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Lecture – James E. Block: Lifting the mythic veil: the history of American nation-building in late modern perspective

Date: Wednesday 26 March 2014
Time: 15:00-17:00 hrs
Location: Bungehuis 0.15, Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam
Organisation: Jordy Geerlings (RU), j[dot]geerlings[at]let[dot]ru[dot]nl
Cost: Participation is free of charge.

Now beyond the age of nationalism, the sacralizing of the nation – wrapping its origins in mythologies of immaculate birth and its consolidation of power in patriotic veils – has become the object of skepticism and disbelief. That is, except in the United States. American society, despite the best efforts of many historians and cultural critics, continues to assert claims of exceptionalism, particularly within the conservative mainstream elites now in ascendancy. As a result, due consideration of the American nation-building project has become less a matter of accurate assessment than a litmus test of political faith.

In several major works on American history, James E. Block (DePaul University, Chicago) has investigated the origin and evolution of American nationhood. Neither a mythic welling up of a surging new world spirit nor a national project identical to others, the creation of the United States as the first modern nation was the work of deliberate state-craft: both a major break with its European predecessors as well as a centuries-long campaign of citizen shaping and institutional restructuring beginning in the 1820s. By tracing the outlines of this project, Block will place American nation-building in late modern perspective as an achievement of significance for understanding modernity yet embodying the classic nationalist pitfalls including the tendency to imperial overreach.