Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860

Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860

Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860

Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860

Excerpt

It is the belief men betray and not that which they parade which has to be
studied
.

CHARLES SANDERS PEIRCE, “ISSUES OF PRAGMATICISM”

During the early decades of the new American nation, intellectuals and cultural commentators were concerned with the question of what it meant to be American. More than a desire to differentiate themselves from Europeans, their anxiety arose out of the belief that the nation’s members lacked any commonalities beyond the shared revolutionary experience. To them, diversity within the nation potentially threatened to undermine the unity they assumed necessary to ensure the successes of this republican experiment. The newly forming political parties, the variety of religious traditions, the contrasting regional experiences, and the ethnic and racial diversity within the nation, all caused insecurity, and thus became problems with which to be dealt. Because this new nation existed in a process of definition, more so than as a singularly definable entity, the nation’s diversities heightened its insecurity as its identity remained in flux. Many wondered, if the character of the United States could not even be defined, what were its chances for survival?

As a result, a resounding call to create an American national culture emerged from an array of thinkers as a way to encourage a cohesiveness that would bind together the varied, changing, and uncertain components of the nation. From voices as diverse as Noah Webster, with his attempt to codify American English soon after the Revolution, to the following generation’s cultivation of an American literary culture by the likes of Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau—all engaged in a dialogue promoting a unique national culture through both explicit . . .

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