Defining Americanization

A forthcoming issue of Cercles ( proposes to examine the process and meaning of Americanization.

When Crèvecoeur asked in the eighteenth century “What is an American?”  he had a ready answer: Americans are “the scattered poor of Europe,” “the persecuted,” in short “a new race.” But the mysterious process of Americanization described by Crèvecoeur and later by Frederick Jackson Turner in his famous but debated Frontier hypothesis is still to a certain extent indefinable.

What indeed is Americanization? What is Americanizing? The road to definitions in the Merriam-Webster is paved with riddles but may raise interesting questions as it offers a wide range of meanings to those terms, such as “instruction of foreigners (as immigrants) in English and in U.S. history, government, and culture,” “to cause to acquire or conform to American characteristics” or “to bring (as an area) under the political, cultural, or commercial influence of the U.S.” Of course diverse forms of assimilation are also to be considered, varying by ethnicity (German-American, Italian-American, or African-American for instance), region (Southerner, Midwesterner, New Englander, or Westerner), or religion (Protestant-American, Jewish-American, etc.).

This call is addressing the issue of Americanization as the process by which in colonial times and the early national period, and through the building of the American nation in the 19th century, immigrants became “American” or came to identify themselves as “American.” If the diversity of the process of Americanization has been widely studied in the field of minorities touching on assimilation, integration, literature and language, it is still difficult to trace the shift from a number of identities – mainly but not only European – to a truly American one, comprising new ways in politics, a new territory, new religious movements, a new language, and even a new vision of Old Europe. But Americanization also raises the issue of “essentialism”—whether or not assimilation works to produce an essential, identifiable set of American traits or a single “American Culture.”

When, where, and how then did Americanization take place? Was it during the writing of the Constitution? Was it the adaptation of the people to specific local cultures and values?
Did it happen through the appropriation of one’s own plot of land with the consequential dreams of conquest and empires? Did the Great Awakening witness the birth of a genuinely American religious movement that had to adapt to new audiences and to new living conditions?

Is Americanization necessarily linked to a rejection of European roots and values, as Turner claimed? American art, it is believed, only managed to gain its independence in the mid-twentieth century – was it not American before? Moreover American identity was also molded through the creation of symbols, icons and images: what exactly did they represent in the first decades of the new nation? What, in short, turned the non-American America of the colonial era into a culturally, religiously, politically, artistically independent America and then into the United States?

A chronological approach may invite examination of the origins of the process of Americanization during the colonial era and the American Revolution and throughout the nineteenth century and the Conquest of the West. Papers on American art may include the twentieth century.

Fields of study: history and civilization, art, architecture and music.
Other periods and fields may of course be explored and will be welcomed, notably interdisciplinary essays, or a civilization-oriented reading of literary documents.

Papers should be in English and not exceed fifteen pages (2200 signs per page, MLA style). 
Deadline for proposals: August 1, 2006 (electronic submission only, 300 word abstract)

Deadline for full papers : January 1, 2007. Please send proposals to Caroline Belan

KEYWORDS: identity, community, roots, self-consciousness, reshaping, adaptation, rejection, discrimination, assimilation, toleration, civilization, portrayal, exploration, conflicts and dialogue, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, building of a nation, American revolution, empire, political institutions, independence, capitalism, land, law, town planning, Frontier, pioneer, conquest, national parks, tourism, theology, awakening, providence, Chosen people, Protestant ethic, language, rhetoric, ethno-centrism, Europe, symbolism.