Building an American Story

By Hume, Janice | Journalism History, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Building an American Story


Hume, Janice, Journalism History


How Early American Historians Used Press Sources to Remember the Revolution

This study examined histories of the American Revolution published through 1899 to see how they used newspapers and magazines as sources. The purpose was to determine how the press helped build America's first real "story" as an independent nation, distinct from native and colonial origins. These histories used press sources in myriad ways. Some included snippets of Revolution-era newspaper content, and others reprinted reminiscences, coverage of anniversaries and monument dedications, and obituaries. And some of the longer and more colorful accounts came verbatim from newspaper articles published decades after the war. Press stories, included in these more permanent histories, helped ensure that the iconic narratives endured in American collective memory.

The Revolution gave America its first real "story" as an independent nation, distinct from native and colonial origins. It is a weighty narrative. Scholars have noted the importance of formative periods to "collective memory," the body of beliefs about a nation's past that informs its present and future. Indeed, sociologist Barry Schwartz argued in 1982 diat die most significant moment in any society's past is its beginning, a period marked by "the magic, attraction and prestige of origins."1 Thus, icons of the Revolution have long stood as major historic symbols for Americans, who, as Michael Kammen wrote in 1991, love hero-worship, patriotism, and nostalgia.2 Whether the "Founders" and "Patriots" are remembered factually has been less important than their place as "objects of consensus among later generations," noted Schwartz.3

The press has played a role from the beginning in telling this American story, first by providing information during the years of conflict and later by recalling the Revolution as a significant historical event. "Many Americans learned dieir history through newspapers and magazines," noted Arthur Shaffer, who in 1975 studied how die history of the Revolution was written prior to 1815. He pointed to periodicals such as the Massachusetts Spy and Columbian Magazine in die late eighteenth century that printed works of the earliest U.S. historians.4 Anothet study found in 2007 that magazines and newspapers throughout the nineteenth century used historical references regularly for context and placement, focusing particularly on America's origins, leaders, and wars. The press, the study argued, during an important period of nation building, "may have publicly contributed to a specific American historical narrative that emerged as collective memory. In doing so diese writers may have shaped a definition of America, giving the United States a national identity."5

The symbiotic relationship between "journalism" and "history" is important to understanding die evolution of the story of America's genesis. But while scholars have considered die myriad ways that history has been used by and in die press, little has been written about how journalism has been used by and in histories. Newspapers and magazines, of course, existed prior to published American histories. Did their content have an impact? This study seeks to fill a scholarship void by examining how American historians through 1899 used newspapers and magazines as sources. Such an examination adds to our understanding ofthe history of American journalism by shedding light on one way it was used, another understudied but important topic, and it will contribute to the growing body of literature about the relationship between the press and American public memory.

That there were any early American histories is a testament to the tenacity and nationalist tendencies of scholars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.6 Publishing a book-length history was expensive and rarely profitable, and while copyright protections were included in the U.S. Constitution, in reality they were difficult to enforce; there also were no international protections.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Building an American Story
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.