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American Dreams, American Realities - Notes as of 2.10

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by: Katie Nelson

American Dreams, American Realities - Notes as of 2.10 History 130D

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Weekly notes as of 2.10.2016
American Dreams, American Realities
Gerald Wilson
Class Notes
American History




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This 11 page Class Notes was uploaded by Katie Nelson on Tuesday February 16, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to History 130D at Duke University taught by Gerald Wilson in Winter 2016. Since its upload, it has received 214 views. For similar materials see American Dreams, American Realities in History at Duke University.


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Date Created: 02/16/16
American Dreams, American Realities – Lecture 2.3.16 Introduction 1. Three Questions a. What is this course about? b. What is an American about? i. Trying to define the American character ii. “To be an American is an ideal, to be a Frenchman is a fact… for we have a national sense of identity not rooted in history, but in a cultural mythology.” iii. Robert Cruben – underlying thesis of the course 1. “American myths are (Anglo-Saxon male myths in their origins) a combination of Christianity, capitalism, and democracy, IN THAT ORDER.” c. Can this course be offered as anything but a history course 50 years from now? i. Will non-Anglo-Saxon groups continue to buy into these myths and will these minorities become the majority? ii. These myths have been glue in the past, but can it continue to the future? 2. What is a myth and what is its function? 3. Relationship Between Myth and History a. Nicholas Chords and Patrick Gerstr – “Myth and history have always enjoyed a close working relationship. Myths are the traditional stories a culture tells itself about itself… Myth and reality are complementary elements of the historical record. The intersection of myth and reality occurs when people base their beliefs on the myths and act as if the myths are true.” Five Basic Myths 1. Flexible myths that change overtime  durable because they’re flexible a. Success Myth b. Frontier Myth c. Agrarian Myth d. Foreign Devil Myth e. City on a Hill Myth What is History? 2. History = Fact + Interpretation 3. Benedite Crochet (???) – “All history is contemporary history.” a. History is constantly redefined by what is happening in the currently b. Viewed through the lens of what is important to us today 4. “To understand a thing fully is to know its history.” 5. Leerson – “We know foreign cultures, and most of our own culture, by reputation only.” 6. Michael Kammen – “Societies, in fact, reconstruct their past rather than faithfully record them.” a. It’s easier to romanticize and construct our history in terms of what we want, rather than the actual fact 7. “The novelist is the historian of the present, the historian is the novelist of the past.” a. Novels write in the context of the present, but historians are creating a story of the past 8. Richard Slopkin – “The mythology of a nation is the intelligible mass of that enigma called the national character.” a. It is what we want to think we are (national character) b. Myths every once in a while have to be true or else people will stop believing in them i. It can be anchored in fact, but can be an exaggerated version of it ii. Myths typically represent the values of society c. ***MYTH = an idea rooted in the past, interpreted in the present, looking forward, whose multiple functions are to offer hope and justify the shortcomings of reality i. Functions: 1. To organize reality – no other way to organize it (ex. Genesis) 2. A myth, if taken literally, can obscure reality 3. A myth can make reality bearable a. African American spirituals (?)  “When I get to heaven, I’m going to dance all over God’s heaven” i. Things may be terrible currently, but they will be more bearable in the future The Relationship Between Myth and Our Actions 1. The encompassing myth impinges on the group psyche a. The group psyche then impinges on the individual psyche, and vice versa, which reinforces our actions b. In the US, it’s very hard to separate religious myths from reality i. Won't elect an atheist president, but won’t elect one either whose beliefs affect their presidential decisions Overview of the 5 Myths 2. Myths are not unique, but when you bring them together in the way we have, it defines what is an American a. The Success and Frontier myths find Eden in the future b. The Agrarian myth finds Eden in the past 3. CORE MYTH – Success Myth (aka the Cam Newton story?) a. We prefer success over status (except in Charleston, SC) b. Success in the US is a process  most vividly, the RAGS TO RICHES idea i. Clinton Rosser – “In America, class refers to stages, not castes.” ii. Idea of upward mobility and the “self made man” 1. If we accept this, however, there is a burden here 2. If you don't succeed, you’re responsible for your failure as well 3. Mobility – both psychological and geographic c. Paige Smith – “Americans, in the absence of any traditional ways of authenticating themselves and finding themselves in the system – caste, clan, or order – have to depend primarily on moneymaking: making money became the validation of personal worth very early in our history.” i. West Wing – “The American dream is a financial one, not an ethical one.” ii. “After all, what is man but a money making machine?” iii. Alexis DeTocqueville – “Americans value everything on earth in terms of the response to this question: How much money will it bring in?” 1. Visited American cities, first half of the 1800s, French philosopher 4. Frontier Myth – represents opportunity, new beginnings, rebirth, second chances, etc. a. John Edwards – "Opportunity is a birthright in the US.” i. 2004 presidential candidate b. Titanic exhibition – the third class was a polyglot of immigrants with a desire for a better life i. “In England I was nobody, here I am somebody.” – The Lost Colony 1. Basic idea of the frontier myth is recreation 5. Agrarian Myth – virtue is tied to the land a. Thomas Jefferson, Notes of Virginia – “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if he ever had a chosen people, whose breast if is made of peculiar deposit for substantial and peculiar virtue.” i. Innocence and nobility  sense of not being weighed down by the past ii. Agrarian myth and the Tea Party coincide b. Norman Rockwell – portrait of a family i. Old Testament values are found in the South  Protestant Christianity c. Two dangers found in this myth i. ______ – “insane individualism” 1. Agrarian myth impresses individualism and makes it hard to find cooperation ii. Richard Slotken – “regeneration of violence” 1. When any impure element enters, we feel we have the right to purge it through violence 2. Primaries in SC  blacks voting cancels the entirety of voting 6. Foreign Devil Myth – identity by repudiation a. We define who we are by defining who we are not b. Native Americans are the first foreign devils i. One of the great fears of early Americans was being captured by Indians and becoming “Indianized” 1. Sense of fear of the Stockholm Syndrome (taking of characteristics of ones captors) 2. Captivity Narratives  second most famous book in America c. King George becomes the second foreign devil post-1760 (see Declaration of Independence) d. Roman Catholics become the third i. Ends around 1960 with JFK e. Communists and the Red Scare f. No foreign devil emerges in the 1990s, which begins to cause a split i. Terrorists are the contemporary foreign devil reuniting us 7. City on a Hill – “Beacon to the World” a. John Winthrop’s Puritan speech claiming the colony needs to be a “beacon to the world” i. Wants to be an example to the rest of the world 1. Turns into wanting to become missionaries and go into the world and spread it 2. Guiding principle in foreign policy today b. Idea that we as Americans are exceptional 8. Many sub-myths to these 5 overarching myths a. Each generation in American history has bought into these myths b. The structure and effect of these myths depends on where we are from i. How we buy into myths depends on socio-economic, political, and intellectual backgrounds The Success Myth 1. 2 major themes in all myths  Puritanism and Social Darwinism a. Success myth is a secularized version of Puritanism 2. Basic Elements a. “Anyone can successful if they really work for it, for this [America] is the land of opportunity.” – Article from Rome, GA b. “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald c. ACESS IS KEY  100 years ago, America might have claimed to have more opportunity than other people, but in the past ¼ century, this is not the case i. Social mobility is becoming statistically more difficult ii. Education is the largest cause of the social gap iii. Economic segregation has increased while racial discrimination has decreased iv. “Rags to Riches” – self made person is both responsible for their own success and failure, simultaneously d. In America, there is a continuous strand of Puritanism i. Persecuted in Europe  come to America ii. Idea of looking upward, condemned all joy 3. Carl Dagler – “Were the Puritans Puritanical?” a. “To most Americans, and most Europeans for that matter, ___________________.” i. “Puritanism in general rejected the monastical and _____ ideals of medieval Catholicism.” 1. The best way to serve God in the Catholic, medieval ages was divorcing yourself from the world and joining a monastery 2. For Puritans, the best way was to throw yourself into the world and work for the church ii. “The wine is from God, but the drunkard is from the devil.” iii. Martin Luther – “Anyone who does not love wine, women, and song is a fool his whole life long.” b. H.L. Mencken – “The fear that someone, somewhere is happy.” c. The Success Myth originated with the Puritans i. Against the excess of enjoyment ii. Conservative dress  “the opposite of severe being rather in the English Renaissance style” 1. Most changes were imposed for class differentiation (i.e. long hair) iii. We must look to the Puritans for the individualist idea of America today d. Some writers have found (esp. in New England) have found a theme of sexual repression i. “Marriage to the Puritans was something more than an alternative to burning [in hell]” 1. “If you can’t handle the absence of sex, go ahead and get married because otherwise you’re going to burn in hell” ii. St. Paul – women are the “unclean vessel and temptresses of men” iii. The realistic Puritans required men to have their wives in the colonies iv. Allowed divorce for people who were incompetent, cruel, etc. 1. Stark contrast to England where divorce laws didn't exist e. Puritans were more concerned than anything with their ultimate salvation i. “God sent you to the world not as a playhouse, but as a workhouse” ii. “Because Puritans didn't expect anything out of life, disillusionment was almost impossible” iii. All Puritans were linked by one characteristic 1. Belief in themselves, their mortality, and their mission in the world iv. “Priesthood of all believers” – Protestantism made each person’s relationship to God his own 1. Everyone has a unique and personal connection  no intermediary 2. “Everyone person’s relationship to God is a terrifying responsibility” a. “No one else could save a person, so no one else must try” f. “No longer clothed in theological vestments, the virtue of work and wealth has remained with Americas” i. “Franklin’s Poor Richard ________________” ii. “No longer concerned with salvation, but with kingly bargain” iii. ***PARADIGM SHIFT  earlier it was “blessed are the poor,” but with Puritan theology, it is blessed are the rich 1. Hard work and have gained God’s favor 4. The Rise and Fall & Persistence of Puritanism a. Three persistent things in America: i. Puritanism & Social Darwinism (relevant now) b. John Calvin = intellectual father of Puritanism (Geneva) i. Develops a system of theology; Puritans want to believe 1. God is completely sovereign – idea is to work hard ii. TULIP: 1. T: total depravity  no good in anyone in the human race; everything we do is tinged with sin a. St. Augustine – “Sin is selfishness” b. “In Adam’s fall, we sin it all” 2. U: unconditional election  your salvation is God’s will (predestination) 3. L: limited atonement  action of being forgiven from sin a. Act of Jesus on the cross is seen as the only unselfish act ever 4. I: irresistible grace  only for those who God has elected (cannot decline) 5. P: perseverance of the saints  once you are elected, you will perseverance in good acts iii. Throughout all of this, everything is the work of God with zero human control over it 1. “We are looking at a vast continent pregnant with possibilities” a. In America, we cannot live with the idea that there is something that we cannot do b. ***1963*** c. As life begins to get better on the North American continent, people begin to drift away from the church d. 1730s: Religious Revival i. Led by Jonathan Edwards 1. Puritan preacher; “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” 2. “This is the dismal case of the Puritan that has not been born again” a. Changes the entire theology  humans can ask for salvation and have more control in their religious lives b. Feeds into capitalism 5. Social Darwinism a. “Survival of the fittest”  theory of evolution i. 1859: Darwin publishes The Origin of the Species in which he argued for a evolutionary process 1. Everything (including humans) had evolved from a long system of natural selection from the beginning of life 2. The process represented a struggled for existence resulting in the survival of the fittest 3. Creates an uproar and divides people into three groups: a. The scientists – supported Darwin (generally) b. The clergy – outraged by Darwin’s claims because they were in conflict with the Creation Story found in Genesis i. Removed human beings from the special status of God’s greatest creation, creating a discontinuity between humans and God ii. Changed the nature of nature from harmony to struggle c. Reconcilers – some laymen and some religious figures tried to make sense of the two in harmony b. Herbert Spencer – bridge between Darwinism and Social Darwinism; said society passes through the process of survival of the fittest i. Darwin was a scientist whose theory dealt with the nature world ii. Before long, there were people called “social scientists” who saw how it would serve their purposes iii. Spencer makes a crucial addition to Darwin’s theory 1. EVOULTION = PROGRESS  “there should be no human intervention in the process” 2. Governments should exist solely for the purpose of protecting each individual (let the weak die out) c. John Fiske – lectured on Social Darwinism and tried to reconnect the disconnect between science and religion by placing God in the process i. Said evolution existed, but God linked the process 1. “Intelligent Design” d. William Graham Sumner – professor at Yale, representative of conservative Darwinism i. Idea that competition (hard work) promotes progress 1. A person’s chief mission in life should be to accumulate capital ii. 1907: Folk Ways 1. Discussed what the social classes owe to each other  NOTHING 2. Men and government are not governed by reasons, but by folk ways a. Represent what people were familiar with and what they wanted and believed the government shouldn't interfere b. Two issues with involved government: i. Can leave to self-serving groups seeking to control the government for their own purposes ii. Self-serving groups might by captive to “diluted” ideas such as equality and natural rights 3. “Government exists to secure the liberty of individuals.” iii. The Absurd Attempt to Make the World Over iv. Radical proponent of laissez-faire politics and economics v. Synthesizes three elements of Western thought: 1. Protestant work ethic 2. Laissez-faire by Adam Smith  “The invisible hand is what regulates self interests in the marketplace.” 3. Darwin’s natural selection (biological laws justifying the free market) e. Lester Frank Ward – background of poverty, self-educated and held government courtship for 40 years, reform Darwinism i. Accepted evolution and followed Spencer to a degree 1. Opposed to the rigid determinism ii. Said man’s mind could control the evolutionary process and that differentiated men from animals 1. “Dynamic sociology”  “bears have claws, men have intelligence” 2. Idea that men can substitute cooperation for competition f. Part of daily political thought in our time i. Conservative = William Graham Sumner’s laissez-faire ii. Liberals favor stronger governmental actions 1. Each asks the question of what are the roles of government in the daily lives of the people g. Example: Sumner vs. Ward i. For Sumner, failure is YOUR fault; for Ward, failure is SOCIETY’S fault 1. Nothing but the virtues of Puritanism secularized 6. Cam Newton & The Panthers – A Success Story! The Frontier Myth and Its Spin Offs 1. An Introduction a. Represents opportunity, new beginnings, rebirth, second chances, etc. 2. The Frontier in American Culture: “Plow in One Hand, Six-Shooter in the Other.” a. Richard White and Patricia Nelson Lymmerick– wrote a book called The Frontier in American Culture i. PNL – “The F-word is frontier.” 1. “The idea of a frontier is jammed with nationalistic self congratulation and toxic ethnocentricism.” 2. Lymmerick not comfortable with how the frontier is used, but is aware of its power as a culture myth a. Frontier always used perspective of white excluding other ethnicities b. Shows the many uses of the frontier mentally in American life 3. “The concept works as a culture glue.” ii. Explore the many meanings of frontier exploring negatives and positives of expansion b. NYT book review by David S. Reynolds – “Plow in One Hand, Six- Shooter in the Other.” c. Frederick Jackson Turner (U of Wisconsin) and Buffalo Bill Cody i. 1890: The superintendent of the Census declared there was no longer a “continuous frontier line” 1. What America heard was “no more frontier” ii. 1893: Turner gives a address at UWisconsin: The Significance of the Frontier in American History  pictured the frontier as a place of open territory settled with little violence 1. Buffalo Bill portrayed a different picture with his Wild West show of Indians and violence a. White: “Buffalo Bill made the conquest of savages central, the conquest of nature incidental” b. Show in the 1900s depicted slaughter and aggression of Indian – White where the INDIANS are shown as aggressors 2. Both versions (White) involve a certain amount of distortion a. If Turner marginalized Indians, Buffalo Bill demonized them b. “For Turner, the continent was conquered by the axe and the plow; for Buffalo Bill, with the rifle and the six-shooter” iii. If we combine both stories, we have a combination of perspectives that still have gaps 1. Lacking the Indian narrative a. Indians even create their own made-up narratives (Cheyenne depicts themselves as undying warriors) iv. Stories have a long background in American history 1. Pictures of sturdy pioneers 2. “March of Destiny”  painting of idyllic western scenes that exaggerated what really happened v. By the 20 century, the frontier had become a commodity and political tool 1. Frontier analogy used by many people for “space” or other things they want to explore 3. The Three Frontiers: “From the Lord of the Flies to Little House on the Prairie.” a. 1840 – 1870: Mining Frontier from Montana to Arizona i. Sets the prototype for the next two frontiers 1. Goes from the individualized stage to the capitalist stage a. Individual: scrapes metal off the top and spends it b. Capitalist: machines get down to precious metals, takes capital and money b. 1865 – 1885: Cattlement Stage from Texas to Wyoming i. Round up free range cattle after the Civil War  eventually becomes scare 1. Life of the cowboy (individual) is romanticized a. Once cattle supply dwindles, you have to start raising cattle and investing b. Moves to the capitalist stage because you need money ii. Good guys vs. bad guys in Western movies create a black and white culture 1. No gray area c. Existed Throughout History: Farmers’ Frontier i. A constant part of the ongoing history of America ii. In the farming frontier, life becomes settled  need to find a woman and create a family 1. Get churches that replace saloons iii. Farming has moved capitalist venture for tractors, etc. iv. People move West more or less on parallel lines 1. New England mostly moves to Ohio 2. South mostly moves from plantations to Oklahoma, etc. a. Slavery becomes paramount issue as people want to move to the territories 4. De Tocqueville vs. Turner a. Turner’s 1893 Address  settlement of the new land in the West did more to mold the American character than did our European heritage i. Frontier creates national character b. In the 1830s, Alexander De Tocqueville comes to the United States i. His argument is that as soon as people move out West, they recreate the civilization that they left behind 1. Wyoming Constitution had one new factor  right to vote for women a. Pennsylvania had the Constitution most copied by Western frontier states 5. Walter Prescott Webb’s 3 Legged Stool a. Walter Prescott Webb – historian of the west, followed Turner somewhat i. Said civilization is built on a “three legged stool” of land, water, and timber 1. After we move out about 100 degrees west, timber and water run out and we have land 2. Once this occurs, we move to the other coast and begin from the other side of the country a. Ways of life change in the Midwest i. Combination of the Frontier and Agrarian myths The Agrarian Myth 1. Introduction a. Agrarian – of or relating to the fields and farmers and their way of life; also refers to their political groups b. Primarily found in the South as a form of self-identification c. “Garden of Eden” of the Agrarian myth lies in the PAST i. So often they glorify the past because they don't understand the new world that has come about after the Industrial Revolution d. Historically, individuals and conservatives want progress without change i. Literature has glorified this vision of the farm life e. Modern food system now captured by industrial machines and Hispanic population i. Currently live in a world where we want Jefferson’s ideal, but have William Jennings Bryan’s reality 2. Mr. Jefferson’s Farm – the simple, virtuous tiller of the soil providing for his family a. Set forth the ideals that are collectively know as the Agrarian myth i. Drew upon several sources: 1. His experience living on a farm a. “Jefferson had before him the vision of a country where everyone had their own land ___________________________.” b. instilled in him a view of self-sufficiency 2. Classical education he received as a boy a. “Happy the man who far from ________________.” 3. Sought the parallel of Cinncinatus a. Roman general who helped win war and then went back to his farm instead 4. Though not a deeply religious individual, drew upon the Bible a. “The interest of agriculture, which was the first job of our parents in Eden, were our happiest times on this planet.” 5. Personal correspondence of John Taylor Caroline, VA a. Close friend of Jefferson’s; radical agrarian philosopher (An Inquiry) b. Symbiotic relationship developed over years i. “The ideals of innocence and victimization were to be incorporated by Jefferson into his ideal and have continued to be passed on throughout American history, politics, and movies The Natural and Field of Dreams.” c. Taylor contributed to Jefferson’s later assertion that the values of innocence and purity where inherently linked to the soil d. Jefferson’s only book – Notes on the State of Virginia i. “Those who labor in the earth are the people of God, if he ever had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” ii. Hoped to marry the ideas of virtue and agriculture b. Linked to the Frontier Myth i. The Louisiana Purchase 1. Jefferson was a strict constructionist (literal interpretation of the Constitution) 2. Embraces the frontier myth because adding land adds land for farms a. Going to be a frontier, but an AGRARIAN frontier 3. Lewis and Clarke a. Wanted them to report back on the possibility of the farming of the land in the West c. IDEALIST Agrarian myth  contrasts with Bryan 3. Mr. William Jennings Bryan’s Farm – see the farmer for what he is, a capitalist


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