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About this book

This textbook offers an insightful, introductory overview of the history of American society from its inception right up to present day. With coverage starting at the European Settlement in 1492 right through to the 2016 Presidential Election, this fully revised new edition succinctly depicts the major themes and patterns of American history, thus providing a solid foundation for those wishing to expand their knowledge through further reading or research. Written by a leading scholar in the field of History, the author provides a clear analysis of the various facets of American life, incorporating social, economic, cultural, religious and political history.

A definitive introduction to American history, this textbook is essential reading for any student looking to gain a better understanding of the evolution of this great nation.

Table of Contents

1. Unnamed Lands: The European Settlement, 1492–1765

Abstract
In the 1490s European sailors began reporting their encounters with new lands in the western hemisphere. Although the ‘discovery’ is often associated with Christopher Columbus, he had many equally inquisitive contemporaries and writers of the day gave priority to the claims of a fellow-Italian named Amerigo Vespucci, from whom ‘America’ takes its name. The first explorers touched chiefly on lands in the Caribbean, but it soon became apparent that the New World represented an almost unimaginably vast continental land mass, the exact dimensions of which would not be appreciated for another century. Beginning with Columbus’ Spanish employers, several European nations sought to create in the New World great empires modelled on the motherland. New Spain was followed by New France, New Netherland, New England and even New Sweden, in each case implying that the social and political patterns of the home country could successfully be transported across the Atlantic and flourish in this very different soil. These aspirations would prove futile, as settlers adapted to the distinctive conditions of the new land and took advantage of its unique opportunities, to the chagrin of imperial authorities.
Philip Jenkins

2. Revolution and Nation Building, 1765–1825

Abstract
In the decade after 1763 the colonies developed a ferocious self-assertiveness that would lead to a full-scale war of independence and separation from British rule. The presence of aggressive French and Indian neighbours had placed a severe limit on any likely colonial dissatisfaction with British authority, as royal forces might at any time be needed to combat invasion. Removing the French factor gave the colonists more liberty to consider their long-term goals and aspirations. The British in turn had to consider the complex needs of a more diverse population. Apart from the British colonists, imperial subjects in North America now included the Catholic, French-speaking residents of Canada and the Indian allies who had played so critical a role in earlier victories. The Indians were a source of special concern as a series of worrying frontier wars erupted in 1763: although associated with the name of the chieftain Pontiac, these probably reflected a lingering French influence.
Philip Jenkins

3. Expansion and Crisis, 1825–65

Abstract
In 1850 Herman Melville’s novel White Jacket included a vision of American destiny that in retrospect seems intolerably arrogant and hypernationalistic. In his defence, it can only be said that he was expressing views that were far from unusual for Americans of the time, and that this sense of limitless potentiality is explicable in terms of the astonishing progress of his country in the previous three decades. Melville wrote: And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. Seventy years ago we escaped from thrall; and besides our first birth-right – embracing one continent of earth – God has given us for a future inheritance the broad domains of the political pagans, that shall yet come and lie down under the shade of our ark, without bloody hands being lifted. God has predestinated, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear.
Philip Jenkins

4. Cities and Industry, 1865–1917

Abstract
By 1900 the United States had more than fulfilled Herman Melville’s visions of half a century earlier. The nation was now a continental empire, its cities and industries were already as large as those of the greatest European powers, and its political might was being projected overseas in the form of a new colonial empire. In a sense ‘the rest of the nations’ were already ‘in our rear’. In contrast to Melville’s day, the issue of national unity was quite settled, with no need to consider endless delicate adjustments in the relationship between rival sections. There was much for the boosters and would-be laureates to celebrate, ample to justify projections of a new American century. Far more so than in 1851, there were also voices of doubt and pessimism, grave questions about the changing meaning of Americanism. The urban and industrial nature of the country was a long-established fact, but by 1900 the cities and industries had come to dominate American life, and both produced social worlds that were almost impossible to reconcile with republican ideals.
Philip Jenkins

5. War and Globalism, 1917–56

Abstract
Americans have long been troubled by the prospect of overseas entanglements. Opposition to the acquisition of imperial commitments in 1898 stemmed not merely from radicals and socialists but also from a wide range of religious, liberal and traditional-minded groups. Moreover this was not a war that might have been expected to be expensive in American lives. Through the first half of the twentieth century, there was steady resistance to military endeavours in Europe, and American entry into both world wars was only accomplished after intolerable provocation. In peacetime also, the United States’s entry into international organisations was met with implacable resistance from quite broad political coalitions, overwhelmingly so in the case of the League of Nations. The prospect of the United States becoming a world power on the model of the despised imperial states of Europe appeared unacceptable from many points of view. However, these were exactly the years in which the United States was forced to assume the role of a global power, and that role transformed the nature of domestic politics.
Philip Jenkins

6. Only Yesterday: The United States, 1956–2000

Abstract
As a nation, the United States has always prided itself on being open to change and innovation: America is always in the business of becoming new. This is, after all, a country founded upon constant waves of migration from overseas, and of vast internal movements into new lands. Every American generation probably thinks it is passing through the most tumultuous and far-reaching changes in the nation’s history. In the late twentieth century, however – especially during the turbulent 1960s – Americans had excellent reasons to believe that they really did live in a revolutionary era, as their society was transformed in its most basic assumptions about gender and age, race and ethnicity. Looking at this era, it is tempting to focus entirely on the domestic social and cultural changes, and their importance is beyond debate. But we must never forget the constant external threats to which the nation was subjected.
Philip Jenkins

7. Contemporary America

Abstract
Rarely in history can a single day be seen as a turning point, a transition between eras, but in the story of the United States, September 11, 2001 constituted an obvious pivot. Four teams of terrorist hijackers seized control of airliners over US soil, and crashed three of them into highly visible targets, obliterating the World Trade Center in New York City, and destroying part of the Pentagon, in Washington DC. In all, some three thousand Americans died. A fourth airliner was targeted for the US Capitol building, but the mission was prevented by a courageous rising by the passengers and crew: the flight crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The perpetrators were members of al-Qaeda under the leadership of Afghanistan-based leader Osama bin Laden. Fury at the September 11 attacks – ‘9-11’ – led the country into a series of overseas military engagements and entanglements. The event ensured that the United States would for the foreseeable future be deeply involved with the Middle East, with terrorism, and with radical forces within Islam.
Philip Jenkins
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