The Great Experiment: An Introduction to the History of the American People

The Great Experiment: An Introduction to the History of the American People

The Great Experiment: An Introduction to the History of the American People

The Great Experiment: An Introduction to the History of the American People

Excerpt

The impulse behind this book has been the conviction, formed as a result of several years teaching American history to Cambridge undergraduates, of the need for a new introduction to the history of the American people written by an Englishman. Although it has been only since the Second World War that American history has been given an integral place in the curricula of British universities, undergraduates have taken to the subject with zest. In venturing on these hitherto sketchily charted waters teachers and students have been fortunate in the help of distinguished visiting American scholars and of growing collections of books made available in part through the generosity of American foundations. But in the matter of general works we have been less well placed. Existing introductions to American history and especially the many ably written text-books, even when their cost is not prohibitive, do not give the intelligent British student or reader a satisfactory starting point for study, do not suggest answers to many of the urgent questions which an English layman asks these days when riced for the first time with the phenomenon of the United States. The reason is not far to seek: they are very largely written by Americans for American readers and the assumptions on which they are grounded are not those which an Englishman instinctively understands. This book has, therefore, been written to satisfy a special need. Its main purpose is to provide the British student with a point of departure.

This book is, however, an introduction, not a text-book; and it is cast in a form which may make it more widely acceptable. In particular, American readers may find some interest in an account which, in attempting to answer questions raised by outsiders, emphasizes the special characteristics that distinguish Americans from Europeans. I hope, therefore, that although I shall hereafter address myself to the British undergraduate, what I have to say may have some value to a wider public on both sides of the Atlantic.

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