Tuesday, April 18, 2006

History's Vital Role in America

Gordon Wood points out that we all should have celebrated Patriot's Day yesterday because history is especially important in America:

Every nation has sites of memory that give its people a sense of themselves as a single entity. But we Americans have a special need for these sites. A country like ours, composed of so many immigrants and so many races and ethnicities, has never been able to assume its nationhood as a matter of course. We Americans have had to invent our nationhood. In comparison with the 230-year-old United States, many states in the world today are new, some of them created within the relatively recent past. Yet many of these states are undergirded by people who had a preexisting sense of their ethnicity, blood connections, and nationality. In the case of the United States, the process was reversed: Americans were a state before they were a nation, and much of American history has been an effort to define that nationality.

Without our history, we lose our sense of what holds us together and makes us a single people. McDonald's and Starbucks scattered about the land are not enough to make us a nation. We need our history in order to be a nation, but we also need to know our past in order to know our future.

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