In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview

1
Backward Glances

My links with the British Association for American Studies, of which I had once been chairman, went back to the early 1950s. So I was happy to contribute "Backward Glances" to the BAAS Journal of American Studies jubilee issue ( April 1980). The assignment was to reminisce informally and candidly about one's own involvement with American Studies. In common with other contributors I wrote autobiographically. The essay moved on to discuss some problems and some ways ahead. In this reprinted version I have omitted the last few pages, which deal with possible comparative approaches. These are alluded to here and there in several other essays, particularly "New World, Old World: The Historical Antithesis," first published in Lessons from America: An Exploration, edited by Richard Rose ( London: Macmillan, 1974).

My first steady job, if one leaves out four years of wartime soldiering, began at Manchester University in 1949. It was a lectureship in American Studies and followed a two-year Commonwealth (Harkness) fellowship at Yale, also in American Studies, under the benevolent guidance of Ralph Gabriel. I have been in the same line ever since.

In my own evolution four roughly successive stages can be discerned. They constitute four ways in which one might regard America. At the outset it was a place to visit. Second, America also figured as a great discovery. This was however countered thirdly, by the notion of America as a great mistake. The fourth stage takes us into the consideration of the United States merely or mainly as a nation among other nations. I shall generalize from personal experience within that sequence.

"How did you get interested in this country?" Travelers in the United States

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