North American Civilisation

A Summary

Abstract, 2013

7 Pages, Grade: 3,00


American Studies

- Fields: Geography, Politics, Immigration, Class / Race / Gender, Popular Culture, Religion, Education, Arts, Music
- Key Words: American Dream (better life), Founding Fathers, Manifest Destiny (offensichtliche Bestimmung = believe in divine ordert o expand westwards), Exceptionalism (today´s US-policies can only be explained by the countries special history that differs from any other country), Self-Reliance (USA not dependent on other countries for survival, own raw materials), Frontier (frontier between civilisation and wilderness / savages), Westward Expansion, Assimilation (different immigrant cultures melt together into one American society), Multiculturalism, Minorities (immigrant minorities – blacks, latinos), Melting Pot, Hollywood, Entertainment, Mass Media
- Sources: historical (diaries, letters, declarations, speeches), contemporary (literature, essays, film)
- American Studies in Austria: first programme in Innsbruck (1956), AAAS founded 1974, international relations

What constitutes America

- Arthur M. Schlesinger: „E pluribus unum?“ (out of many one) – America as multiethnic country right from the start, but Schlesinger opponent of multiculturalism – eruption of ethnicity as threat to American identity, traditional civic ideals and ideal of melting pot -> creation of brand-new national identity, melt away ethnic differences
- Hector St. John des Crevecoeur: American is a European or descendant of European, individuals of all nations are melted into a new race, will one day cause great changes in the world – Americans as western pilgrims, labour founded on self-interest
- American Exceptionalism: US destined to perform a special role in the world, as model for European societies – keyword coined in 20th century by Joseph Stalin – critiques: tendency to reduce question of national identity to singularity, study American society in isolation
- George W. Bush: 9/11 as fundamental transformation of history that took place in history, US global defense against threat of Islamic terrorism, American society remains split politically, economically and socially – various cultures forge national identity (melting pot)? lost traditional foundations? US suffer from crisis of self-image?
- Spike Lee: Do the right thing – loyality to one self or group / community? right American thing: make a difference / negotiate, wrong un-American thing: initiate riot / choose sides
- Transnational approach: from roots (fixed identity) to routes (multiple identities) – cross-cultural perspectives – American culture as a host of crossroads of other cultures
- Poem „We call them Greasers“: male and racist supremacist Anglo speaker who ridicules farming methods of Mexicans and their cowardice and lack of English – Manifest Destiny – rape and lynching as institutionalised violence, woman below man

Pilgrim Father to Urban Cowboy

American myths

- frontier, self-made-man, city upon a hill, universalisms, simplifications
- R.W.B. Lewis, The American Adam: figure of heroic innocence, vast potentiality, poised at the start of a new history, new American scene, radically new personality, individual emancipated from history, standing alone, ready to confront whatever awaited him, moral position prior to experience, creator, poet
- Frederick Jackson Turner: Frontier thesis – line between savagery and civilization, westward expansion as American progress, more westward = more independence from old Europe, first frontier is Atlantic coast, frontier became more and more American, growth of independence, frontier is productive of individualism and promotes democracy, to the frontier American intellect owes its striking characteristics, America is another name for oppurtunity

Cowboys and Indians

- Tecumseh: only way to stop evil is for the red men to unite claiming equal right to land, land belongs to all – death in war 1812, Canadian hero; „Sell a country! Why not sell the air?“
- General Sheridan: The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.
- Masculine ideal: Owen Wister „The Virginian“ – colonial romance; Theodore Roosevelt „The strenous life“ – healthy state when people lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives (man labour, woman housewife); Turner – west as blank page, self-made man as western man´s ideal
- Film examples: The Searchers, Brokeback mountain

American Dream – Melting Pot to Salad Bowl

Early Founders

- Spanish in Florida, South-West, California in 1500 and 1600 – catholic, farming
- English in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, then Maryland, Georgia, Carolina – commerce, tobacco, African slaves
- Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts 1620/30 – Mass. Bay Colony (today Boston), religios / political / economic freedom, farmers, merchants, city upon a hill, strongest homogenity
- Dutch / Scandinavians in New York, New Jersay, Pennsylvania in 1600 – fur trade with natives, strongest mixture of population
- Quakers from England in Pennsylvania late 1600 – religious refuge
- City Upon A Hill: derived from gospel of Matthew, New England as example for the world – John Winthrop´s sermon; puritans as community specially ordained by God, maintaining perfect social order; Kennedy (1961): eyes of all people upon us, men aware of great trust and great responsibilities, courage – judgement – integrity – dedication as historic qualities of Bay Colony; Reagan (1989): shining city upon a hill, tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, teeming with people of all kinds


- Four waves: 1680 – 1776 (colonial immigration), 1820-90 (old immigrants), 1890-1930 (new immigrants), 1965-now
- Colonial immigration (1680-1776): Scots-Irish, Germans, English convicts, Irish Catholics, French Huguenots and Jews – English dominance in number but not in power
- Old immigrants (1820-90): Naturalization Act 1790 – only whites as American citizens – Europeans (Germans, Britons, Scandinavians) for economic reasons, industrial revolution, persecution (Jews), potato famine (black Irish)
- New immigrants (1890-1930): southern and eastern Europe (Jews, Poles, Hungarians, Russians) for economic reasons; nativism / discrimination, technical advancements, increased mobility, urbanity and agricultur
- Melting Pot: Isreal Zangwill (1908) – glory of America where all races come to labour and look forward
- National Quota Acts: Ellis Island 1891, immigration bans for convicts, prostitutes, radicals, Chinese, Japanese, Emergency Quota Act, Asian Exclusion Act, National Origins Quota Act – legal framework until 1965
- Fourth wave (1965-now): race irrelevant, brain drain, family reunification, skilled workers, refugees – late 1990 highest immigration
- Acts: 1990: Immigration Reform and Control Act; 1996: Federal Immigration and Welfare Reform (Mexico!); 2002: USA Patriot Act (stricter regulations)

Class and Slavery


- during 18th century imported from Africa
- branded, saled at auctions
- importation banned 1808
- enslaved African American blacksmith planned a revolt, conspiracy uncovered, he was hanged
- Louisiana Purchase (slavery prohibited) from France, US doubles in size, Florida to US
- 1812 war on Britain over westward expansion till 1814 Treaty of Ghent
- Missouri Compromise: balance between free and slave states
- 1823: Monroe Doctrine - President declares that American conteints off-limits for further colonization by Europe
- 1828 first public railroad
- 1830: President Jackson signs Indian removal Act
- 1831: Nat Turner – most significant slave uprising -> bloody day-long rebellion in Virginia, Turner hanged; „Liberator“ weekly paper wants to abolish slavery
- 1836 Texas independent from Mexico
- 1938: Trail of Tears – Cherokee Indians march from Georgia to Oklahoma
- 1948: Gold Rush; Women´s Rights Convention Seneca Falls
- 1850: slave trade prohibited in Washington
- 1852: „Uncle Tom´s Cabin“ by Harriett Beecher Stowe
- 1860: Lincoln president, later states secede (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana) – Jefferson Davis as president of Confederate States
- 1861-1865: Civil War – North (Union) against South (Confederacy) over expansion of slavery
- 1863: Emancipation Proclamation: frees slaves in confederate states – Battle of Gettysburg, confederate general Robert E. Lee surrenders to general Ulysses S. Grant; Homestead Act allowing settlers to claim land
- 1865: Lincoln assassinated, 13th Amendment prohibits slavery
- Reconstruction 1865-77
- Great Migration: Southern African Americans to northern cities (Harlem)
- race theory: slave as tabula rasa, master culture, European view of Africans as savages (James Baldwin: Africa had no history, you belonged where white people put you – “American Dream and the American Negro”)
- slave narratives: no accurate knowledge of their age, Solomon Northrup “12 years a slave”, songs of the slaves represent their sorrow, double-consciousness: lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world

Civil Rights Movement

- 1954: legal segregation annulled
- 1957: Little Rock – Eisenhower enforced school segregation
- Rosa Parks: bus boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr.
- 1964: Civil Rights Act
- 1965: Voting Rights Act
- Malcolm X: Nation of Islam, not Democrat, not Republican, not American, victim of American system, American nightmare, radical – black nationalism: individual life as “testimony of some social value


- class as another race: all men are created equal – poor = black; poor white = white trash
- Thomas Jefferson: farmer as backbone of chosen country, farmer as national value (small landholders most precious part of a state), land/property as human right – social contract: work for everybody and land for everybody (earth given as common stock, fundamental right to labor the earth)
- Upton Sinclair “The Jungle” – brutalizing work, people as parts of the machines, gift of insensibility, ciritizes capitalism, describes hygiene and work in a slaughterhouse and cannery
- James Dickey “Deliverance” – hillbillies of the “red-neck South”: at least one per family in penitentiary (murder), many illnesses, blind or one-eyed
- Social and cultural stereotyping: preconceived notions, longstanding tradition of classifications, symbolic meaning to behaviour / appearance, single elements lead to generalizations, hillbillies = degenerate = white trash
- assumptions: shame, misfortune, laziness, bad taste, perversion, degeneration – white trash stereotype useful way of blaming poor for being poor -> cultural and intellectual superiority
- Eugenics (study and practice of selective breeding with humans): 1880-1920 US Eugenics Records Office, Greek word “eu” for good, suffix “genes” for born (racial mixtures, survival of unfittest as nightmare, racial inheritable, qualitative of population), Sir Francis Galton – improve or impair racial quality of future generations, widely popular in early 20th century, disrepute after Holocaust, scientific racism, designer baby, supported by Woodrow Wilson (marriage laws, bans of interracial marriage)
- belief in racial superiority of old stock white Americans -> poor whites shiftless or criminal
- myth of inherited degeneration, economic discrimination, denial of same sources
- Literature: William Faulkner (Snopes-Trilogy), Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Mississippi Burning, Natural Born Killers, Beavis and Butthead, Married with Children
- worst nightmare: white trash success – Dolly Parton (Princess of Country), Roseanne, Bill Clinton (white trash President – Clinton to Bush = out with the trash, in with the class; Levinsky-Affair, someone reminds of ourselves, foolish but understands everyday problems and concerns), Elvis (negro sound and feel, hybrid of male potency and female vulnerability, excessive body spectacle – Elvis the Pelvis


Excerpt out of 7 pages


North American Civilisation
A Summary
University of Salzburg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
North America, American Civilisation, America Studies, American History
Quote paper
Bianca Lehner (Author), 2013, North American Civilisation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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