The Search for a Method in American Studies

The Search for a Method in American Studies

Cecil F. Tate
Copyright Date: 1973
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 178
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv0pn
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  • Book Info
    The Search for a Method in American Studies
    Book Description:

    The Search for a Method in American Studies was first published in 1973. Among scholars in the field of American Studies there has been intensive discussion for some years over the possibility of developing a systematic interdisciplinary method for the study of American culture. Professor Tate contributes significantly to the development of such a method by presenting a summary view or platform from which to survey the assumptions and achievements of American Studies. Commenting on the book, Professor Harold H. Kolb, Jr., of the University of Virginia writes: “The work is timely since Americans seem to be presently engaged in rethinking not only American Studies, but also interdisciplinary relationships, the entire climate of academic studies, and cultural concepts and values. Mr. Tate contributes intelligently to these currents of revaluation. And I think his conclusions -- synthetic and eclectic, able to see the strengths and limitations of a variety of different and often opposed points of view -- are sound and useful.” The author explores two central concepts as they have come to be used in American Studies, holism and myth, by examining four key works: Roy Harvey Pearce’s The Continuity of American Poetry, Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land, John William Ward’s Andrew Jackson, and R. W. Lewis’s The American Adam. In his consideration he assesses the achievements and limitations of organic holism and goes on to consider some extensions of the central concepts: American Studies as a reply to the New Critics, the problem of language and culture, the concept of national character, and literary nationalism. He shows that much of the scholarly writing in the field exhibits a true originality which can be defined as a unique American Studies methods, but he also emphasizes the need to explore alternatives to holism, such as structuralism, for, as he explains, “it seems to me that we have most to learn from structural anthropology and linguistics, which once again have raised the possibility of the unity of knowledge.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5508-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  3. Prologue: American Studies and the Problem of Method
    (pp. 3-8)

    When I began this book, method was to me already more than merely a conceptual problem. I was convinced that method, especially in the humanities, has a much deeper significance than is often thought. At the outset I was puzzled by what certain writers on American culture were saying, puzzled by not only their statements but their assumptions and the implications of what they said. I wondered if there was something that could be validly called method in American Studies. But there was a larger issue that concerned me: the meaning of method in human affairs. Of all American writers,...

  4. I Holism and Myth in American Studies
    (pp. 9-24)

    When Tremaine McDowell’s little book —American Studies— appeared in 1948, the American Studies movement was in its infancy.¹ But this publishing event set off a flurry of discussion, which has not yet ceased, about the possibility of a systematic method for American Studies. Since 1948 the debate has been carried on largely in academic journals. The issue joined in the journals was the extent to which a synoptic method could be agreed upon which viewed culture as a whole. The most cautious expectations were voiced by Henry Nash Smith. In “Can ‘American Studies’ Develop a Method?” — a key article published...

  5. II The Poet as a Culture Hero: Pearce’s The Continuity of American Poetry
    (pp. 25-46)

    InThe Continuity of American Poetry(1961), Roy Harvey Pearce sets for himself a comprehensive critical task: to discover a unifying principle in American poetry from the Puritan writers to the present and in so doing to illustrate a theory which systematically relates American poetry to American culture. He proposes to base his findings on a close critical reading and textual explication. The results are often excellent. Pearce is committed to the search for a unity in American poetry, yet throughout the text he is also dedicated to pointing out diversity and singularity among individual poets. He seldom shirks detailed...

  6. III America’s Cultural Home: Smith’s Virgin Land
    (pp. 47-64)

    Virgin Land(1950) is a pioneering effort to treat imaginative literature concurrently with political and economic ideas as a part of the broad sweep of cultural history, while at the same time recognizing the essential differences between the two kinds of material. Its impact is still difficult to assess. Smith’s greatest influence is the stimulation that he has given to the infant discipline of American Studies and to scholars venturing into new and strange paths of research.Virgin Landwas the first book dealing with large aspects of American culture in terms of myth and symbol, but since its appearance...

  7. IV The Warrior -Politician as Cultural Hero: Ward’s Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age
    (pp. 65-86)

    Unlike the other subjects of this book, John Ward is a historian rather than a literary critic. However, his bookAndrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age(1955) is of special interest to literary critics as well as cultural historians for two reasons: Ward is concerned with the cultural dynamics of mythopoesis (or cultural symbol creation) andAndrew Jacksoncontains an implicit holistic theory of the genesis of myth; and the materials which form the basic data of his research and evidence lie on the periphery of products of the literary imagination: political speeches, eulogies, anecdotes, popular songs and poems, cartoons,...

  8. V Culture and the Dramatic Dialogue: Lewis’s The American Adam
    (pp. 87-104)

    InThe American Adam(1955) R. W. B. Lewis is concerned, like Pearce, with the Adamic myth. He hopes to identify “the beginnings and the first tentative outlines of a native American mythology.”¹ The period covered by Lewis is primarily 1820-1860, although some of the most important works he discusses were finished long after 1860:Billy Budd(completed by Melville in 1891) and several novels by Henry James which furnish Lewis with a long list of evidence.

    The native American mythology which Lewis identifies revolves around the figure of an American Adam. He suggests that the myth has three major...

  9. VI The Achievements and Limitations of Organic Holism
    (pp. 105-126)

    Each of the four writers discussed in this book has made important substantive contributions to American Studies as a discipline, but more importantly they have contributed significantly to its method. Their work forms a paradigm of the holistic approach to the study of American culture. The writing of Pearce, Smith, Ward, and Lewis exhibits the intrinsic weaknesses of the method, but their accomplishments are still highly suggestive and worthy of close study. Having examined them in some detail, we are now in a position to pull together some of the loose strands of this account and consider at greater length...

  10. VII American Studies as a Discipline
    (pp. 127-150)

    It is a commonplace among many scholars that American Studies is in a state of crisis. Criticism leveled at the present state of the American Studies movement is justified, but only in part and not on the grounds that are usually given. The first criticism is commonly that American Studies has no discernible method. If this charge is interpreted to mean that American Studies has no codifiable set of techniques and procedures of an order comparable to those of physics or psychology, then the criticism must be granted. But if this is the correct meaning of the criticism, its force...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 151-160)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 161-168)