Presentation on theme: "American Identities in a Divided America Outline The 1950s sense of unity The (Dis)integration of national identity? – John Higham’s argument (1974)"— Presentation transcript:
American Identities in a Divided America
Outline The 1950s sense of unity The (Dis)integration of national identity? – John Higham’s argument (1974) What happened to homogeneity? – Technology and the question of American character An increasing sense of division?
THE 1950 S SENSE OF UNITY
The “homogeniety” of the 1950s Homogeneity? The 1950s Cold War Consensus Class convergence (?) Liberals All John Kouwenhoven and David Potter
David Potter, People of Plenty 1954 US shaped by special circumstance Excess land, food, Grew faster than other economies National traits shaped by plenty Optimistic, “can-do,” future orientation Mobile - opportunity seeking Work will bring success Reject state as solution Embrace and develop advertising
Kouwenhoven Focus on architecture & material culture A National Style - design characteristics Vernacular, not high style Grid Improvisation within a structure Process not product Modularity
1960s: Critiques of Kouwenhoven and Potter White Americans Civil Rights Movement Social class Women? Ethnic minorities Tend to assume national unity and describe it, rather than prove it exists Shift toward studies of smaller groups Community, not the nation Diversity, not unity
THE (DIS)INTEGRATION OF US HISTORY?
John Higham, “Hanging Together” 1974 American Historical Association presidential address Against backdrop of shift to micro-histories (ethnic-labor-women, etc.) Searching for general patterns to explain unity But young scholars focusing on diversity
Higham 1. Primordial unity 17 th c. Americans bound to neighbors, to kin Linked to a specific place Not necessarily an ethnic feeling Settler communities in mid west Distinct Indian tribes (not Pan-Indian ethnicity) “modern ethnic group is a federation of primordial collectivities”
Higham, pp Ideology Ideology is not tradition Ideology not mythology an explicit system of beliefs that provides – A shared identity – A common program of action – A sense of history – A standard for self-criticism
Higham 2.1 Religious ideology Evolves from 18th century Specific beliefs for each denomination – Endless debate and splits, e.g. about transubstantiation Inclusive truths – Free choice of Xtian faith, but should be Xtian – Providential guidance of the nation toward a better society - I.e. Kingdom of God was secular Ritual form: the camp meeting
Higham 2.2 Political ideology Also evolves from middle 18th century Multiplicity of groups Checks & balances Collective mission to improve nation Passion for individual liberty Against strong central power Ritual forms: political conventions
Higham 3 Unity through technology Developing from early 19th century Embrace of rationalization Diffusion of technical values
Higham 3.1 “In subjugating matter through the aid of mechanism, human beings come more and more to resemble God.” Substitution of technique for principles Technical integration as unity Realization of perfection in material world Technological sublime
Photograph by Lewis Hine, 1930
TECHNOLOGY AND HOMOGENEITY?
1950s and 1960s Did Technology Homogenize? Fears of standardization Ford Telephone Levittown & Suburbia “Little Boxes” "A Day's Output of Model Ts, Highland Park," 1915.
Life Magazine Levittown House and family, 1948
Levittown today Houses transformed Retain high real estate value
Homogenization? Supermarket Multi channel e-marketing Food at Ellis Island
AN INCREASING SENSE OF DIVISION
US House Seats, after 2010 election
Who supported which party in 2010? Cities of 500,000 or more 50,000 – 500,000 10,000 – 50,000 Less than 10,000 Whites in South Aged Source: New York Times,10 Nov %34% Democrats Republicans
American Anti-urban Tradition Jefferson Thoreau, Emerson Middle landscape Flight to suburbs, from c Cities viewed as corrupt, dangerous But, Rural US in 19 c not always conservative Emerson, Thoreau, etc. supported abolition
Democrats Women African Americans Hispanic Americans Asian Americans Educated whites Under 35 Unions Urban Is this a Coalition?
Republicans Evangelicals Conservative Catholics Wall Street “Dixicans” Elderly Rural areas Suburban whites Is this a Coalition?
Conclusions (1) Americans exaggerate their differences War and Crisis forge (temporary) consensus – World War II and Cold War During Vietnam divisiveness reasserted Polarization increased after 1990 Persistence of older patterns – eg religion – Edwards and Franklin
American polarization Pastoral (anti-urban) Melting pot Value Standardization Fundamentalist Religion Local control, anti-statist Individualistic Resistance to Welfare Right to bear arms Anti-abortion Love of mechanical perfection Multicultural Value Diversity Ecumenical State needed as regulator Want Social Security, Medicare Philanthropic Support gun control Pro-choice