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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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Chapter 1. The History of “Americanness” in American Literary Studies

1.1 “Americanness” in the English Corpus

1.2 From Nationalist Beginnings to Cold War Consensus

1.3 The Critique of Americanness

Chapter 2. Ethnicity, Race, and Whiteness in Some Ethnic Conceptions of Americanness

2.1 Jewish American Perspectives: From Jewishness to Americanness and Back

2.2 African American Perspectives: Blackness at the Heart of Americanness

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