When St. John de Crevecoeur asked in 1782, "What, then, is an American, this new man?," he was asking a very important question about the historical origins of the American character and a new national identity. In other words, what did it mean to be an American six years after the founding fathers had already declared independence?
This course will explore the emergence of the first Americans and how an American identity or the archetype of the American character has changed over time to the present. Beginning with Native Americans and European contact, we will move through the Colonial Experience, American Revolution, Industrial Revolution, slavery and the Civil War, modernity, progressivism, the Cold War, and globalization. Class discussions will focus on when an American character and national identity first emerged, and how both have changed or evolved over time to embody the ideals of the modern American. Questions about American exceptionalism will also be explored in relation to a changing American identity over time, as will historiographical questions, cultural and historical studies, and literary texts, to help explain the changing values, ideas, and paradoxes of defining the American character and a national identity in both the past and present.