What America Stands For

Posted on October 4, 2012 by

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This year in USHRS, we started off the school year with a long-term project on contemporary American identity. The project focuses on three main questions about what it means to be an American, what characteristics Americans have and how they were developed, and how historical events shape our identity. Obviously there may not be one exact right answer to any of these questions, so our task is to research these questions and present what we learned and how we would answer the questions based on our research.

In addition to research on the topics, my group decided to collect videos of short interviews that we conducted with willing participants that we found downtown. It was important to hear from a large group of people downtown so we could get a good insight into what the American public thought about these issues, not just what we hear from a historian in an article or book. Although works of historians are invaluable tools for this project, they can not always speak for the people of the country as a whole. We also set up a lengthy interview with a German immigrant, a neighbor of one of our group members, who gave us a great perspective on life in the United States compared to other countries, especially Germany.

Throughout the duration of the project so far, I have learned a great deal about American identity from many different points of view. What I heard from just about everyone that we interviewed, unsurprisingly, having freedom is what it means to be an American. The man we interviewed in more depth told us a great deal about how there are many things that you are only able to do in America. Of course freedom is an integral part of how our country runs, another common answer that we heard was that patriotism and pride in the country is a deeply rooted American characteristic. Many interviewees seemed to think that it has been an important value in our society since day one, when we became a free nation. If I had to make a conjecture as to why, I would have to say that we are a proud people because, as a country, we have had to fight for everything that we have now, and we have been successful at getting it.

What is the essence of America?  Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom “to” and freedom “from.” -Marilyn vos Savant

All in all, this project has really gotten me thinking about what it really means to be an American these days, and why we are the way we are, and I would love to hear from anyone that has anything to add on to the thoughts on this topic.

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Posted in: Projects