers, to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, to the movies of Quentin Tarantino, this book examines how mass culture imagines and reimagines the most controversial and painful parts of American history. In doing so, Guthrie explores how contemporary ideas of national identity are tied to particular versions of history that valorize white masculinity and ignores oppression and resistance. Through her explanation and analysis of what she calls the historical imaginary, Guthrie offers new ways of attempting to combat harmful myths of the past through the imaginative engagements they have dominated for so long.
 
 
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American Magnitude
Hemispheric Vision and Public Feeling in the United States
Christa J. Olson
The Ohio State University Press, 2021

Winner, 2023 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award

Winner, 2022 Marie Hochmuth Nichols Award from the National Communication Association


At a moment in US politics when racially motivated nationalism, shifting relations with Latin America, and anxiety over national futures intertwine, understanding the long history of American preoccupation with magnitude and how it underpins national identity is vitally important. In American Magnitude, Christa J. Olson tracks the visual history of US appeals to grandeur, import, and consequence (megethos), focusing on images that use the wider Americas to establish US character. Her sources—including lithographs from the US-Mexican War, pre–Civil War paintings of the Andes, photo essays of Machu Picchu, and WWII-era films promoting hemispheric unity—span from 1845 to 1950 but resonate into the present. 

Olson demonstrates how those crafting the appeals that feed the US national imaginary—artists, scientists, journalists, diplomats, and others—have invited US audiences to view Latin America as a foil for the greatness of their own nation and encouraged white US publics in particular to see themselves as especially American among Americans. She reveals how each instance of visual rhetoric relies upon the eyes of others to instantiate its magnitude—and falters as some viewers look askance instead. The result is the possibility of a post-magnitude United States: neither great nor failed, but modest, partial, and imperfect.


 
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American Niceness
A Cultural History
Carrie Tirado Bramen
Harvard University Press, 2017

The cliché of the Ugly American—loud, vulgar, materialistic, chauvinistic—still expresses what people around the world dislike about their Yankee counterparts. Carrie Tirado Bramen recovers the history of a very different national archetype—the nice American—which has been central to ideas of U.S. identity since the nineteenth century.

Niceness is often assumed to be a superficial concept unworthy of serious analysis. Yet the distinctiveness of Americans has been shaped by values of sociality and likability for which the adjective “nice” became a catchall. In America’s fledgling democracy, niceness was understood to be the indispensable trait of a people who were refreshingly free of Old World snobbery. Bramen elucidates the role niceness plays in a particular fantasy of American exceptionalism, one based not on military and economic might but on friendliness and openness. Niceness defined the attitudes of a plucky (and white) settler nation, commonly expressed through an affect that Bramen calls “manifest cheerfulness.”

To reveal its contested inflections, Bramen shows how American niceness intersects with ideas of femininity, Native American hospitality, and black amiability. Who claimed niceness and why? Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans have largely considered themselves to be a fundamentally nice and decent people, from the supposedly amicable meeting of Puritans and Native Americans at Plymouth Rock to the early days of American imperialism when the mythology of Plymouth Rock became a portable emblem of goodwill for U.S. occupation forces in the Philippines.

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American Studies in a Moment of Danger
George Lipsitz
University of Minnesota Press, 2001
A forthright look at the future of the discipline in the wake of immense social changes. What becomes of "national knowledge" in our age of globalization? If dramatic changes in technology, commerce, and social relations are undermining familiar connections between culture and place, what happens to legacies of learning that put the nation at the center of the study of history, culture, language, politics, and geography? In short, what remains of American Studies? At a critical moment, this book offers a richly textured historical perspective on where our notions of national knowledge-and our sense of American Studies-have come from and where they may lead in a future of new ideas about culture and community. The America that seems to be disappearing before our very eyes is, George Lipsitz argues, actually the cumulative creation of yesterday's struggles over identity, culture, and power. With examples from statistics and history, poster designs and music lyrics, Lipsitz shows how American Studies has been shaped by the social movements of the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s. His analysis reveals the sedimented history of social movement contestation contained in contemporary popular music, visual art, and cinema. Finally, Lipsitz identifies the ways in which the globalization of commerce and culture are producing radically new understandings of politics, performance, consumption, knowledge, and nostalgia; the changing realities present not so much a danger as a clear challenge to a still-evolving American Studies--a challenge that this book helps us to confront wisely, flexibly, and effectively. George Lipsitz is professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he serves as director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute. He is the author of many books, including Time Passages, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (1998), and Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Poetics of Place (1997). He also edited Stan Weir's Singlejack Solidarity (2004).
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The American West
The Invention Of A Myth
David Hamilton Murdoch
University of Nevada Press, 2001
Americans have chosen to invest one small part of their history, the settlement of the western wilderness, with extraordinary significance. The lost frontier of the 1800s remains not merely a source of excitement and romance but of inspiration, providing a set of unique and imperishable core-values: individualism, self-reliance, and a clear sense of right and wrong. As a construct of the imagination, our creation of the West is exceptional. Since this construct has little to do with history, David H. Murdoch argues that our beliefs about the West amount to a modern functional myth. In addition to presenting a sustained analysis of how and why the myth originated, Murdoch demonstrates that the myth was invented, for the most part deliberately, and then outgrew the purposes of its inventors. The American West answers the questions that have too often been either begged or ignored. Why should the West become the focus for myth in the first place, and why, given the long process of western settlement, is the cattleman's West so central and the cowboy, of all prototypes, the mythic hero? And why should the myth have retained its potency up to the last decade of the twentieth century?
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Americans All
The Cultural Gifts Movement
Diana Selig
Harvard University Press, 2008

From the 1920s—a decade marked by racism and nativism—through World War II, hundreds of thousands of Americans took part in a vibrant campaign to overcome racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices. They celebrated the “cultural gifts” that immigrant and minority groups brought to society, learning that ethnic identity could be compatible with American ideals.

Diana Selig tells the neglected story of the cultural gifts movement, which flourished between the world wars. Progressive activists encouraged pluralism in homes, schools, and churches across the country. Countering racist trends and the melting-pot theory of Americanization, they championed the idea of diversity. They incorporated new thinking about child development, race, and culture into grassroots programs—yet they were unable to address the entrenched forms of discrimination and disfranchisement faced by African Americans in particular. This failure to grasp the deep social and economic roots of prejudice ultimately limited the movement’s power.

In depicting a vision for an inclusive American identity from a diverse citizenry, Americans All is a timely reminder of the debates over difference and unity that remain at the heart of American society.

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Among Empires
Charles S. Maier
Harvard University Press, 2007

Contemporary America, with its unparalleled armaments and ambition, seems to many commentators a new empire. Others angrily reject the designation. What stakes would being an empire have for our identity at home and our role abroad?

A preeminent American historian addresses these issues in light of the history of empires since antiquity. This elegantly written book examines the structure and impact of these mega-states and asks whether the United States shares their traits and behavior. Eschewing the standard focus on current U.S. foreign policy and the recent spate of pro- and anti-empire polemics, Charles S. Maier uses comparative history to test the relevance of a concept often invoked but not always understood. Marshaling a remarkable array of evidence—from Roman, Ottoman, Moghul, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and British experience—Maier outlines the essentials of empire throughout history. He then explores the exercise of U.S. power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, carefully analyzing its economic and strategic sources and the nation’s relationship to predecessors and rivals.

To inquire about empire is to ask what the United States has become as a result of its wealth, inventiveness, and ambitions. It is to confront lofty national aspirations with the realities of the violence that often attends imperial politics and thus to question both the costs and the opportunities of the current U.S. global ascendancy. With learning, dispassion, and clarity, Among Empires offers bold comparisons and an original account of American power. It confirms that the issue of empire must be a concern of every citizen.

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The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture
Amy Kaplan
Harvard University Press, 2005

The United States has always imagined that its identity as a nation is insulated from violent interventions abroad, as if a line between domestic and foreign affairs could be neatly drawn. Yet this book argues that such a distinction, so obviously impracticable in our own global era, has been illusory at least since the war with Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and the later wars against Spain, Cuba, and the Philippines. In this book, Amy Kaplan shows how U.S. imperialism--from "Manifest Destiny" to the "American Century"--has profoundly shaped key elements of American culture at home, and how the struggle for power over foreign peoples and places has disrupted the quest for domestic order.

The neatly ordered kitchen in Catherine Beecher's household manual may seem remote from the battlefields of Mexico in 1846, just as Mark Twain's Mississippi may seem distant from Honolulu in 1866, or W. E. B. Du Bois's reports of the East St. Louis Race Riot from the colonization of Africa in 1917. But, as this book reveals, such apparently disparate locations are cast into jarring proximity by imperial expansion. In literature, journalism, film, political speeches, and legal documents, Kaplan traces the undeniable connections between American efforts to quell anarchy abroad and the eruption of such anarchy at the heart of the empire.

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Aryan Cowboys
White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970–2000
By Evelyn A. Schlatter
University of Texas Press, 2006

During the last third of the twentieth century, white supremacists moved, both literally and in the collective imagination, from midnight rides through Mississippi to broadband-wired cabins in Montana. But while rural Montana may be on the geographical fringe of the country, white supremacist groups were not pushed there, and they are far from "fringe elements" of society, as many Americans would like to believe. Evelyn Schlatter's startling analysis describes how many of the new white supremacist groups in the West have co-opted the region's mythology and environment based on longstanding beliefs about American character and Manifest Destiny to shape an organic, home-grown movement.

Dissatisfied with the urbanized, culturally progressive coasts, disenfranchised by affirmative action and immigration, white supremacists have found new hope in the old ideal of the West as a land of opportunity waiting to be settled by self-reliant traditional families. Some even envision the region as a potential white homeland. Groups such as Aryan Nations, The Order, and Posse Comitatus use controversial issues such as affirmative action, anti-Semitism, immigration, and religion to create sympathy for their extremist views among mainstream whites—while offering a "solution" in the popular conception of the West as a place of freedom, opportunity, and escape from modern society. Aryan Cowboys exposes the exclusionist message of this "American" ideal, while documenting its dangerous appeal.

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The Averaged American
Sarah E. Igo
Harvard University Press, 2007

Americans today “know” that a majority of the population supports the death penalty, that half of all marriages end in divorce, and that four out of five prefer a particular brand of toothpaste. Through statistics like these, we feel that we understand our fellow citizens. But remarkably, such data—now woven into our social fabric—became common currency only in the last century. Sarah Igo tells the story, for the first time, of how opinion polls, man-in-the-street interviews, sex surveys, community studies, and consumer research transformed the United States public.

Igo argues that modern surveys, from the Middletown studies to the Gallup Poll and the Kinsey Reports, projected new visions of the nation: authoritative accounts of majorities and minorities, the mainstream and the marginal. They also infiltrated the lives of those who opened their doors to pollsters, or measured their habits and beliefs against statistics culled from strangers. Survey data underwrote categories as abstract as “the average American” and as intimate as the sexual self.

With a bold and sophisticated analysis, Igo demonstrates the power of scientific surveys to shape Americans’ sense of themselves as individuals, members of communities, and citizens of a nation. Tracing how ordinary people argued about and adapted to a public awash in aggregate data, she reveals how survey techniques and findings became the vocabulary of mass society—and essential to understanding who we, as modern Americans, think we are.

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Blues for Cannibals
The Notes from Underground
By Charles Bowden
University of Texas Press, 2018

Cultivated from the fierce ideas seeded in Blood Orchid, Blues for Cannibals is an elegiac reflection on death, pain, and a wavering confidence in humanity’s own abilities for self-preservation. After years of reporting on border violence, sex crimes, and the devastation of the land, Bowden struggles to make sense of the many ways in which we destroy ourselves and whether there is any way to survive. Here he confronts a murderer facing execution, sex offenders of the most heinous crimes, a suicidal artist, a prisoner obsessed with painting portraits of presidents, and other people and places that constitute our worst impulses and our worst truths. Painful, heartbreaking, and forewarning, Bowden at once tears us apart and yearns for us to find ourselves back together again.

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The Borders Within
Encounters Between Mexico and the U.S.
Douglas Monroy
University of Arizona Press, 2008
Throughout its history, the nation that is now called the United States has been inextricably entwined with the nation now called Mexico. Indeed, their indigenous peoples interacted long before borders of any kind were established. Today, though, the border between the two nations is so prominent that it is front-page news in both countries.

Douglas Monroy, a noted Mexican American historian, has for many years pondered the historical and cultural intertwinings of the two nations. Here, in beautifully crafted essays, he reflects on some of the many ways in which the citizens of the two countries have misunderstood each other.

Putting himself— and his own quest for understanding—directly into his work, he contemplates the missions of California; the differences between “liberal” and “traditional” societies; the meanings of words like Mexican, Chicano, and Latino; and even the significance of avocados and bathing suits. In thought-provoking chapters, he considers why Native Americans didn’t embrace Catholicism, why NAFTA isn’t working the way it was supposed to, and why Mexicans and their neighbors to the north tell themselves different versions of the same historical events.

In his own thoughtful way, Monroy is an explorer. Rather than trying to conquer new lands, however, his goal is to gain new insights. He wants to comprehend two cultures that are bound to each other without fully recognizing their bonds. Along with Monroy, readers will discover that borders, when we stop and really think about it, are drawn more deeply in our minds than on any maps.
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Century of Difference
How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years
Claude S. Fischer
Russell Sage Foundation, 1976
In every generation, Americans have worried about the solidarity of the nation. Since the days of the Mayflower, those already settled here have wondered how newcomers with different cultures, values, and (frequently) skin color would influence America. Would the new groups create polarization and disharmony? Thus far, the United States has a remarkable track record of incorporating new people into American society, but acceptance and assimilation have never meant equality. In Century of Difference, Claude Fischer and Michael Hout provide a compelling—and often surprising—new take on the divisions and commonalities among the American public over the tumultuous course of the twentieth century. Using a hundred years worth of census and opinion poll data, Century of Difference shows how the social, cultural, and economic fault lines in American life shifted in the last century. It demonstrates how distinctions that once loomed large later dissipated, only to be replaced by new ones. Fischer and Hout find that differences among groups by education, age, and income expanded, while those by gender, region, national origin, and, even in some ways, race narrowed. As the twentieth century opened, a person's national origin was of paramount importance, with hostilities running high against Africans, Chinese, and southern and eastern Europeans. Today, diverse ancestries are celebrated with parades. More important than ancestry for today's Americans is their level of schooling. Americans with advanced degrees are increasingly putting distance between themselves and the rest of society—in both a literal and a figurative sense. Differences in educational attainment are tied to expanding inequalities in earnings, job quality, and neighborhoods. Still, there is much that ties all Americans together. Century of Difference knocks down myths about a growing culture war. Using seventy years of survey data, Fischer and Hout show that Americans did not become more fragmented over values in the late-twentieth century, but rather were united over shared ideals of self-reliance, family, and even religion. As public debate has flared up over such matters as immigration restrictions, the role of government in redistributing resources to the poor, and the role of religion in public life, it is important to take stock of the divisions and linkages that have typified the U.S. population over time. Century of Difference lucidly profiles the evolution of American social and cultural differences over the last century, examining the shifting importance of education, marital status, race, ancestry, gender, and other factors on the lives of Americans past and present. A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series
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Cold War Games
Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy
Toby C Rider
University of Illinois Press, 2016
It is the early Cold War. The Soviet Union appears to be in irresistible ascendance and moves to exploit the Olympic Games as a vehicle for promoting international communism. In response, the United States conceives a subtle, far-reaching psychological warfare campaign to blunt the Soviet advance.

Drawing on newly declassified materials and archives, Toby C. Rider chronicles how the U.S. government used the Olympics to promote democracy and its own policy aims during the tense early phase of the Cold War. Rider shows how the government, though constrained by traditions against interference in the Games, eluded detection by cooperating with private groups, including secretly funded émigré organizations bent on liberating their home countries from Soviet control. At the same time, the United States utilized Olympic host cities as launching pads for hyping the American economic and political system. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the government attempted clandestine manipulation of the International Olympic Committee. Rider also details the campaigns that sent propaganda materials around the globe as the United States mobilized culture in general, and sports in particular, to fight the communist threat.

Deeply researched and boldly argued, Cold War Games recovers an essential chapter in Olympic and postwar history.

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Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism
From Criticism to Cultural Studies
James Seaton
University of Michigan Press, 1996
Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism is an impassioned response to the debates on culture and the literary canon over the last decade. James Seaton argues that the attempts of E. D. Hirsch and Allan Bloom to unite cultural conservatism with political liberalism have been inadequate. He believes that their fullest integration is found not in a doctrine, but in a tradition, the tradition of cultural critics from Mencken through Ellison.
Chapters on Lionel Trilling, H. L. Mencken and Irving Babbitt, Ralph Ellison, Dwight Macdonald, Diana Trilling, and Edmund Wilson affirm the continuing pertinence of their work to today's concerns. Seaton then turns to the careers of Leslie Fiedler and Susan Sontag to explore the impact of the cultural radicalism of the sixties on literary criticism. Subsequent chapters analyze the successes and failures of contemporary cultural studies through the writings of Richard Rorty, Edward Said, Stanley Fish and Fredric Jameson.
Separately, these chapters provide provocative readings of the individual critics; together they make a case for the tradition exemplified by these critics as an alternative to contemporary cultural studies. The issues the book discusses extend beyond literary criticism and the academic world to the political-religious- cultural conflicts of today's culture wars.
"These lively, closely argued essays explain very clearly what the issues are, how they arose, and why they are important." --Christopher Lasch
"A forceful argument about the relationship between literary studies and politics that will add something important to the vigorous, and often fierce, discussion of the canon, the politics of literature, and educational reform."--William Cain, Wellesley College
James Seaton is Professor of English, Michigan State University. He is co-editor, with William K. Buckley, of Beyond Cheering and Bashing: New Perspectives on the Closing of the American Mind.
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Culture
A Problem That Cannot Be Solved
Charles W. Nuckolls
University of Wisconsin Press, 1998

French historian Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the conflict between the ideals of individualism and community defines American culture. In this groundbreaking new work, anthropologist Charles Nuckolls discovers that every culture consists of such paradoxes, thus making culture a problem that cannot be solved. He does, however, find much creative tension in these unresolvable opposites.
    Nuckolls presents three fascinating case studies that demonstrate how values often are expressed in the organization of social roles. First he treats the Micronesian Ifaluks’ opposition between cooperation and self-gratification by examining the nature versus nurture debate. Nuckolls then shifts to the values of community and individual adventure by looking at the conflicts in the identities of public figures in Oklahoma. Finally, he investigates the cultural significance in the diagnostic system and practices of psychiatry in the United States. Nuckolls asserts that psychiatry treats genders differently, assigning dependence to women and independence to men and, in some cases, diagnoses the extreme forms of these values as disorders.    
    Nuckolls elaborates on the theory of culture that he introduced in his previous book, The Cultural Dialectics of Knowledge and Desire, which proposed that the desire to resolve conflicts is central to cultural knowledge. In Culture: A Problem that Cannot Be Solved, Nuckolls restores the neglected social science concept of values, which addresses both knowledge and motivation. As a result, he brings together cognition and psychoanalysis, as well as sociology and psychology, in his study of cultural processes.

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The Culture of Calamity
Disaster and the Making of Modern America
Kevin Rozario
University of Chicago Press, 2007

Turn on the news and it looks as if we live in a time and place unusually consumed by the specter of disaster. The events of 9/11 and the promise of future attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, and the inevitable consequences of environmental devastation all contribute to an atmosphere of imminent doom. But reading an account of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, with its vivid evocation of buildings “crumbling as one might crush a biscuit,” we see that calamities—whether natural or man-made—have long had an impact on the American consciousness.

Uncovering the history of Americans’ responses to disaster from their colonial past up to the present, Kevin Rozario reveals the vital role that calamity—and our abiding fascination with it—has played in the development of this nation. Beginning with the Puritan view of disaster as God’s instrument of correction, Rozario explores how catastrophic events frequently inspired positive reactions. He argues that they have shaped American life by providing an opportunity to take stock of our values and social institutions. Destruction leads naturally to rebuilding, and here we learn that disasters have been a boon to capitalism, and, paradoxically, indispensable to the construction of dominant American ideas of progress.

As Rozario turns to the present, he finds that the impulse to respond creatively to disasters is mitigated by a mania for security. Terror alerts and duct tape represent the cynical politician’s attitude about 9/11, but Rozario focuses on how the attacks registered in the popular imagination—how responses to genuine calamity were mediated by the hyperreal thrills of movies; how apocalyptic literature, like the best-selling Left Behind series, recycles Puritan religious outlooks while adopting Hollywood’s style; and how the convergence of these two ways of imagining disaster points to a new postmodern culture of calamity. The Culture of Calamity will stand as the definitive diagnosis of the peculiarly American addiction to the spectacle of destruction.

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The Culture of Public Problems
Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order
Joseph R. Gusfield
University of Chicago Press, 1980
"Everyone knows 'drunk driving' is a 'serious' offense. And yet, everyone knows lots of 'drunk drivers' who don't get involved in accidents, don't get caught by the police, and manage to compensate adequately for their 'drunken disability.' Everyone also knows of 'drunk drivers' who have been arrested and gotten off easy. Gusfield's book dissects the conventional wisdom about 'drinking-driving' and examines the paradox of a 'serious' offense that is usually treated lightly by the judiciary and rarely carries social stigma."—Mac Marshall, Social Science and Medicine

"A sophisticated and thoughtful critic. . . . Gusfield argues that the 'myth of the killer drunk' is a creation of the 'public culture of law.' . . . Through its dramatic development and condemnation of the anti-social character of the drinking-driver, the public law strengthens the illusion of moral consensus in American society and celebrates the virtues of a sober and orderly world."—James D. Orcutt, Sociology and Social Research

"Joseph Gusfield denies neither the role of alcohol in highway accidents nor the need to do something about it. His point is that the research we conduct on drinking-driving and the laws we make to inhibit it tells us more about our moral order than about the effects of drinking-driving itself. Many will object to this conclusion, but none can ignore it. Indeed, the book will put many scientific and legal experts on the defensive as they face Gusfield's massive erudition, pointed analysis and criticism, and powerful argumentation. In The Culture of Public Problems, Gusfield presents the experts, and us, with a masterpiece of sociological reasoning."—Barry Schwartz, American Journal of Sociology

This book is truly an outstanding achievement. . . . It is sociology of science, sociology of law, sociology of deviance, and sociology of knowledge. Sociologists generally should find the book of great theoretical interest, and it should stimulate personal reflection on their assumptions about science and the kind of consciousness it creates. They will also find that the book is a delight to read."—William B. Bankston, Social Forces


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Dissent from the Homeland
Essays after September 11
Stanley Hauerwas and Frank Lentricchia, eds.
Duke University Press, 2003
Dissent from the Homeland is a book about patriotism, justice, revenge, American history and symbology, art and terror, and pacifism. In this deliberately and urgently provocative collection, noted writers, philosophers, literary critics, and theologians speak out against the war on terrorism and the government of George W. Bush as a response to the events of September 11, 2001. Critiquing government policy, citizen apathy, and societal justifications following the attacks, these writers present a wide range of opinions on such issues as contemporary American foreign policy and displays of patriotism in the wake of the disaster.

Whether illuminating the narratives that have been used to legitimate the war on terror, reflecting on the power of American consumer culture to transform the attack sites into patriotic tourist attractions, or insisting that to be a Christian is to be a pacifist, these essays refuse easy answers. They consider why the Middle East harbors a deep-seated hatred for the United States. They argue that the U.S. drive to win the cold war made the nation more like its enemies, leading the government to support ruthless anti-Communist tyrants such as Mobutu, Suharto, and Pinochet. They urge Americans away from the pitfall of national self-righteousness toward an active peaceableness—an alert, informed, practiced state of being—deeply contrary to both passivity and war. Above all, the essays assembled in Dissent from the Homeland are a powerful entreaty for thought, analysis, and understanding. Originally published as a special issue of the journal South Atlantic Quarterly, Dissent from the Homeland has been expanded to include new essays as well as a new introduction and postscript.

Contributors. Srinivas Aravamudan, Michael J. Baxter, Jean Baudrillard, Robert N. Bellah, Daniel Berrigan, Wendell Berry, Vincent J. Cornell, David James Duncan, Stanley Hauerwas, Fredric Jameson, Frank Lentricchia, Catherine Lutz, Jody McAuliffe, John Milbank, Peter Ochs, Donald E. Pease, Anne R. Slifkin, Rowan Williams, Susan Willis, Slavoj Zizek

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The Divided States
Unraveling National Identities in the Twenty-First Century
Edited by Laura J. Beard and Ricia Anne Chansky
University of Wisconsin Press, 2023
What is an “American” identity? The tension between populism and pluralism, between homogeneity and heterogeneity, has marked the United States since its inception. In The Divided States, leading scholars and critics argue that the US is, and has always been, a site where multiple national identities intersect in productive and challenging ways. Scrutinizing conflicting nationalisms and national identities, the authors ask, Whose stories get told and whose do not? Who or what promotes the idea of a unified national identity in the United States? How is the notion of a unified national identity disrupted? What myths and stories bind the US together? How representative are these stories? What are the counternarratives? And, if the idea of national homogeneity is a fallacy, what does tie us together as a nation?

Working across auto/biography studies, American studies, and human geography—all of which deal with the current interest in competing narratives, “alternative facts,” and accountability—the essays engage in and contribute to critical conversations in classrooms, scholarship, and the public sphere. The authors draw from a variety of fields, including anthropology; class analysis; critical race theory; diasporic, refugee, and immigration studies; disability studies; gender studies; graphic and comix studies; Indigenous studies; linguistics; literary studies; sociology; and visual culture. And the genres under scrutiny include diary, epistolary communication, digital narratives, graphic narratives, literary narratives, medical narratives, memoir, oral history, and testimony.

This fresh and theoretically engaged volume will be relevant to anyone interested in the multiplicity of voices that make up the US national narrative.
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Down in the Dumps
Place, Modernity, American Depression
Jani Scandura
Duke University Press, 2007
Mucking around in the messy terrain of American trash, Jani Scandura tells the story of the United States during the Great Depression through evocative and photo-rich portraits of four locales: Reno, Key West, Harlem, and Hollywood. In investigating these Depression-era “dumps,” places that she claims contained and reclaimed the cultural, ideological, and material refuse of modern America, Scandura introduces the concept of “depressive modernity,” an enduring affective component of American culture that exposes itself at those moments when the foundational myths of America and progressive modernity—capitalism, democracy, individualism, secularism, utopian aspiration—are thrown into question. Depressive modernity is modernity at a standstill. Such a modernity is not stagnant or fixed, nor immobile, but is constituted by an instantaneous unstaging of desire, territory, language, and memory that reveals itself in the shimmering of place.

An interpretive bricolage that draws on an unlikely archive of 1930s detritus—office memos, scribbled manuscripts, scrapbooks, ruined photographs, newspaper clippings, glass eyes, incinerated stage sets, pulp novels, and junk washed ashore—Down in the Dumps escorts its readers through Reno’s divorce factory of the 1930s, where couples from across the United States came to quickly dissolve matrimonial bonds; Key West’s multilingual salvage economy and its status as the island that became the center of an ideological tug-of-war between the American New Deal government and a politically fraught Caribbean; post-Renaissance Harlem, in the process of memorializing, remembering, grieving, and rewriting a modernity that had already passed; and Studio-era Hollywood, Nathanael West’s “dump of dreams,” in which the introduction of sound in film and shifts in art direction began to transform how Americans understood place-making and even being itself. A coda on Alcatraz and the Pentagon brings the book into the present, exploring how American Depression comes to bear on post-9/11 America.

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Embodiment of a Nation
Human Form in American Places
Cecelia Tichi
Harvard University Press, 2001

From Harriet Beecher Stowe's image of the Mississippi's "bosom" to Henry David Thoreau's Cape Cod as "the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts," the U.S. environment has been recurrently represented in terms of the human body. Exploring such instances of embodiment, Cecelia Tichi exposes the historically varied and often contrary geomorphic expression of a national paradigm. Environmental history as cultural studies, her book plumbs the deep and peculiarly American bond between nationalism, the environment, and the human body.

Tichi disputes the United States' reputation of being "nature's nation." U.S. citizens have screened out nature effectively by projecting the bodies of U.S. citizens upon nature. She pursues this idea by pairing Mount Rushmore with Walden Pond as competing efforts to locate the head of the American body in nature; Yellowstone's Old Faithful with the Moon as complementary embodiments of the American frontier; and Hot Springs, Arkansas, with Love Canal as contrasting sites of the identification of women and water. A major contribution to current discussions of gender and nature, her book also demonstrates the intellectual power of wedding environmental studies to the social history of the human body.

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Family Trees
François Weil
Harvard University Press, 2013

The quest for roots has been an enduring American preoccupation. Over the centuries, generations have sketched coats of arms, embroidered family trees, established local genealogical societies, and carefully filled in the blanks in their bibles, all in pursuit of self-knowledge and status through kinship ties. This long and varied history of Americans’ search for identity illuminates the story of America itself, according to François Weil, as fixations with social standing, racial purity, and national belonging gave way in the twentieth century to an embrace of diverse ethnicity and heritage.

Seeking out one’s ancestors was a genteel pursuit in the colonial era, when an aristocratic pedigree secured a place in the British Atlantic empire. Genealogy developed into a middle-class diversion in the young republic. But over the next century, knowledge of one’s family background came to represent a quasi-scientific defense of elite “Anglo-Saxons” in a nation transformed by immigration and the emancipation of slaves. By the mid-twentieth century, when a new enthusiasm for cultural diversity took hold, the practice of tracing one’s family tree had become thoroughly democratized and commercialized.

Today, Ancestry.com attracts over two million members with census records and ship manifests, while popular television shows depict celebrities exploring archives and submitting to DNA testing to learn the stories of their forebears. Further advances in genetics promise new insights as Americans continue their restless pursuit of past and place in an ever-changing world.

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A Forgetful Nation
On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States
Ali Behdad
Duke University Press, 2005
In A Forgetful Nation, the renowned postcolonialism scholar Ali Behdad turns his attention to the United States. Offering a timely critique of immigration and nationalism, Behdad takes on an idea central to American national mythology: that the United States is “a nation of immigrants,” welcoming and generous to foreigners. He argues that Americans’ treatment of immigrants and foreigners has long fluctuated between hospitality and hostility, and that this deep-seated ambivalence is fundamental to the construction of national identity. Building on the insights of Freud, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida, he develops a theory of the historical amnesia that enables the United States to disavow a past and present built on the exclusion of others.

Behdad shows how political, cultural, and legal texts have articulated American anxiety about immigration from the Federalist period to the present day. He reads texts both well-known—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—and lesser-known—such as the writings of nineteenth-century nativists and of public health officials at Ellis Island. In the process, he highlights what is obscured by narratives and texts celebrating the United States as an open-armed haven for everyone: the country’s violent beginnings, including its conquest of Native Americans, brutal exploitation of enslaved Africans, and colonialist annexation of French and Mexican territories; a recurring and fierce strand of nativism; the need for a docile labor force; and the harsh discipline meted out to immigrant “aliens” today, particularly along the Mexican border.

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From Memory to History
Television Versions of the Twentieth Century
Jim Cullen
Rutgers University Press, 2021
Our understanding of history is often mediated by popular culture, and television series set in the past have provided some of our most indelible images of previous times. Yet such historical television programs always reveal just as much about the era in which they are produced as the era in which they are set; there are few more quintessentially late-90s shows than That ‘70s Show, for example.
 
From Memory to History takes readers on a journey through over fifty years of historical dramas and sitcoms that were set in earlier decades of the twentieth century. Along the way, it explores how comedies like M*A*S*H and Hogan’s Heroes offered veiled commentary on the Vietnam War, how dramas ranging like Mad Men echoed current economic concerns, and how The Americans and Halt and Catch Fire used the Cold War and the rise of the internet to reflect upon the present day. Cultural critic Jim Cullen is lively, informative, and incisive, and this book will help readers look at past times, present times, and prime time in a new light.
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From the Outer World
Oscar Handlin
Harvard University Press, 1997

Oscar and Lilian Handlin show us how the new voyagers in the twentieth century--from Asia, Africa, Australia, and Latin America--record their experiences in the United States. The narratives of the non-Europeans, they find, clearly reflect the circumstances of their composition, as well as the political prejudices of their authors. These literary products have earned far less attention than those of the English, French, Germans, and Russians, and this volume proposes to redress the balance.

The earliest of the thirty-one travel accounts was written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1924, and the most recent by V. S. Naipaul in 1989. Many accounts are newly translated from Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, and Spanish. Some authors are well known, but the less famous are equally insightful. Some insights are weighty, many are amusing. Octavio Paz, a sympathetic observer who admired his country's neighbor, was uneasy that the most powerful country in the world sustained "a global ideology…as outdated as the doctrine of free enterprise, the steam boat, and other relics of the nineteenth century." The Israeli journalist Hanoch Bartov observed that "God conceived the car first, with man an afterthought, created for the car's use (a Southern California legend)." In coming to a truer understanding of the United States, these writers noted the frightening repercussions of unsettled lives, perceived class differentiation, contentions regarding the status of women, the sense of national unity amid diversity, and countless other issues of concern to those who try to find meaning in the contemporary world.

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George Washington
A Man of Action
John P. Kaminski
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2017
Perhaps no other person could ever achieve the preeminent position in American history and culture occupied by George Washington. Born in 1732, Washington’s life–long commitment to self-improvement and discipline helped him become a legend in his own lifetime. Whether as a statesman, military man, or America’s first president, Washington created a legacy that has scarcely diminished in over two centuries. Yet the passage of time and the superlatives reserved for Washington have knit together and made it difficult to find the real man. Historian and editor John P. Kaminski has amassed an extraordinary body of quotations by and about George Washington that brings us closer to the essence of this great leader. This collection paints an intricate picture of the man who Henry 'Lighthorse' Lee of Virginia eulogized as: "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
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Global Dawn
Frank Ninkovich
Harvard University Press, 2009

Why did the United States become a global power? Frank Ninkovich shows that a cultural predisposition for thinking in global terms blossomed in the late nineteenth century, making possible the rise to world power as American liberals of the time took a wide-ranging interest in the world. At the center of their attention was the historical process they called “civilization,” whose most prominent features—a global economy, political democracy, and a global culture—anticipated what would later come to be known as globalization.

The continued spread of civilization, they believed, provided the answer to worrisome contemporary problems such as the faltering progress of democracy, a burgeoning arms race in Europe, and a dangerous imperialist competition. In addition to transforming international politics, a global civilization quickened by commercial and cultural exchanges would advance human equality and introduce the modern industrial way of life to traditional societies. Consistent with their universalist outlook, liberal internationalists also took issue with scientific racism by refusing to acknowledge racial hierarchy as a permanent feature of relations with nonwhite peoples.

Of little practical significance during a period when isolationism reigned supreme in U.S. foreign policy, this rich body of thought would become the cultural foundation of twentieth-century American internationalism.

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The Great Brain Suck
And Other American Epiphanies
Eugene Halton
University of Chicago Press, 2008
More and more information is pumped into our media-saturated world every day, yet Americans seem to know less and less. In a society where who you are is defined by what you buy, and where we prefer to experience reality by watching it on TV, Eugene Halton argues something has clearly gone wrong.
            Luckily Halton, with scalpel-sharp wit in one hand and the balm of wisdom in the other, is here to operate on the declining body politic. His initial diagnosis is bleak: fast food and too much time spent sitting, whether in our cars or on our couches, are ruining our bodies, while our minds are weakened by the proliferation of electronic devices—TVs, computers, cell phones, iPods, video games—and their alienating effects. If we are losing the battle between autonomy and automation, he asks, how can our culture regain self-sufficiency? Halton finds the answer in the inspiring visions—deeply rooted in American culture—of an organic and more spontaneous life at the heart of the work of master craftsman Wharton Esherick, legendary blues singer Muddy Waters, urban critic Lewis Mumford, and artist Maya Lin, among others.
            A scathing and original jeremiad against modern materialism, The Great Brain Suck is also a series of epiphanies of a simpler but more profound life.
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The Guise of Exceptionalism
Unmasking the National Narratives of Haiti and the United States
Robert Fatton
Rutgers University Press, 2021
The Guise of Exceptionalism compares the historical origins of Haitian and American exceptionalisms. It also traces how exceptionalism as a narrative of uniqueness has shaped relations between the two countries from their early days of independence through the contemporary period. Exceptionalism is at the core of every national founding narrative. It allows countries to purge history of injurious stains, and embellish it with mythical innocence and claims of distinction. Exceptionalism also builds the bonds of solidarity that forge an imagined national fellowship of the chosen, but it excludes those deemed unfit for membership because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or class. Exceptionalism, however, is not frozen. As a social invention, it changes over time, but always within the parameters of its original principles. Our capacity to reinvent it is dependent on the degree of hegemony achieved by the ruling class, and if this class has the infrastructural power to gradually co-opt and include €the groups it had once excluded.
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Homeless and at Home in America
Evidence for the Dignity of the Human Soul in Our Time and Place
Peter Augustine Lawler
St. Augustine's Press, 2007

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Honor Bound
Race and Shame in America
Leverenz, David
Rutgers University Press, 2012
As Bill Clinton said in his second inaugural address, “The divide of race has been America’s constant curse.” In Honor Bound, David Leverenz explores the past to the present of that divide. He argues that in the United States, the rise and decline of white people’s racial shaming reflect the rise and decline of white honor. “White skin” and “black skin” are fictions of honor and shame. Americans have lived those fictions for over four hundred years.

To make his argument, Leverenz casts an unusually wide net, from ancient and modern cultures of honor to social, political, and military history to American literature and popular culture.

He highlights the convergence of whiteness and honor in the United States from the antebellum period to the present. The Civil War, the civil rights movement, and the election of Barack Obama represent racial progress; the Tea Party movement represents the latest recoil.

From exploring African American narratives to examining a 2009 episode of Hardball—in which two white commentators restore their honor by mocking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder after he called Americans “cowards” for not talking more about race—Leverenz illustrates how white honor has prompted racial shaming and humiliation. The United States became a nation-state in which light-skinned people declared themselves white. The fear masked by white honor surfaces in such classics of American literature as The Scarlet Letter and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in the U.S. wars against the Barbary pirates from 1783 to 1815 and the Iraqi insurgents from 2003 to the present. John McCain’s Faith of My Fathers is used to frame the 2008 presidential campaign as white honor’s last national stand.

Honor Bound concludes by probing the endless attempts in 2009 and 2010 to preserve white honor through racial shaming, from the “birthers” and Tea Party protests to Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” in Congress and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. at the front door of his own home. Leverenz is optimistic that, in the twenty-first century, racial shaming is itself becoming shameful.

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Identity and the Failure of America
From Thomas Jefferson to the War on Terror
John Michael
University of Minnesota Press, 2008

From Thomas Jefferson to John Rawls, justice has been at the center of America’s self-image and national creed. At the same time, for many of its peoples-from African slaves and European immigrants to women and the poor-the American experience has been defined by injustice: oppression, disenfranchisement, violence, and prejudice.

In Identity and the Failure of America, John Michael explores the contradictions between a mythic national identity promising justice to all and the realities of a divided, hierarchical, and frequently iniquitous history and social order. Through a series of insightful readings, Michael analyzes such cultural moments as the epic dramatization of the tension between individual ambition and communal complicity in Moby-Dick, attempts to effect social change through sympathy in the novels of Lydia Marie Child and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s antislavery activism and Frederick Douglass’s long fight for racial equity, and the divisive figures of John Brown and Nat Turner in American letters and memory.

Focusing on exemplary instances when the nature of the United States as an essentially conflicted nation turned to force, Michael ultimately posits the development of a more cosmopolitan American identity, one that is more fully and justly imagined in response to the nation’s ethical failings at home and abroad.

John Michael is professor of English and of visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values and Emerson and Skepticism: The Cipher of the World.

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A Kinder, Gentler America
Melancholia and the Mythical 1950s
Mary Caputi
University of Minnesota Press, 2005
“In the Norman Rockwell paintings of the 1940s and 1950s,” wrote Newt Gingrich, “there was a clear sense of what it meant to be an American.” Gingrich’s words underline what Mary Caputi sees as a desire of the neoconservative movement to set a foundation for modern America that ennobles the past. 

Analyzing these competing uses of the past, A Kinder, Gentler America reveals how longing for the era of “the greatest generation” actually exposes a disillusionment with the present. Caputi draws on the theoretical frameworks of Julia Kristeva and Walter Benjamin to look at how the decade has been portrayed in movies such as Pleasantville and Far from Heaven and delves further to investigate our disenchantment’s lost origins in early modernity through a reading of the poetry of Baudelaire. What emerges is a stark contrast between the depictions of a melancholic present and a cheerful, shiny past. In the right’s invocation of the mythical 1950s and the left’s criticism of the same, Caputi recognizes a common unfulfilled desire, and proposes that by understanding this loss both sides can begin to accept that American identity, despite chaos and confusion, lies in the here and now. 

Mary Caputi is professor of political science at California State University, Long Beach, and is author of Voluptuous Yearnings: A Feminist Theory of the Obscene.
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Letters from an American Farmer and Other Essays
J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur
Harvard University Press, 2013

Letters from an American Farmer was published in London in 1782, just as the idea of an “American” was becoming a reality. Those epistolary essays introduced the European public to America’s landscape and customs and have since served as the iconic description of a then-new people. Dennis D. Moore’s convenient, up-to-date reader’s edition situates those twelve pieces from the 1782 Letters in the context of thirteen other essays representative of Crèvecoeur’s writings in English.

The “American Farmer” of the title is Crèvecoeur’s fictional persona Farmer James, a bumpkin from rural Pennsylvania. In his Introduction to this edition, Moore places this self-effacing pose in perspective and charts Crèvecoeur’s enterprising approach to self-promotion, which involved repackaging and adapting his writings for French and English audiences.

Born in Normandy, Crèvecoeur came to New York in the 1750s by way of England and then Canada, traveled throughout the colonies as a surveyor and trader, and was naturalized in 1765. The pieces he included in the 1782 Letters map a shift from hopefulness to disillusionment: its opening selections offer America as a utopian haven from European restrictions on personal liberty and material advancement but give way to portrayals of a land plagued by the horrors of slavery, the threat of Indian raids, and revolutionary unrest. This new edition opens up a broader perspective on this artful, ambitious writer and cosmopolitan thinker who coined America’s most enduring metaphor: a place where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.”

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The Lost Promise of Patriotism
Debating American Identity, 1890-1920
Jonathan M. Hansen
University of Chicago Press, 2003
During the years leading up to World War I, America experienced a crisis of civic identity. How could a country founded on liberal principles and composed of increasingly diverse cultures unite to safeguard individuals and promote social justice? In this book, Jonathan Hansen tells the story of a group of American intellectuals who believed the solution to this crisis lay in rethinking the meaning of liberalism.

Intellectuals such as William James, John Dewey, Jane Addams, Eugene V. Debs, and W. E. B. Du Bois repudiated liberalism's association with acquisitive individualism and laissez-faire economics, advocating a model of liberal citizenship whose virtues and commitments amount to what Hansen calls cosmopolitan patriotism. Rooted not in war but in dedication to social equity, cosmopolitan patriotism favored the fight against sexism, racism, and political corruption in the United States over battles against foreign foes. Its adherents held the domestic and foreign policy of the United States to its own democratic ideals and maintained that promoting democracy universally constituted the ultimate form of self-defense. Perhaps most important, the cosmopolitan patriots regarded critical engagement with one's country as the essence of patriotism, thereby justifying scrutiny of American militarism in wartime.
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Made in America
A Social History of American Culture and Character
Claude S. Fischer
University of Chicago Press, 2010

Our nation began with the simple phrase, “We the People.” But who were and are “We”? Who were we in 1776, in 1865, or 1968, and is there any continuity in character between the we of those years and the nearly 300 million people living in the radically different America of today?

With Made in America, Claude S. Fischer draws on decades of historical, psychological, and social research to answer that question by tracking the evolution of American character and culture over three centuries. He explodes myths—such as that contemporary Americans are more mobile and less religious than their ancestors, or that they are more focused on money and consumption—and reveals instead how greater security and wealth have only reinforced the independence, egalitarianism, and commitment to community that characterized our people from the earliest years. Skillfully drawing on personal stories of representative Americans, Fischer shows that affluence and social progress have allowed more people to participate fully in cultural and political life, thus broadening the category of “American” —yet at the same time what it means to be an American has retained surprising continuity with much earlier notions of American character.

Firmly in the vein of such classics as The Lonely Crowd and Habits of the Heart—yet challenging many of their conclusions—Made in America takes readers beyond the simplicity of headlines and the actions of elites to show us the lives, aspirations, and emotions of ordinary Americans, from the settling of the colonies to the settling of the suburbs.

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Mencken’s America
H. L. Mencken
S. T. Joshi
Ohio University Press, 2004

Long famous as a political, social, and cultural gadfly, journalist and essayist H. L. Mencken was unafraid to speak his mind on controversial topics and to express his views in a deliberately provocative manner.

Mencken was prolific; much of his best work lies buried in the newspapers and magazines in which it originally appeared. Mencken’s America is a sampling of this uncollected work, arranged to present the wide-ranging treatise on American culture that Mencken himself never wrote.

The core of the book is a series of six articles on “The American” published in the Smart Set in 1913-14. Never before reprinted, they embody the essence of Mencken’s views on the deficiencies of his countrymen.

What was the problem with America? For Mencken, it could be summed up in one word: Puritanism. Puritanism accounted for much that was wrong with American culture: the prevalence of “militant morality” represented by Prohibition, by campaigns against prostitution, and by religious fundamentalism. American hostility toward the fine arts led to furious attempts to suppress any work of art that was thought to contravene conventional morality-attempts that Mencken chronicles with impressive scholarship in the essay “Puritanism as a Literary Force.”

Mencken reserved his greatest scorn for American political institutions. Opposed to the very principle of democracy and universal suffrage, he maintained that, in the absence of an educated electorate, all politicians are compelled to become demagogues.

Bracing, infuriating, and pungent, H. L. Mencken’s writings retain their relevance even after the passage of nearly a hundred years, cogently discussing issues with which Americans of the twenty-first century are still wrestling. Sagaciously edited by S. T. Joshi, one of the country’s foremost Mencken scholars, Mencken’s America is a superb example of America’s turning the looking glass on itself.

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Mexican Americans and Language
Del dicho al hecho
Glenn A. Martínez
University of Arizona Press, 2006
When political activists rallied for the abolition of bilingual education and even called for the declaration of English as an official language, Mexican Americans and other immigrant groups saw this as an assault on their heritage and civil rights. Because language is such a defining characteristic of Mexican American ethnicity, nearly every policy issue that touches their lives involves language in one way or another.

This book offers an overview of some of the central issues in the Mexican American language experience, describing it in terms of both bilingualism and minority status. It is the first book to focus on the historical, social, political, and structural aspects of multiple languages in the Mexican American experience and to address the principles and methods of applied sociolinguistic research in the Mexican American community. Spanish and non-Spanish speakers in the Mexican American community share a common set of social and ethnic bonds. They also share a common experience of bilingualism.

As Martínez observes, the ideas that have been constructed around bilingualism are as important to understanding the Mexican American language experience as bilingualism itself. Mexican Americans and Language gives students the background they need to respond to the multiple social problems that can result from the language differences that exist in the Mexican American community. By showing students how to go from word to deed (del dicho al hecho), it reinforces the importance of language for their community, and for their own lives and futures.
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Mexicans in the Making of America
Neil Foley
Harvard University Press, 2014

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year

According to census projections, by 2050 nearly one in three U.S. residents will be Latino, and the overwhelming majority of these will be of Mexican descent. This dramatic demographic shift is reshaping politics, culture, and fundamental ideas about American identity. Neil Foley, a leading Mexican American historian, offers a sweeping view of the evolution of Mexican America, from a colonial outpost on Mexico’s northern frontier to a twenty-first-century people integral to the nation they have helped build.

“Compelling…Readers of all political persuasions will find Foley’s intensively researched, well-documented scholarly work an instructive, thoroughly accessible guide to the ramifications of immigration policy.”
Publishers Weekly

“For Americans long accustomed to understanding the country’s development as an east-to-west phenomenon, Foley’s singular service is to urge us to tilt the map south-to-north and to comprehend conditions as they have been for some time and will likely be for the foreseeable future…A timely look at and appreciation of a fast-growing demographic destined to play an increasingly important role in our history.”
Kirkus Reviews

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Myths America Lives By
White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning
Richard T. Hughes
University of Illinois Press, 2018
Six myths lie at the heart of the American experience. Taken as aspirational, four of those myths remind us of our noblest ideals, challenging us to realize our nation's promise while galvanizing the sense of hope and unity we need to reach our goals. Misused, these myths allow for illusions of innocence that fly in the face of white supremacy, the primal American myth that stands at the heart of all the others.
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A Nation of Agents
James E. Block
Harvard University Press, 2002

In this sweeping reinterpretation of American political culture, James Block offers a new perspective on the formation of the modern American self and society. Block roots both self and society in the concept of agency, rather than liberty, and dispenses with the national myth of the "sacred cause of liberty"--with the Declaration of Independence as its "American scripture." Instead, he recovers the early modern conception of agency as the true synthesis emerging from America's Protestant and liberal cultural foundations.

Block traces agency doctrine from its pre-Commonwealth English origins through its development into the American mainstream culture on the eve of the twentieth century. The concept of agency that prevailed in the colonies simultaneously released individuals from traditional constraints to participate actively and self-reliantly in social institutions, while confining them within a new set of commitments. Individual initiative was now firmly bounded by the modern values and ends of personal Protestant religiosity and collective liberal institutional authority. As Block shows, this complex relation of self to society lies at the root of the American character.

A Nation of Agents is a new reading of what the "first new nation" did and did not achieve. It will enable us to move beyond long-standing national myths and grasp both the American achievement and its legacy for modernity.

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The New American Exceptionalism
Donald E. Pease
University of Minnesota Press, 2009

For a half century following the end of World War II, the seemingly permanent cold war provided the United States with an organizing logic that governed nearly every aspect of American society and culture, giving rise to an unwavering belief in the nation's exceptionalism in global affairs and world history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this cold war paradigm was replaced by a series of new ideological narratives that ultimately resulted in the establishment of another potentially endless war: the global war on terror.

In The New American Exceptionalism, pioneering scholar Donald E. Pease traces the evolution of these state fantasies and shows how they have shaped U.S. national identity since the end of the cold war, uncovering the ideological and cultural work required to convince Americans to surrender their civil liberties in exchange for the illusion of security. His argument follows the chronology of the transitions between paradigms from the inauguration of the New World Order under George H. W. Bush to the homeland security state that George W. Bush's administration installed in the wake of 9/11. Providing clear and convincing arguments about how the concept of American exceptionalism was reformulated and redeployed in this era, Pease examines a wide range of cultural works and political spectacles, including the exorcism of the Vietnam syndrome through victory in the Persian Gulf War and the creation of Islamic extremism as an official state enemy.

At the same time, Pease notes that state fantasies cannot altogether conceal the inconsistencies they mask, showing how such events as the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the exposure of government incompetence after Hurricane Katrina opened fissures in the myth of exceptionalism, allowing Barack Obama to challenge the homeland security paradigm with an alternative state fantasy that privileges fairness, inclusion, and justice.

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Not in Front of the Children
'Indecency,' Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth
Heins, Marjorie
Rutgers University Press, 2007

From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, from Internet filters to the v-chip, censorship exercised on behalf of children and adolescents is often based on the assumption that they must be protected from “indecent” information that might harm their development—whether in art, in literature, or on a Web site. But where does this assumption come from, and is it true? 

In Not in Front of the Children, Marjorie Heins explores the fascinating history of “indecency” laws and other restrictions aimed at protecting youth. From Plato’s argument for rigid censorship, through Victorian laws aimed at repressing libidinous thoughts, to contemporary battles over sex education in public schools and violence in the media, Heins guides us through what became, and remains, an ideological minefield. With fascinating examples drawn from around the globe, she suggests that the “harm to minors” argument rests on shaky foundations.

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Not Yet a Placeless Land
Tracking an Evolving American Geography
Wilbur Zelinsky
University of Massachusetts Press, 2011
Today it is taken as a given that the United States has undergone a nationwide process of homogenization—that a country once rich in geographic and cultural diversity has subsided into a placeless sameness. The American population, after all, spends much of its time shopping or eating in look-alike chain or franchise operations, driving along featureless highways built to government specifications, sitting in anonymous airports, and sleeping in forgettable motels.

In this book, cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinsky challenges that nearly universal view and reaches a paradoxical conclusion: that American land and society are becoming more uniform and more diverse at the same time. After recounting the many ways in which modern technologies, an advanced capitalist market system, and a potent central political establishment have standardized the built landscape of the country's vast territory and its burgeoning population over the past two hundred and fifty years, he also considers the vigor of countervailing forces. In a carefully balanced assessment, he documents steady increases in the role of the unpredictable, in the number and variety of arbitrarily located places and activities, and the persistence of basic cultural diversities. Contrary to popular perceptions, place-to-place differences in spoken language, religion, and political behavior have not diminished or disappeared. In fact, Zelinsky shows, novel cultural regions and specialized cities have been emerging even as a latter-day version of regionalism and examples of neo-localism are taking root in many parts of the United States.
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Observing America
The Commentary of British Visitors to the United States, 1890–1950
Robert Frankel
University of Wisconsin Press, 2006
Beginning with Alexis de Tocqueville and Frances Trollope, visitors to America have written some of the most penetrating and, occasionally, scathing commentaries on U.S. politics and culture. Observing America focuses on four of the most insightful British commentators on America between 1890 and 1950. The colorful journalist W. T. Stead championed Anglo-American unity while plunging into reform efforts in Chicago. The versatile writer H. G. Wells fiercely criticized capitalist America but found reason for hope in the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. G. K. Chesterton, one of England’s great men of letters, urged Americans to preserve the vestiges of Jeffersonian democracy that he still discerned in the small towns of the heartland. And the influential political theorist and activist Harold Laski assailed the business ethos that he believed dominated the nation, especially after Franklin Roosevelt’s death. 
    
Robert Frankel examines the New World experiences of these commentators and the books they wrote about America. He also probes similar writings by other prominent observers from the British Isles, including Beatrice Webb, Rudyard Kipling, and George Bernard Shaw. The result is a book that offers keen insights into America’s national identity in a time of vast political and cultural change.
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One America?
Political Leadership, National Identity, and the Dilemmas of Diversity
Stanley A. Renshon, Editor
Georgetown University Press, 2001

With enormous numbers of new immigrants, America is becoming dramatically more diverse racially, culturally, and ethnically. As a result, the United States faces questions that have profound consequences for its future. What does it mean to be an American? Is a new American identity developing? At the same time, the coherence of national culture has been challenged by the expansion of—and attacks on—individual and group rights, and by political leaders who prefer to finesse rather than engage cultural controversies. Many of the ideals on which the country was founded are under intense, often angry, debate, and the historic tension between individuality and community has never been felt so keenly.

In One America?, distinguished contributors discuss the role of national leadership, especially the presidency, at a time when a fragmented and dysfunctional national identity has become a real possibility. Holding political views that encompass the thoughtful left and right of center, they address fundamental issues such as affirmative action, presidential engagement in questions of race, dual citizenship, interracial relationships, and English as the basic language.

This book is the first examination of the role of national political leaders in maintaining or dissipating America’s national identity. It will be vital reading for political scientists, historians, policymakers, students, and anyone concerned with the future of American politics and society.

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The Origins of Canadian and American Political Differences
Jason Kaufman
Harvard University Press, 2009

Why do the United States and Canada have such divergent political cultures when they share one of the closest economic and cultural relationships in the world? Canadians and Americans consistently disagree over issues such as the separation of church and state, the responsibility of government for the welfare of everyone, the relationship between federal and subnational government, and the right to marry a same-sex partner or to own an assault rifle.

In this wide-ranging work, Jason Kaufman examines the North American political landscape to draw out the essential historical factors that underlie the countries’ differences. He discusses the earliest European colonies in North America and the Canadian reluctance to join the American Revolution. He compares land grants and colonial governance; territorial expansion and relations with native peoples; immigration and voting rights. But the key lies in the evolution and enforcement of jurisdictional law, which illuminates the way social relations and state power developed in the two countries.

Written in an accessible and engaging style, this book will appeal to readers of sociology, politics, law, and history as well as to anyone interested in the relationship between the United States and Canada.

[more]

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Our American Israel
The Story of an Entangled Alliance
Amy Kaplan
Harvard University Press, 2018

An essential account of America’s most controversial alliance that reveals how the United States came to see Israel as an extension of itself, and how that strong and divisive partnership plays out in our own time.

Our American Israel tells the story of how a Jewish state in the Middle East came to resonate profoundly with a broad range of Americans in the twentieth century. Beginning with debates about Zionism after World War II, Israel’s identity has been entangled with America’s belief in its own exceptional nature. Now, in the twenty-first century, Amy Kaplan challenges the associations underlying this special alliance.

Through popular narratives expressed in news media, fiction, and film, a shared sense of identity emerged from the two nations’ histories as settler societies. Americans projected their own origin myths onto Israel: the biblical promised land, the open frontier, the refuge for immigrants, the revolt against colonialism. Israel assumed a mantle of moral authority, based on its image as an “invincible victim,” a nation of intrepid warriors and concentration camp survivors. This paradox persisted long after the Six-Day War, when the United States rallied behind a story of the Israeli David subduing the Arab Goliath. The image of the underdog shattered when Israel invaded Lebanon and Palestinians rose up against the occupation. Israel’s military was strongly censured around the world, including notes of dissent in the United States. Rather than a symbol of justice, Israel became a model of military strength and technological ingenuity.

In America today, Israel’s political realities pose difficult challenges. Turning a critical eye on the turbulent history that bound the two nations together, Kaplan unearths the roots of present controversies that may well divide them in the future.

[more]

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Our Common Country
Mutual Good Will in America
Warren G. Harding, Edited by Warren G. Harding, III, & Intro by Robert H. Ferrell
University of Missouri Press, 2003
Our Common Country is a collection of informal addresses, eighteen in all, given by Warren G. Harding as president-elect that defined his vision for the United States. What makes these addresses as relevant today as they were in 1921 is the unsettled mood of the country. Even though World War I is now a distant memory, today’s Americans have suffered through similar conflicts.
In 1917 when Americans went off to war, the red, white, and blue flew everywhere. Two million American soldiers went to France and fifty thousand of them died; the battle of the Meuse-Argonne was one of the costliest in American history. With the announcement by America’s allies that the United States’s contributions to the war were insignificant compared to their own, President Wilson’s leadership began to collapse. Also, the domestic economy’s boom was turning to a bust and the national debt was expanding. The general consensus of Americans was that “things had gone to hell in a handbasket.”
            In an effort to ease the minds of troubled and confused Americans, President Harding tried to provide them with inspiration. Addressing different groups of the population—mothers, veterans, patriots, farmers, businessmen, the press—he sought to send a consistent personal message of reassurance. During his administration, he would bring a formal end to the war by signing the Treaty of Berlin and would limit strategic armaments through the treaties of the Washington Conference. He would also establish the Bureau of the Budget, thereby bringing order to the departmental and bureaucratic requests that had disgraced budget making for decades. He planted the seeds for a department of health, education, and welfare, which was finally realized thirty years later. Although the former president was much maligned after his death, his good works during his term of office speak for themselves and show concern for his fellow Americans. His warmth, strength of character, and intelligence are demonstrated throughout these addresses. Harding spoke to his own time, yet these addresses speak to our own confusing times as well.
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People of Plenty
Economic Abundance and the American Character
David M. Potter
University of Chicago Press, 1954
America has long been famous as a land of plenty, but we seldom realize how much the American people are a people of plenty—a people whose distinctive character has been shaped by economic abundance. In this important book, David M. Potter breaks new ground both in the study of this phenomenon and in his approach to the question of national character. He brings a fresh historical perspective to bear on the vital work done in this field by anthropologists, social psychologists, and psychoanalysts.

"The rejection of hindsight, with the insistence on trying to see events from the point of view of the participants, was a governing theme with Potter. . . . This sounds like a truism. Watching him apply it however, is a revelation."—Walter Clemons, Newsweek

"The best short book on national character I have seen . . . broadly based, closely reasoned, and lucidly written."—Karl W. Deutsch, Yale Review

[more]

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Perfectly Average
The Pursuit of Normality in Postwar America
Anna G. Creadick
University of Massachusetts Press, 2010
At the end of World War II, many Americans longed for a return to a more normal way of life after decades of depression and war. In fact, between 1945 and 1963 the idea of "normality" circulated as a keyword in almost every aspect of American culture. But what did this term really mean? What were its parameters? Whom did it propose to include and exclude?

In Perfectly Average, Anna Creadick investigates how and why "normality" reemerged as a potent homogenizing category in postwar America. Working with scientific studies, material culture, literary texts, film, fashion, and the mass media, she charts the pursuit of the"normal" through thematic chapters on the body, character, class, sexuality, and community.

Creadick examines such evidence as the "Norm and Norma" models produced during the war by sexologists and anthropologists—statistical composites of"normal" American bodies. In 1945, as thousands of Ohio women signed up for a Norma Look-Alike contest, a "Harvard Study of Normal Men" sought to define the typical American male according to specific criteria, from body shape to upbringing to blood pressure. By the early 1950s, the "man in the gray flannel suit" had come to symbolize what some regarded as the stultifying sameness of the "normalized" middle class. Meanwhile, novels such as From Here to Eternity and Peyton Place both supported and challenged normative ideas about gender, race, and sexuality, even as they worked to critique the postwar culture of surveillance—watching and being watched—through which normalizing power functioned.

As efforts to define normality became increasingly personal, the tensions em-bedded in its binary logic multiplied: Was normal descriptive of an average or prescriptive of an ideal? In the end, Creadick shows, a variety of statistics, assumptions, and aspirations converged to recast "normality" not as something innate or inborn, but rather as a quality to be actively pursued—a standard at once highly seductive and impossible to achieve because it required becoming perfectly average.
[more]

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Playing with History
American Identities and Children’s Consumer Culture
Molly Rosner
Rutgers University Press, 2021
Since the advent of the American toy industry, children’s cultural products have attempted to teach and sell ideas of American identity. By examining cultural products geared towards teaching children American history, Playing With History highlights the changes and constancies in depictions of the American story and ideals of citizenship over the last one hundred years. This book examines political and ideological messages sold to children throughout the twentieth century, tracing the messages conveyed by racist toy banks, early governmental interventions meant to protect the toy industry, influences and pressures surrounding Cold War stories of the western frontier, the fractures visible in the American story at a mid-century history themed amusement park. The study culminates in a look at the successes and limitations of the American Girl Company empire.
 
[more]

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Presidential Libraries as Performance
Curating American Character from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush
Jodi Kanter
Southern Illinois University Press, 2016
How do the funding, setting architecture, and exhibition of a presidential library shape our understanding of the president’s character? And how do diverse performances of the presidency create radically different opportunities for the practice of American citizenship? In Presidential Libraries as Performance: Curating American Character from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, Jodi Kanter analyzes presidential libraries as performances that encourage visitors to think in particular ways about executive leadership and about their own roles in public life.

Kanter considers the moments in the presidents’ lives the museums choose to interpret, and not to interpret, and how the libraries approach common subjects in the presidential museum narrative—the presidents’ early years in relation to cultural ideals, the libraries’ representations of presidential failures, personal and political, and the question of presidential legacy. Identifying the limited number of strategies the libraries currently use to represent the diversity of the American experience and American character, Kanter offers concrete suggestions for reinventing and reshaping the practices of museum professionals and visitors within the walls of these institutions.

Presidential museums can tell us important things about the relationships between performance and politics, entertainment and history, and leaders and the people they lead. Kanter demonstrates how the presidential libraries generate normative narratives about individual presidents, historical events, and what it means to be an American.
 
[more]

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The Real American Dream
A Meditation on Hope
Andrew Delbanco
Harvard University Press, 1999

Since we discovered that, in Tocqueville’s words, “the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the heart,” how have we Americans made do? In The Real American Dream one of the nation’s premier literary scholars searches out the symbols and stories by which Americans have reached for something beyond worldly desire. A spiritual history ranging from the first English settlements to the present day, the book is also a lively, deeply learned meditation on hope.

Andrew Delbanco tells of the stringent God of Protestant Christianity, who exerted immense force over the language, institutions, and customs of the culture for nearly 200 years. He describes the falling away of this God and the rise of the idea of a sacred nation-state. And, finally, he speaks of our own moment, when symbols of nationalism are in decline, leaving us with nothing to satisfy the longing for transcendence once sustained by God and nation.

From the Christian story that expressed the earliest Puritan yearnings to New Age spirituality, apocalyptic environmentalism, and the multicultural search for ancestral roots that divert our own, The Real American Dream evokes the tidal rhythm of American history. It shows how Americans have organized their days and ordered their lives—and ultimately created a culture—to make sense of the pain, desire, pleasure, and fear that are the stuff of human experience. In a time of cultural crisis, when the old stories seem to be faltering, this book offers a lesson in the painstaking remaking of the American dream.

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Red, White, and Blues
Poets on the Promise of America
Virgil & Ryan G. Suarez & Van Cleave
University of Iowa Press, 2004

 Red, White, and Blues, a new anthology from the award-winning editors of Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America and Vespers: Contemporary American Poems of Religion and Spirituality, offers a chorus of contemporary American poets on the idea of liberty, democracy, patriotism, and the American Dream;a twenty-first-century "Song of Myself” for the entire country.

The poems in Red, White, and Blues reflect our collective memory—from icons of pop culture to national disasters and times of unrest. Yet they are not simply reflections of the headline news or political diatribes of the day; instead, they provide roadmaps of American history—roadmaps of where we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going as a nation.

Poets as diverse as Martín Espada and Paisley Rekdal, J. P. Dancing Bear and Vivian Shipley seek to answer questions that resonate within the heart of our national identity—what does it mean to be an American? What is the American Dream? How does one define patriotism? Regardless of ethnicity, gender, or class, each poet’s answer to such questions proves that our experiences unite us more than they divide us.

Red, White, and Blues is an ambitious collection of the finest contemporary poetry on the subject of America and the indefatigable spirit of its citizens. Its poems don’t pull punches, nor do they celebrate without cause. They show spirit and excitement, outrage and joy, solemnity and ambiguity—all reflections of our wonderfully diverse nation.

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Republic of Drivers
A Cultural History of Automobility in America
Cotten Seiler
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Rising gas prices, sprawl and congestion, global warming, even obesity—driving is a factor in many of the most contentious issues of our time. So how did we get here? How did automobile use become so vital to the identity of Americans? Republic of Drivers looks back at the period between 1895 and 1961—from the founding of the first automobile factory in America to the creation of the Interstate Highway System—to find out how driving evolved into a crucial symbol of freedom and agency.
            Cotten Seiler combs through a vast number of historical, social scientific, philosophical, and literary sources to illustrate the importance of driving to modern American conceptions of the self and the social and political order. He finds that as the figure of the driver blurred into the figure of the citizen, automobility became a powerful resource for women, African Americans, and others seeking entry into the public sphere. And yet, he argues, the individualistic but anonymous act of driving has also monopolized our thinking about freedom and democracy, discouraging the crafting of a more sustainable way of life. As our fantasies of the open road turn into fears of a looming energy crisis, Seiler shows us just how we ended up a republic of drivers—and where we might be headed.
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Republic of the Dispossessed
The Exceptional Old-European Consensus in America
Rowland Berthoff
University of Missouri Press, 1997

Do Americans, in all their cultural diversity, share any fundamental consensus? Does such a consensus, or anything else, make America exceptional in the modern world?

Since 1960 most historians have answered no--except perhaps for the current nostalgia for the Eisenhower years (the "Ozzie and Harriet" years of popular recollection) of middle-class American prosperity.

In Republic of the Dispossessed social historian Rowland Berthoff maintains not only that there was--and still is--a middle-class consensus and that America is exceptional in it but that it goes back some five hundred years. The consensus stems from all those European peasants and artisans who, from 1600 to 1950, fled dispossession in the Old World. They brought with them basic social values that acted as a template for middle-class American values. To consider modern American society as exceptional--that is, as distinctive and different from any contemporary European pattern of thought--is therefore, in Berthoff's theory, not at all the "illogical absurdity" that current conventional wisdom makes it.

The Berthoff thesis, as he develops it in these ten essays from throughout the course of his career, is well worth a second look by those within and beyond the field of social history. It suggests that the ideal--both peasant and classical republican-- of maintaining a balance between personal liberty and communal equality has long inspired American reaction to the drastic modern changes of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration.

Observing that most Americans still see themselves as independent, basically equal, middle-class citizens, Berthoff explains the current apprehension among Americans that at the end of the twentieth century they are once again being dispossessed-- thus, the current emphasis on "traditional values." Because that problem is the same that worried their European ancestors as much as five hundred years ago, Berthoff argues, the time has come to face the question head-on.

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The Rhetoric of White Slavery and the Making of National Identity
Leslie J Harris
Michigan State University Press, 2023
At the turn of the twentieth century, the white slavery panic pervaded American politics, influencing the creation of the FBI, the enactment of immigration law, and the content of international treaties. At the core of this controversy was the maintenance of white national space. In this comprehensive account of the Progressive Era’s sex trafficking rhetoric, Leslie Harris demonstrates the centrality of white womanhood, as a symbolic construct, to the structure of national space and belonging. Introducing the framework of the mobile imagination to read across different scales of the controversy—ranging from local to transnational—she establishes how the imaginative possibilities of mobility within public controversy work to constitute belonging in national space.
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Sense of History
The Place of the Past in American Life
David Glassberg
University of Massachusetts Press, 2001
As Americans enter the new century, their interest in the past has never been greater. In record numbers they visit museums and historic sites, attend commemorative ceremonies and festivals, watch historically based films, and reconstruct family genealogies. The question is, Why? What are Americans looking for when they engage with the past? And how is it different from what scholars call "history"? In this book, David Glassberg surveys the shifting boundaries between the personal, public, and professional uses of the past and explores their place in the broader cultural landscape. Each chapter investigates a specific encounter between Americans and their history: the building of a pacifist war memorial in a rural Massachusetts town; the politics behind the creation of a new historical festival in San Francisco; the letters Ken Burns received in response to his film series on the Civil War; the differing perceptions among black and white residents as to what makes an urban neighborhood historic; and the efforts to identify certain places in California as worthy of commemoration. Along the way, Glassberg reflects not only on how Americans understand and use the past, but on the role of professional historians in that enterprise. Combining the latest research on American memory with insights gained from Glassberg's more than twenty years of personal experience in a variety of public history projects, Sense of History offers stimulating reading for all who care about the future of history in America.
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The Short American Century
Andrew J. Bacevich
Harvard University Press, 2012

Writing in Life magazine in February 1941, Henry Luce memorably announced the arrival of “The American Century.” The phrase caught on, as did the belief that America’s moment was at hand. Yet as Andrew J. Bacevich makes clear, that century has now ended, the victim of strategic miscalculation, military misadventures, and economic decline. To take stock of the short American Century and place it in historical perspective, Bacevich has assembled a richly provocative range of perspectives.

What did this age of reputed American preeminence signify? What caused its premature demise? What legacy remains in its wake? Distinguished historians Jeffry Frieden, Akira Iriye, David Kennedy, Walter LaFeber, Jackson Lears, Eugene McCarraher, Emily Rosenberg, and Nikhil Pal Singh offer illuminating answers to these questions. Achievement and failure, wisdom and folly, calculation and confusion all make their appearance in essays that touch on topics as varied as internationalism and empire, race and religion, consumerism and globalization.

As the United States grapples with protracted wars, daunting economic uncertainty, and pressing questions about exactly what role it should play in a rapidly changing world, understanding where the nation has been and how it got where it is today is critical. What did the forging of the American Century—with its considerable achievements but also its ample disappointments and missed opportunities—ultimately yield? That is the question this important volume answers.

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Showdown
Confronting Modern America in the Western Film
John H. Lenihan
University of Illinois Press, 1980
      "Lenihan's fine study
        [brings] new levels of scholarship and sophistication to the study of
        western films.... Should prove useful in the classroom, both for social
        history and film history courses. It will introduce readers to a new way
        to view some of the old horse operas that they had once taken for granted
        as fluffy entertainment."
        -- Western American Literature
      '"The best of the recent
        books to deal with Westerns produced since World War II --- in fact, probably
        the best recent study of the Western."
        -- Journal of the West
      "Recommended for the
        student of film and the hardcore film buff. The rest of you will be surprised,
        delighted, perhaps even angered by some of the conclusions Lenihan has
        come to."
        -- Film World
 
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The Slumbering Volcano
American Slave Ship Revolts and the Production of Rebellious Masculinity
Maggie Montesinos Sale
Duke University Press, 1997
In The Slumbering Volcano, Maggie Montesinos Sale investigates depictions of nineteenth-century slave ship revolts to explore the notion of rebellion in formulations of United States national identity. Analyzing how such revolts inspired citizens to debate whether political theory directed at free men could be extended toward blacks, Sale compares the reception of fictionalized versions of ship revolts published in the 1850s—Benito Cereno by Herman Melville and The Heroic Slave by Frederick Douglass—with the previous decade’s public accounts of actual rebellions by enslaved people on the ships Amistad and Creole.
This comparison of narrative response with written public reaction to the actual revolts allows Sale to investigate the precise manner in which public opinion regarding definitions of liberty evolved over this crucial period of time between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Mapping the ways in which unequally empowered groups claimed and transformed statements associated with the discourse of national identity, Sale succeeds in recovering a historically informed sense of the discursive and activist options available to people of another era.
In its demonstration of how the United States has been uniquely shaped by its dual status as both an imperial and a postcolonial power, this study on the discourse of natural rights and national identity in the pre-Civil War United States will interest students and scholars of American studies, African American studies, gender studies, and American history and literature.
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Soccer's Neoliberal Pitch
The Sport's Power, Profit, and Discursive Politics
John M. Sloop
University of Alabama Press, 2023
A powerful cultural critique of soccer’s public rhetoric
 
American sports agnostics might raise an eyebrow at the idea that soccer represents a staging ground for cultural, social, and political possibility. It is just another game, after all, in a society where mass-audience spectator sports largely avoid any political stance other than a generic, corporate-friendly patriotism. But John M. Sloop picks up on the work of Laurent Dubois and others to see in American soccer—a sport that has achieved immense participation and popularity despite its struggle to establish major league status—a game that permits surprisingly diverse modes of thinking about national identity because of its marginality.

As a rhetorician who draws on both critical theory and culture, Sloop seeks to read soccer as the game intersects with gender, race, sexuality, and class. The result of this engagement is a sense of both enormous possibility and real constraint. If American soccer offers more possibility because of its marginality, looking at how those possibilities are constrained can provide valuable insights into neoliberal logics of power, profit, politics, and selfhood.

In Soccer’s Neoliberal Pitch, Sloop analyzes a host of soccer-adjacent phenomena: the equal pay dispute between the US women’s national team and the US Soccer Federation, the significance of hooligan literature, the introduction of English soccer to American TV audiences, the strange invisibility of the Mexican soccer league despite its consistent high TV ratings, and the reading of US national teams as “underdogs” despite the nation’s quasi-imperial dominance of the Western hemisphere. An invaluable addition to a growing bookshelf on soccer titles, Soccer’s Neoliberal Pitch serves as a model for critical cultural work with sports, with appeal to not only sports studies, but cultural studies, communication, and even gender studies classrooms.
 
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The Societal Foundations of National Competitiveness
Michael J. Mazarr
RAND Corporation, 2022
Nations rise and fall, succeed or fail in rivalries, and enjoy stability or descend into chaos because of a complex web of factors. One critical component is a nation’s essential social characteristics. This report examines the characteristics of highly competitive societies, explores the relationship of a nation’s social condition to its global standing, and then applies these lessons to the United States today.
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Sport & American Mentality 1880-1910
Donald J. Mrozek
University of Tennessee Press, 1983
Today's interest in sports in America has its roots in the period from 1880–1940. As Mrozek shows, famous and forgotten figures and athletes helped shaped the modern craze.  A national interest in sports could only be sustained after the upper classes ceased opposing organized sports.
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The State of the American Mind
16 Leading Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism
Mark Bauerlein
Templeton Press, 2015
In 1987, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was published; a wildly popular book that drew attention to the shift in American culture away from the tenants that made America—and Americans—unique. Bloom focused on a breakdown in the American curriculum, but many sensed that the issue affected more than education. The very essence of what it meant to be an American was disappearing.
 
That was over twenty years ago. Since then, the United States has experienced unprecedented wealth, more youth enrolling in higher education than ever before, and technology advancements far beyond what many in the 1980s dreamed possible. And yet, the state of the American mind seems to have deteriorated further. Benjamin Franklin’s “self-made man” has become a man dependent on the state. Independence has turned into self-absorption. Liberty has been curtailed in the defense of multiculturalism. 
 
In order to fully grasp the underpinnings of this shift away from the self-reliant, well-informed American, editors Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow have brought together a group of cultural and educational experts to discuss the root causes of the decline of the American mind.  The writers of these fifteen original essays include E. D. Hirsch, Nicholas Eberstadt, and Dennis Prager, as well as Daniel Dreisbach, Gerald Graff, Richard Arum, Robert Whitaker, David T. Z. Mindich, Maggie Jackson, Jean Twenge, Jonathan Kay, Ilya Somin, Steve Wasserman, Greg Lukianoff, and R. R. Reno. Their essays are compiled into three main categories:
 
  • States of Mind: Indicators of Intellectual and Cognitive Decline
    • These essays broach specific mental deficiencies among the population, including lagging cultural IQ, low Biblical literacy, poor writing skills, and over-medication.
  • Personal and Cognitive Habits/Interests
    • These essays turn to specific mental behaviors and interests, including avoidance of the news, short attention spans, narcissism, and conspiracy obsessions.
  • National Consequences
    • These essays examine broader trends affecting populations and institutions, including rates of entitlement claims, voting habits, and a low-performing higher education system.
 The State of the American Mind is both an assessment of our current state as well as a warning, foretelling what we may yet become. For anyone interested in the intellectual fate of America, The State of the American Mind offers an accessible and critical look at life in America and how our collective mind is faring. 
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Survival City
Adventures among the Ruins of Atomic America
Tom Vanderbilt
University of Chicago Press, 2010

On the road to Survival City, Tom Vanderbilt maps the visible and invisible legacies of the cold war, exhuming the blueprints for the apocalypse we once envisioned and chronicling a time when we all lived at ground zero. In this road trip among ruined missile silos, atomic storage bunkers, and secret test sites, a lost battleground emerges amid the architecture of the 1950s, accompanied by Walter Cotten’s stunning photographs. Survival City looks deep into the national soul, unearthing the dreams and fears that drove us during the latter half of the twentieth century.

“A crucial and dazzling book, masterful, and for me at least, intoxicating.”—Dave Eggers


“A genuinely engaging book, perhaps because [Vanderbilt] is skillful at conveying his own sense of engagement to the reader.”—Los Angeles Times


“A retracing of Dr. Strangelove as ordinary life.”—Greil Marcus, Bookforum

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Tourists of History
Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero
Marita Sturken
Duke University Press, 2007
In Tourists of History, the cultural critic Marita Sturken argues that over the past two decades, Americans have responded to national trauma through consumerism, kitsch sentiment, and tourist practices in ways that reveal a tenacious investment in the idea of America’s innocence. Sturken investigates the consumerism that followed from the September 11th attacks; the contentious, ongoing debates about memorials and celebrity-architect designed buildings at Ground Zero; and two outcomes of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City: the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

Sturken contends that a consumer culture of comfort objects such as World Trade Center snow globes, FDNY teddy bears, and Oklahoma City Memorial t-shirts and branded water, as well as reenactments of traumatic events in memorial and architectural designs, enables a national tendency to see U.S. culture as distant from both history and world politics. A kitsch comfort culture contributes to a “tourist” relationship to history: Americans can feel good about visiting and buying souvenirs at sites of national mourning without having to engage with the economic, social, and political causes of the violent events. While arguing for the importance of remembering tragic losses of life, Sturken is urging attention to a dangerous confluence—of memory, tourism, consumerism, paranoia, security, and kitsch—that promulgates fear to sell safety, offers prepackaged emotion at the expense of critical thought, contains alternative politics, and facilitates public acquiescence in the federal government’s repressive measures at home and its aggressive political and military policies abroad.

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Transnational America
Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms
Inderpal Grewal
Duke University Press, 2005
In Transnational America, Inderpal Grewal examines how the circulation of people, goods, social movements, and rights discourses during the 1990s created transnational subjects shaped by a global American culture. Rather than simply frame the United States as an imperialist nation-state that imposes unilateral political power in the world, Grewal analyzes how the concept of “America” functions as a nationalist discourse beyond the boundaries of the United States by disseminating an ideal of democratic citizenship through consumer practices. She develops her argument by focusing on South Asians in India and the United States.

Grewal combines a postcolonial perspective with social and cultural theory to argue that contemporary notions of gender, race, class, and nationality are linked to earlier histories of colonization. Through an analysis of Mattel’s sales of Barbie dolls in India, she discusses the consumption of American products by middle-class Indian women newly empowered with financial means created by India’s market liberalization. Considering the fate of asylum-seekers, Grewal looks at how a global feminism in which female refugees are figured as human rights victims emerged from a distinctly Western perspective. She reveals in the work of three novelists who emigrated from India to the United States—Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and Amitav Ghosh—a concept of Americanness linked to cosmopolitanism. In Transnational America Grewal makes a powerful, nuanced case that the United States must be understood—and studied—as a dynamic entity produced and transformed both within and far beyond its territorial boundaries.

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front cover of We Are All Americans, Pure and Simple
We Are All Americans, Pure and Simple
Theodore Roosevelt and the Myth of Americanism
Leroy G. Dorsey
University of Alabama Press, 2008
The turn of the 20th century represented one of the most chaotic periods in the nation's history, as immigrants, Native Americans, and African Americans struggled with their roles as Americans while white America feared their encroachments on national identity. This book examines Theodore Roosevelt’s public rhetoric—speeches, essays, and narrative histories—as he attempted to craft one people out of many. Leroy G. Dorsey observes that Roosevelt's solution to the problem appeared straightforward: everyone could become "Americans, pure and simple" if they embraced his notion of "Americanism." Roosevelt grounded his idea of Americanism in myth, particularly the frontier myth—a heroic combination of individual strength and character. When nonwhites and immigrants demonstrated these traits, they would become true Americans, earning an exalted status that they had heretofore been denied.
 
Dorsey’s analysis illuminates how Roosevelt's rhetoric achieved a number of delicate, if problematic, balancing acts. Roosevelt gave his audiences the opportunity to accept a national identity that allowed "some" room for immigrants and nonwhites, while reinforcing their status as others, thereby reassuring white Americans of their superior place in the nation. Roosevelt’s belief in an ordered and unified nation did not overwhelm his private racist attitudes, Dorsey argues, but certainly competed with them. Despite his private sentiments, he recognized that racist beliefs and rhetoric were divisive and bad for the nation’s progress. The resulting message he chose to propagate was thus one of a rhetorical, if not literal, melting pot.
 
By focusing on Roosevelt’s rhetorical constructions of national identity, as opposed to his personal exploits or his role as a policy maker, We Are All Americans offers new insights into Roosevelt’s use of public discourse to bind the nation together during
one of the most polarized  periods in its history.
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front cover of We'll Always Have Paris
We'll Always Have Paris
American Tourists in France since 1930
Harvey Levenstein
University of Chicago Press, 2004
For much of the twentieth century, Americans had a love/hate relationship with France. While many admired its beauty, culture, refinement, and famed joie de vivre, others thought of it as a dilapidated country populated by foul-smelling, mean-spirited anti-Americans driven by a keen desire to part tourists from their money. We'll Always Have Paris explores how both images came to flourish in the United States, often in the minds of the same people.

Harvey Levenstein takes us back to the 1930s, when, despite the Great Depression, France continued to be the stomping ground of the social elite of the eastern seaboard. After World War II, wealthy and famous Americans returned to the country in droves, helping to revive its old image as a wellspring of sophisticated and sybaritic pleasures. At the same time, though, thanks in large part to Communist and Gaullist campaigns against U.S. power, a growing sensitivity to French anti-Americanism began to color tourists' experiences there, strengthening the negative images of the French that were already embedded in American culture. But as the century drew on, the traditional positive images were revived, as many Americans again developed an appreciation for France's cuisine, art, and urban and rustic charms.

Levenstein, in his colorful, anecdotal style, digs into personal correspondence, journalism, and popular culture to shape a story of one nation's relationship to another, giving vivid play to Americans' changing response to such things as France's reputation for sexual freedom, haute cuisine, high fashion, and racial tolerance. He puts this tumultuous coupling of France and the United States in historical perspective, arguing that while some in Congress say we may no longer have french fries, others, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, know they will always have Paris, and France, to enjoy and remember.
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