Whatever works

Posted on October 8, 2012 by

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Our current project, a study of American identity, is coming to a close and our final piece, a 7-10 minute group presentation on the subject, will be done in class tomorrow. This presentation has been over a month in the making, and has included countless hours of research, interviewing, inquiry, and conversation. Throughout all of this research though, my original perspective of what it means to be an American has altered. I have read multiple articles on the events that have shaped our national identity, as well as historical accounts, as well as more contemporary opinions.

I had gone into this project having previously put very little thought into the thought of identity. And so at the beginning I was very skeptical as to whether or not the idea of ‘American Identity’ was even a tangible research project subject. I immediately questioned if there was even such as an identifiable American identity. And it was not until about a week or so in that I realized I was approaching the subject from the wrong angle; I was trying to objectively define American identity, and I was completely failing. What I slowly came to realize was that American identity, what makes someone American, is not something that you can simply nail to a board and expect people to understand. It’s much deeper than that.

Americanism, if you will, is something that has been defined, evaluated, shaped, and polished since the beginning of this countries history. Trying to define such an eventful upbringing is impossible; instead, we must try to take on the subject from various different angles.

One angle that was predetermined for us, was attempting to define American identity in 2012. I enjoyed this challenge significantly more because I can relate significantly better to contemporary America than to, say, the United States in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. I could actually see what I was talking about unfold before me through my eyes, as well as the eyes of the media, television, movies, music and other people. For me, I wanted to branch off a little bit, so I attempted to expand my view of contemporary America. And even though i knew I couldn’t count this as part of the project, it was important for me to try to understand Americanism from a different point of view. One formed of things other than endless Jstor articles and old dusty books with funny names written on the front; I wanted to study people.

I think social interactions were probably my favorite thing to study, for example, the more recent presidential debate. What I found fascinating was not what they were saying, but how people reacted. From the people in the room around me, to the hordes of people all to eager to tell the world what they think, to the kids at school the next day. What interested me was figuring out what people remembered, what stuck with them for more than the ten second CNN cut-to evaluation. These things, these snip-its of cultural trends, these short clips and glimpses of information that accurately and efficiently showed the opinions of thousands of people are what I believe reveal the most. From the dark, pressing stares of the audience when the speaking candidate didn’t force feed them what they wanted to here, to the sudden outbreaks of hysterical applause when there never ending search for justification and meaning was momentarily fulfilled by a single ‘Yes We can’. These are what I see as defining us as people, and not always in the most flattering of ways.

So my point, and I think there actually is one here, is that for research to really be effective in any situation, to actually having meaning besides just a letter grade handed out at the end, one must go beyond traditional resources, whatever that may be. I believe that you must find what makes the subject matter the most interesting, what sticks with you, what solidifies your opinions and expands your perspective. For me, it was studying debates and peoples reactions, but for you, it might be sitting in a park and staring at people. Whatever works.

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Image: http://www.globalpost.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/gp3_full_article/jim_lehrer_denver_presidential_debate_2012.jpg

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