In sharp contrast with “Englishness”, which is an important category of scholarship on national identity in Britain, the notion of “Americanness” has suffered from chronic lack of conceptualization. Treated as if its meaning were self-evident, “Americanness” now features only sporadically and marginally in studies of US culture, where it is used as a synonym for “American identity” semantically subsumed to concepts such as “ideology”, “exceptionalism”, “whiteness”, and “masculinity”, depending on the author’s thesis and scholarly interests. No dedicated study of Americanness has been produced, at least nothing of the kind Englishness has engendered. Perhaps it is time we put it on the map of literary and American studies in a new, scholarly rigorous and dispassionate way.
Within the methodological framework of conceptual history, I propose that “Americanness” might be viewed as a concept with a broad, albeit historically specific, semantic field. Today for example, “Americanness” grasps several historical objects and theoretical notions, serving as their common designator; among these, U.S. national identity, political culture, conflicts and negotiations along the lines of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and sexual preference, a national corpus of law, a higher education system, a system of government as well as an economic and financial system, world hegemony, popular culture, literary canon, and several varieties of English. Here, however, in order to investigate the conceptual quality of the term, I will focus on the diachronic dimension of “Americanness” and address the problem of its frequent confusion with the older notion of “Americanism”.
Biennial Swedish Association for American Studies Conference, 20-22 September 2012, Uppsala