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Constituting «Americanness»

A History of the Concept and Its Representations in Antebellum American Literature


Iulian Cananau

This work in cultural history and literary criticism suggests a fresh and fruitful approach to the old notion of Americanness. Following Reinhart Koselleck’s Begriffsgeschichte, the author proposes that Americanness is not an ordinary word, but a concept with a historically specific semantic field. In the three decades before the Civil War, Americanness was constituted at the intersection of several concepts, in different stages of their respective histories; among these, nation, representation, individualism, sympathy, race, and womanhood. By tracing the representations of these concepts in literary texts of the antebellum era and investigating their overlapping with the rhetoric of national identification, this study uncovers some of the meaning of Americanness in that period.
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My greatest scholarly debt is to Rodica Mihaila (University of Bucharest) and Joseph G. Kronick (Louisiana State University). As my Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Mihaila has played a major role in my doctoral training and no words can accurately express my gratitude for her constant support of this project. Professor Kronick was my supervisor for the duration of my Fulbright scholarship at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am especially grateful to him for having proofread the dissertation on which this book is based, for the many hours we spent discussing my project, for his scholarly guidance, and for the work conditions he generously provided.

I am indebted to John W. Lowe (UGA) and J. Gerald Kennedy (LSU) for the interest they took in my project. Special thanks go to William Boelhower (LSU) and writer Andrei Codrescu, whose advice played a decisive role in my search for a suitable approach to “Americanness”. I also wish to thank my former colleagues from the University of Bucharest, Mihaela Precup, Dana Mihailescu, and Ruxandra Radulescu for their support and scholarly advice. I am also grateful to Maria Holmgren Troy (Karlstad University) and Magnus Ullén (Karlstad University) for their comments and suggestions on my unrevised dissertation.

I wish to thank the Romanian-American Fulbright Commission (a special thank you to its former director, Barbara Nelson) for the opportunity to carry out my research at Louisiana State University, between August 2007 and June 2008. I am also grateful to the...

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