American Literature and History

Within a week, I have a midterm for American Literature and Geography. Coincidentally, the subject matter for both classes is closely related!

In Lit, I’m learning so far about writers from the time of discovery of the Americas and reading essays and letters from people like Christopher Columbus, John Smith, William Bradford, and John Adams. Though these works don’t hold much literary value as far as story, themes, devices, characters, etc., they give a good sense of what the Europeans thought of the Americas and her people when they first explored the area.

Then we go a little deeper and move along with history and studied writers and thinkers like Crevecoeur, Emerson, and Thoreau. They all talk about the formation of a true American society. Crevecoeur tried and succeeded in defining the “American Dream”. He claimed America’s identity as the land of equality, liberty, opportunity, and wealth. It was going to be the great melting pot where a diverse group of people come together and forget their differences.

Emerson wanted people to take European beliefs and traditions as inspiration to making their own. He believed in the “every man”, that you weren’t just a farmer, a writer, a teacher, you were a MAN in an Individualist society. You had to gain experience before you could influence people with your beliefs and you had to look at yourself as a part of nature and learn about yourself through self-reflection. He wrote what is said to be the “Declaration of Intellectual Independence” and called for men to think for themselves and not be a “parrot of other men’s thinking”.

Thoreau called for resistance to the state machine, or government. He advised people to not pay their taxes to a government that did not know how to govern and sponsered the idea that a government that did not govern was the best type of government. Overall, he called for individual liberation and social responsibility.

In my geography class, I have learned about the geography behind these stories. From Native American settlements and decimation by disease to the way in which settlers survived in their new environments and how they took advantage of the Natives because they did not understand their culture.

What is most interesting is seeing the way that these events have truly created the America we know today. Had not Crevecoeur given the destitute Europeans an image of America the way he did, or had the Natives not been wiped out by disease, we might be sharing a border (or maybe sharing a nation) with an entirely different America. It’s a fascinating thing. Kinda like, what if Germany had won the war? Hmmmm…

For anyone that’s interested, these courses are ENGL 223 and GEO 121.

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