American Studies has duplicated America

  1. begins in rebellion
  2. concentrates on the ought rather than the is
  3. divorce from history



But the trends are beginning to be reverse for both.  Question:  what would be the implications of an America conscious of history rather than fable?


            Consider the depiction of the draft riots in Gangs of New York


“Climate of opinion” history?  Too monolithic.


Prefers “drama” metaphor

  1. dynamic
  2. transactional



Paradigm== pattern of belief and acts that illustrate the belief.


I.  V. L. Parrington Main Currents in American Thought (1927)

            Usable past: urgency to the present plus a way to order divergent experiences


            Parrington hardened against eastern establishment when Harvard rejected him for grad school at age 36


`           Parrington going it alone:  How American is this?


            Single mind grappling with American materials to wrest order—the element “paradigm drama” of American studies.  Not only first, but embodies a characteristic urge.


Perry Miller

Miller’s jungle epiphany


Like Parrington, seizes the past and demands that it yield answers.  Not just a desire to make a contribution, but a passionate desire to know:  as if life depended on it.


Williams and Gabriel:  The American Mind, 1937


Movement grows in 40’s and 50’s  The work of the symbol-myth-image scholars.


a.      there is an American mind

b.      located in new world, characteristically hopeful, as opposed to European tragic mind

c.       the mind received coherent expression through leading thinkers, thus Great Books approach

d.      enduring qualities:  Puritanism, Individualism, Progress, Pragmatism, Transcnedenatlism, Liberalism, run through the whole of America’s past

e.      Study of popular minds okay but high culture revealed American mind most profoundly


David Potter’s observation:  We have tended to overleap problems, to go around rather than solve them.  (an inexact quotation)


II.  Seminar by Robert Spiller and Thomas Cochran signals shift to corporate approach, as opposed to individual found in Parrington and Miller.  Supported by massive grants.


Wise seems to see in Smith, Lewis, Marx, Spiller, et al, a good old boy network, heavily funded in the new social and economic condition of American universities.


III.  Robert Meridith:  Culture Therapy 202

Assumes an adversary role against the culture.  Teacher as Radical


1972, 73 Radical Caucus of ASA


Begins proliferation of subcultural studies, against grain of earlier holistic approach.


Delcine since, disintegration of notion of a usable past, America linked with Europe on one side of an economic chasm.


American Studies becomes a parasite.


No consensus on usable past, look through multiple cultures

  1. concern for anthropological definition of culture
  2. seeing social structures as basis for artistic productions
  3. reflexive tendencies


An important debate.  Scientific method?  Its value.  Can unscientific method be valued.  Marx’s distinction between public opinion and humanistic insight.


Marx’s sense that literature transcends, Kelly’s that it is grounded in social context, another product of that society.


Recent reflexive quality in American studies.


  1. pluralistic rather than holistic approach
  2. rediscovery of the particular
  3. emphasis on proportion rather than essence
  4. cross-cultural, comparative dimension to American studies