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Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism

David W. Noble
Foreword by George Lipsitz
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Death of a Nation
    Book Description:

    In Death of a Nation, David Noble presents the culmination of decades of thought in a sweeping treatise on the shaping of contemporary American studies and an eloquent summation of his distinguished career. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9440-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD: The Unpredictable Creativity of David Noble
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    George Lipsitz

    David Noble is an original and generative thinker. For more than five decades, his writings have offered us unparalleled insights into the U.S. nation and its collective imagination. Like most historians, he concerns himself with change over time, with what can be learned once we realize that part of “what things are” lies in “how they came to be.” But Noble is not just interested inwhatwe know, he also wants us to think abouthowwe know. His analyses probe beneath surface appearances to reveal unexamined assumptions and uninterrogated ideologies embedded in the seemingly neutral terms and concepts...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Space Travels
    (pp. xxiii-xlvi)

    In 2000, a collection of essays titledPost-Nationalist American Studieswas published. The contributors understood themselves to be participants in a scholarly revolution that, for them, had begun in the 1960s. At that point, American studies as an academic discipline was only thirty years old. The 1960s revolutionists, as the contributors saw them in 2000, were rejecting elders who “justified American exceptionalism” and “rarely challenged the assumption that the nation-state was the proper unit of analysis for understanding American experience.”¹ This unusable past, for the current writers about the field, was built on the erroneous tradition begun by the men...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Birth and Death of American History
    (pp. 1-37)

    I had argued inHistorians against History(1965) that George Bancroft, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Charles Beard wrote their histories from the paradigmatic assumption that Europe represented time and America (the United States) represented timeless space. I was able to place this metaphor of two worlds in an international context inThe End of American History(1985) by relating the vision of timeless space to a republican tradition that moved from Renaissance Italy into the English colonies. Now, in this book, I am placing this theory that time and space are dichotomies within the transatlantic bourgeois culture, which, by 1800,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Historians Leaving Home, Killing Fathers
    (pp. 38-78)

    When Richard Hofstadter published his bookThe Progressive Historiansin 1968, he described it as an act of parricide. He believed that he had cut himself off from the historians who were most important to him in the 1930s, the literary historian Vernon Lewis Parrington as well as Turner and Beard. It was the Beards’The Rise of American Civilization, however, that had been the most important text influencing the narratives of Hofstadter, William Appleman Williams, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. at the beginning of the 1940s. In 1965 I had publishedHistorians against History, which criticized Turner, Parrington, and Beard....

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Crisis of American Literary Criticism from World War I to World ar II
    (pp. 79-105)

    Going into World War II, historians who specialized in the study of the history of the United States called their professional organization “The Mississippi Valley Historical Association.” But soon after the end of the war, they discarded this designation and renamed themselves “The Organization of American Historians.” This change symbolized the generational discontinuity experienced by men such as Hofstadter, Schlesinger Jr., and Williams. They had lost their ability to believe in the Anglo- American myth of national origins, which had been such a powerful reality for Bancroft, Turner, and the Beards. They no longer saw a people born from that...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Elegies for the National Landscape
    (pp. 106-128)

    In 1943 a graduate program in American studies was begun at the University of Minnesota. Tremaine McDowell and several other professors in the English department who taught American literature played major roles in its creation. Until the end of the 1960s the program’s doctoral seminar was taught by a member of the English department. The chairs of the program were also from English. McDowell persuaded three of the early graduates of the Harvard Program in American Civilization— Henry Nash Smith, Bernard Bowron, and Leo Marx—to join the Minnesota English department and give intellectual substance to the new American Studies...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The New Literary Criticism: The Death of the Nation Born in New England
    (pp. 129-150)

    When modern nations were imagined as sacred spaces, it became the duty of all artists—historians, novelists, poets,musicians, painters, and architects—to express the beauty, the goodness, and the truth of national landscapes. These landscapes were given substance as the variety of artists gave them representation. The orthodoxy of modern nationalism insisted that the purpose of art was to represent the recently discovered and marvelous realities. A nation’s people, its male citizens, had emerged from this landscape. The arts needed to share the organic relationship of the people to the landscape. They, too, needed to emerge organically from the soil...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Vanishing National Landscape: Painting, Architecture,Music, and Philosophy in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 151-214)

    The New Literary Critics made literature into an abstract art when they no longer could see literature as an organic expression of a landscape that embodied the good, true, and beautiful. The promise of bourgeois nationalism that national landscapes could produce such an organic art was shattered in the 1940s. The Marxist promise that the urban-industrial landscape could produce an organic art also disintegrated in this revolutionary decade. Both bourgeois nationalists and Marxists believed that it was the responsibility of the arts to represent the reality of these landscapes and the reality of the democratic peoples who were the children...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Disintegration of National Boundaries: Literary Criticism in the Late Twentieth Century
    (pp. 215-249)

    Having joined the history department at Minnesota in 1952, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the American Studies Program. I believe this participation was crucial to the development of my focus on the role of a concept of space for the dominant culture. In contact with colleagues and graduate students who were interested in painting, architecture,music, and philosophy, I was able to theorize how the parallel crises in these separate academic disciplines were interrelated with the crisis of the national landscape in the 1940s and 1950s. I was also fortunate to be in such close contact...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The End of American History
    (pp. 250-286)

    My generation of historians, who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s, responded to the crisis of bourgeois nationalism in the United States in a dramatically different way than did our contemporaries who taught American literature—the symbol-myth school and the New Literary critics. Both of those groups continued to hope that the purity of literary texts written by male Anglo-Protestants could be segregated from the corruption and fragmentation of capitalism. But Richard Hofstadter, who had defended the purity of the imagined spiritual fraternity of the democracy of 1830 against the materialism of international capitalism in his first book,...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 287-302)

    The story I have told about the triumph of cultural anthropology in the writing of literary criticism and history since the 1960s is filled with irony. In contrast to these academic cultures, the dominant political culture in the United States from the 1940s to the present has been characterized by a revitalization of state-of-nature anthropology. Bourgeois nationalism had qualified the imagined autonomy of the essential and natural individual who supposedly existed before the artful construction of society. Bourgeois nationalists insisted that this individual place national interest above self-interest. Building on this premise, these nationalists were able to link the liberty...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 303-336)
  16. Index
    (pp. 337-352)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-353)