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Статья: U.S. Culture

                                THE U.S. CULTURE                                
American culture is rich, complex, and unique. It emerged from the short and
rapid European conquest of an enormous landmass sparsely settled by diverse
indigenous peoples. Although European cultural patterns predominated,
especially in language, the arts, and political institutions, peoples from
Africa, Asia, and North America also contributed to American culture. All of
these groups influenced popular tastes in music, dress, entertainment, and
cuisine. As a result, American culture possesses an unusual mixture of
patterns and forms forged from among its diverse peoples. The many melodies
of American culture have not always been harmonious, but its complexity has
created a society that struggles to achieve tolerance and produces a uniquely
casual personal style that identifies Americans everywhere. The country is
strongly committed to democracy, in which views of the majority prevail, and
strives for equality in law and institutions.
Characteristics such as democracy and equality flourished in the American
environment long before taking firm root in European societies, where the
ideals originated. As early as the 1780s, Michel Guillaume Jean de
Crиvecoeur, a French writer living in Pennsylvania who wrote under the
pseudonym J. Hector St. John, was impressed by the democratic nature of early
American society. It was not until the 19th century that these tendencies in
America were most fully expressed. When French political writer Alexis de
Tocqueville, an acute social observer, traveled through the United States in
the 1830s, he provided an unusually penetrating portrait of the nature of
democracy in America and its cultural consequences. He commented that in all
areas of culture—family life, law, arts, philosophy, and dress—Americans were
inclined to emphasize the ordinary and easily accessible, rather than the
unique and complex. His insight is as relevant today as it was when de
Tocqueville visited the United States. As a result, American culture is more
often defined by its popular and democratically inclusive features, such as
blockbuster movies, television comedies, sports stars, and fast food, than by
its more cultivated aspects as performed in theaters, published in books, or
viewed in museums and galleries. Even the fine arts in modern America often
partake of the energy and forms of popular culture, and modern arts are often
a product of the fusion of fine and popular arts.
While America is probably most well known for its popular arts, Americans
partake in an enormous range of cultural activities. Besides being avid
readers of a great variety of books and magazines catering to differing
tastes and interests, Americans also attend museums, operas, and ballets in
large numbers. They listen to country and classical music, jazz and folk
music, as well as classic rock-and-roll and new wave. Americans attend and
participate in basketball, football, baseball, and soccer games. They enjoy
food from a wide range of foreign cuisines, such as Chinese, Thai, Greek,
French, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Ethiopian, and Cuban. They have also
developed their own regional foods, such as California cuisine and
Southwestern, Creole, and Southern cooking. Still evolving and drawing upon
its ever more diverse population, American culture has come to symbolize what
is most up-to-date and modern. American culture has also become increasingly
international and is imported by countries around the world.
                       FORCES THAT SHAPED AMERICAN CULTURE                       
                        Imported Traditions                        
Today American culture often sets the pace in modern style. For much of its
early history, however, the United States was considered culturally
provincial and its arts second-rate, especially in painting and literature,
where European artists defined quality and form. American artists often took
their cues from European literary salons and art schools, and cultured
Americans traveled to Europe to become educated. In the late 18th century,
some American artists produced high-quality art, such as the paintings of
John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Charles Stuart and the silver work of Paul
Revere. However, wealthy Americans who collected art in the 19th century
still bought works by European masters and acquired European decorative
arts—porcelain, silver, and antique furniture—. They then ventured further
afield seeking more exotic decor, especially items from China and Japan. By
acquiring foreign works, wealthy Americans were able to obtain the status
inherent in a long historical tradition, which the United States lacked.
Americans such as Isabella Stewart Gardner and Henry Clay Frick amassed
extensive personal collections, which overwhelmingly emphasized non-American
In literature, some 19th-century American writers believed that only the
refined manners and perceptions associated with the European upper classes
could produce truly great literary themes. These writers, notably Henry James
and Edith Wharton, often set their novels in the crosswinds of European and
American cultural contact. Britain especially served as the touchstone for
culture and quality because of its role in America's history and the links of
language and political institutions. Throughout the 19th century, Americans
read and imitated British poetry and novels, such as those written by Sir
Walter Scott and Charles Dickens.
                The Emergence of an American Voice                
American culture first developed a unique American voice during the 19th
century. This voice included a cultural identity that was strongly connected
to nature and to a divine mission. The new American voice had liberating
effects on how the culture was perceived, by Americans and by others. Writers
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau proposed that the American
character was deeply individualistic and connected to natural and spiritual
sources rather than to the conventions of social life. Many of the 19th
century’s most notable figures of American literature—Herman Melville, Emily
Dickinson, and Mark Twain—also influenced this tradition. The poetry of Walt
Whitman, perhaps above all, spoke in a distinctly American voice about
people’s relation to one another, and described American freedom, diversity,
and equality with fervor.
Landscape painting in the United States during the 19th century vividly
captured the unique American cultural identity with its emphasis on the
natural environment. This was evident in the huge canvases set in the West by
Albert Bierstadt and the more intimate paintings of Thomas Cole. These
paintings, which were part of the Hudson River  School, were often enveloped
in a radiant light suggesting a special connection to spiritual sources. But
very little of this American culture moved beyond the   United States to
influence art trends elsewhere. American popular culture, including craft
traditions such as quilting or local folk music forged by Appalachian farmers
or former African slaves, remained largely local.
This sense of the special importance of nature for American identity led
Americans in the late 19th century to become increasingly concerned that
urban life and industrial products were overwhelming the natural environment.
Their concern led for calls to preserve areas that had not been developed.
Naturalists such as John Muir were pivotal in establishing the first national
parks and preserving scenic areas of the American West. By the early 20th
century, many Americans supported the drive to preserve wilderness and the
desire to make the great outdoors available to everyone.
                     Immigration and Diversity                     
By the early 20th century, as the United States became an international
power, its cultural self-identity became more complex. The United States was
becoming more diverse as immigrants streamed into the country, settling
especially in America’s growing urban areas. At this time, America's social
diversity began to find significant expression in the arts and culture.
American writers of German, Irish, Jewish, and Scandinavian ancestry began to
find an audience, although some of the cultural elite resisted the works,
considering them crude and unrefined.
Many of these writers focused on 20th-century city life and themes, such as
poverty, efforts to assimilate into the United States, and family life in the
new country. These ethnically diverse writers included Theodore Dreiser, of
German ancestry; Henry Roth, a Jewish writer; and Eugene O'Neill and James
Farrell, of Irish background. European influence now meant something very
different than it once had: Artists changed the core of American experience
by incorporating their various immigrant origins into its cultural vision.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a host of African American poets and novelists
added their voices to this new American vision. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale
Hurston, and Countee Cullen, among others, gathered in New York City’s Harlem
district. They began to write about their unique experiences, creating a
movement called the Harlem Renaissance.
Visual artists of the early 20th century also began incorporating the many
new sights and colors of the multiethnic America visible in these new city
settings. Painters associated with a group known as The Eight (also called
the Ashcan school), such as Robert Henri and John Sloan, portrayed the
picturesque sights of the city. Later painters and photographers focused on
the city’s squalid and seamier aspects. Although nature remained a
significant dimension of American cultural self-expression, as the paintings
of Georgia O'Keeffe demonstrated, it was no longer at the heart of American
culture. By the 1920s and 1930s few artists or writers considered nature the
singular basis of American cultural identity.
In popular music too, the songs of many nations became American songs. Tin
Pan Alley (Union Square in New York City, the center of music publishing at
the turn of the 20th century) was full of immigrant talents who helped define
American music, especially in the form of the Broadway musical. Some
songwriters, such as Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan, used their music to
help define American patriotic songs and holiday traditions. During the 1920s
musical forms such as the blues and jazz began to dominate the rhythms of
American popular music. These forms had their roots in Africa as adapted in
the American South and then in cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana; Kansas
City, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Black artists and
musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count
Basie became the instruments of a classic American sound. White composers
such as George Gershwin and performers such as Bix Beiderbecke also
incorporated jazz rhythms into their music, while instrumentalists such as
Benny Goodman adopted jazz’s improvisational style to forge a racially
blended American form called swing music.
                     Development of Mass Media                     
In the late 19th century, Americans who enjoyed the arts usually lived in big
cities or had the money to attend live performances. People who were poor or
distant from cultural centers settled for second-rate productions mounted by
local theater troupes or touring groups. New technologies, such as the
motion-picture camera and the phonograph, revolutionized the arts by making
them available to the masses. The movies, the phonograph, and, somewhat
later, the radio made entertainment available daily and allowed Americans to
experience elaborately produced dramas and all types of music.
While mass media made entertainment available to more people, it also began
to homogenize tastes, styles, and points of view among different groups in
the United States. Class and ethnic distinctions in American culture began to
fade as mass media transmitted movies and music to people throughout the
United States. Some people criticized the growing uniformity of mass culture
for lowering the general standard of taste, since mass media sought to please
the largest number of people by appealing to simpler rather than more complex
tastes. However, culture became more democratic as modern technology and mass
media allowed it to reach more people.
During the 20th century, mass entertainment extended the reach of American
culture, reversing the direction of influence as Europe and the world became
consumers of American popular culture. America became the dominant cultural
source for entertainment and popular fashion, from the jeans and T-shirts
young people wear to the music groups and rock stars they listen to and the
movies they see. People all over the world view American television programs,
often years after the program’s popularity has declined in the United States.
American television has become such an international fixture that American
news broadcasts help define what people in other countries know about current
events and politics. American entertainment is probably one of the strongest
means by which American culture influences the world, although some
countries, such as France, resist this influence because they see it as a
threat to their unique national culture.
                     The Impact of Consumerism                     
Popular culture is linked to the growth of consumerism, the repeated
acquisition of an increasing variety of goods and services. The American
lifestyle is often associated with clothing, houses, electronic gadgets, and
other products, as well as with leisure time. As advertising stimulates the
desire for updated or improved products, people increasingly equate their
well-being with owning certain things and acquiring the latest model.
Television and other mass media broadcast a portrayal of a privileged
American lifestyle that many Americans hope to imitate.
Americans often seek self-fulfillment and status through gaining material
items. Indeed, products consumed and owned, rather than professional
accomplishments or personal ideals, are often the standard of success in
American society. The media exemplify this success with the most glamorous
models of consumption: Hollywood actors, sports figures, or music
celebrities. This dependence on products and on constant consumption defines
modern consumer society everywhere. Americans have set the pace for this
consumer ideal, especially young people, who have helped fuel this consumer
culture in the United States and the world. Like the mass media with which it
is so closely linked, consumption has been extensively criticized. Portrayed
as a dizzy cycle of induced desire, consumerism seems to erode older values
of personal taste and economy. Despite this, the mass production of goods has
also allowed more people to live more comfortably and made it possible for
anyone to attain a sense of style, blurring the most obvious forms of class
                                  WAYS OF LIFE                                  
                          Living Patterns                          
A fundamental element in the life of the American people was the enormous
expanse of land available. During the colonial period, the access to open
land helped scatter settlements. One effect was to make it difficult to
enforce traditional European social conventions, such as primogeniture, in
which the eldest son inherited the parents’ estate. Because the United States
had so much land, sons became less dependent on inheriting the family estate.
Religious institutions were also affected, as the widely spread settlements
created space for newer religious sects and revivalist practices.
In the 19th century, Americans used their land to grow crops, which helped
create the dynamic agricultural economy that defined American society. Many
Americans were lured westward to obtain more land. Immigrants sought land to
settle, cattle ranchers wanted land for their herds, Southerners looked to
expand their slave economy into Western lands, and railroad companies
acquired huge tracts of land as they bound a loose society into a coherent
economic union. Although Native Americans had inhabited most of the
continent, Europeans and American settlers often viewed it as empty, virgin
land that they were destined to occupy. Even before the late 19th century,
when the last bloody battles between U.S. troops and Native Americans
completed the white conquest of the West, the idea of possessing land was
deeply etched into American cultural patterns and national consciousness.
Throughout the 19th century, agricultural settlements existed on large,
separate plots of land, often occupying hundreds of acres. The Homestead Act
of 1862 promised up to 65 hectares (160 acres) of free land to anyone with
enough fortitude and vision to live on or cultivate the land. As a result,
many settlements in the West contained vast areas of sparsely settled land,
where neighbors lived great distances from one another. The desire for
residential privacy has remained a significant feature of American culture.
This heritage continues to define patterns of life in the United States. More
than any other Western society, Americans are committed to living in private
dwellings set apart from neighbors. Despite the rapid urbanization that began
in the late 19th century, Americans insisted that each nuclear family
(parents and their children) be privately housed and that as many families as
possible own their own homes. This strong cultural standard sometimes seemed
unusual to new immigrants who were used to the more crowded living conditions
of Europe, but they quickly adopted this aspect of American culture.
As cities became more densely populated, Americans moved to the suburbs.
Streetcars, first used during the 1830s, opened suburban rings around city
centers, where congestion was greatest. Banks offered long-term loans that
allowed individuals to invest in a home. Above all, the automobile in the
1920s was instrumental in furthering the move to the suburbs.
After World War II (1939-1945), developers carved out rural tracts to build
millions of single-family homes, and more Americans than ever before moved to
large suburban areas that were zoned to prevent commercial and industrial
activities. The federal government directly fueled this process by providing
loans to war veterans as part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944,
known as the GI Bill of Rights, which provided a wide range of benefits to
U.S. military personnel. In many of the new housing developments, builders
constructed homes according to a single model, a process first established in
Levittown, New York. These identical, partially prefabricated units were
rapidly assembled, making suburban life and private land ownership available
to millions of returning soldiers in search of housing for their families.
American families still choose to live in either suburbs or the sprawling
suburban cities that have grown up in newer regions of the country. Vast
areas of the West, such as the Los Angeles metropolitan region in California,
the area around Phoenix, Arizona, and the Puget Sound area of Washington
state, became rapidly populated with new housing because of the American
desire to own a home on a private plot of land. In much of this suburban
sprawl, the central city has become largely indistinct. These suburban areas
almost invariably reflect Americans’ dependence on automobiles and on
government-supported highway systems.
As a result of Americans choosing to live in the suburbs, a distinctly
American phenomenon developed in the form of the shopping mall. The shopping
mall has increasingly replaced the old-fashioned urban downtown, where local
shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions were located. Modern malls
emphasize consumption as an exclusive activity. The shopping mall, filled
with department stores, specialty shops, fast-food franchises, and movie
multiplexes, has come to dominate retailing, making suburban areas across
America more and more alike. In malls, Americans purchase food, clothing, and
entertainment in an isolated environment surrounded by parking lots.
The American preference for living in the suburbs has also affected other
living experiences. Because suburbs emphasize family life, suburban areas
also place a greater emphasis on school and other family-oriented political
issues than more demographically diverse cities. At their most intense
levels, desire for privacy and fear of crime have led to the development of
gated suburban communities that keep out those who are not wanted.
Despite the growth of suburbs, American cities have maintained their status
as cultural centers for theaters, museums, concert halls, art galleries, and
more upscale restaurants, shops, and bookstores. In the past several decades,
city populations grew as young and trendy professionals with few or no
children sought out the cultural possibilities and the diversity not
available in the suburbs. Housing can be expensive and difficult to find in
older cities such as New York; Boston, Massachusetts; and San Francisco,
California. To cope, many city dwellers restored older apartment buildings
and houses. This process, called gentrification, combines the American desire
for the latest technology with a newer appreciation for the classic and
Many poorer Americans cannot afford homes in the suburbs or apartments in the
gentrified areas of cities. They often rely upon federal housing subsidies to
pay for apartments in less-desirable areas of the city or in public housing
projects. Poorer people often live crowded together in large apartment
complexes in congested inner-city areas. Federal public housing began when
President Franklin Roosevelt sought to relieve the worst conditions
associated with poverty in the 1930s. It accelerated during the 1950s and
1960s, as the government subsidized the renewal of urban areas by replacing
slums with either new or refurbished housing. In the late 20th century, many
people criticized public housing because it was often the site for crime,
drug deals, gangs, and other social ills. Nevertheless, given the expensive
nature of rental housing in cities, public housing is often the only option
available to those who cannot afford to buy their own home. Private efforts,
such as Habitat for Humanity, have been organized to help the urban poor move
from crowded, high-rise apartments. These organizations help construct low-
cost homes in places such as the South Bronx in New York City, and they
emphasize the pride and autonomy of home ownership.
In recent years, the importance of home ownership has increased as higher
real estate prices have made the house a valuable investment. The newest home
construction has made standard the comforts of large kitchens, luxurious
bathrooms, and small gardens. In line with the rising cost of land, these
houses often stand on smaller lots than those constructed in the period
following World War II, when one-story ranch houses and large lawns were the
predominant style. At the same time, many suburban areas have added other
kinds of housing in response to the needs of single people and people without
children. As a result, apartments and townhouses—available as rentals and as
condominiums—have become familiar parts of suburban life. For more
information on urbanization and suburbanization.
                         Food and Cuisine                         
The United States has rich and productive land that has provided Americans
with plentiful resources for a healthy diet. Despite this, Americans did not
begin to pay close attention to the variety and quality of the food they ate
until the 20th century, when they became concerned about eating too much and
becoming overweight. American food also grew more similar around the country
as American malls and fast-food outlets tended to standardize eating patterns
throughout the nation, especially among young people. Nevertheless, American
food has become more complex as it draws from the diverse cuisines that
immigrants have brought with them.
Historically, the rest of the world has envied the good, wholesome food
available in the United States. In the 18th and 19th centuries, fertile soil
and widespread land ownership made grains, meats, and vegetables widely
available, and famine that was common elsewhere was unknown in the United
States. Some immigrants, such as the Irish, moved to the United States to
escape famine, while others saw the bounty of food as one of the advantages
of immigration. By the late 19th century, America’s food surplus was
beginning to feed the world. After World War I (1914-1918) and World War II,
the United States distributed food in Europe to help countries severely
damaged by the wars. Throughout the 20th century, American food exports have
helped compensate for inadequate harvests in other parts of the world.
Although hunger does exist in the United States, it results more from food
being poorly distributed rather than from food being unavailable.
Traditional American cuisine has included conventional European foodstuffs
such as wheat, dairy products, pork, beef, and poultry. It has also
incorporated products that were either known only in the New World or that
were grown there first and then introduced to Europe. Such foods include
potatoes, corn, codfish, molasses, pumpkin and other squashes, sweet
potatoes, and peanuts. American cuisine also varies by region. Southern
cooking was often different from cooking in New England and its upper Midwest
offshoots. Doughnuts, for example, were a New England staple, while
Southerners preferred corn bread. The availability of foods also affected
regional diets, such as the different kinds of fish eaten in New England and
the Gulf Coast. For instance, Boston clam chowder and Louisiana gumbo are
widely different versions of fish soup. Other variations often depended on
the contributions of indigenous peoples. In the Southwest, for example,
Mexican and Native Americans made hot peppers a staple and helped define the
spicy hot barbecues and chili dishes of the area. In Louisiana, Cajun
influence similarly created spicy dishes as a local variation of Southern
cuisine, and African slaves throughout the South introduced foods such as
okra and yams
By the late 19th century, immigrants from Europe and Asia were introducing even
more variations into the American diet. American cuisine began to reflect these
foreign cuisines, not only in their original forms but in Americanized versions
as well. Immigrants from Japan and Italy introduced a range of fresh vegetables
that added important nutrients as well as variety to the protein-heavy American
diet. Germans and Italians contributed new skills and refinements to the
production of alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine, which supplemented
the more customary hard cider and indigenous corn-mash whiskeys. Some imports
became distinctly American products, such as hot dogs, which are descended from
German wurst, or sausage. Spaghetti and pizza from Italy, especially,
grew increasingly more American and developed many regional spin-offs.
Americans even adapted chow mein from China into a simple American dish. Not
until the late 20th century did Americans rediscover these cuisines, and many
others, paying far more attention to their original forms and cooking styles.
Until the early 20th century, the federal government did not regulate food
for consumers, and food was sometimes dangerous and impure. During the
Progressive period in the early 20th century, the federal government
intervened to protect consumers against the worst kinds of food adulterations
and diseases by passing legislation such as the Pure Food and Drug Acts. As a
result, American food became safer. By the early 20th century, Americans
began to consume convenient, packaged foods such as breads and cookies,
preserved fruits, and pickles. By the mid-20th century, packaged products had
expanded greatly to include canned soups, noodles, processed breakfast
cereals, preserved meats, frozen vegetables, instant puddings, and gelatins.
These prepackaged foods became staples used in recipes contained in popular
cookbooks, while peanut butter sandwiches and packaged cupcakes became
standard lunchbox fare. As a result, the American diet became noteworthy for
its blandness rather than its flavors, and for its wholesomeness rather than
its subtlety.
Americans were proud of their technology in food production and processing.
They used fertilizers, hybridization (genetically combining two varieties),
and other technologies to increase crop yields and consumer selection, making
foods cheaper if not always better tasting. Additionally, by the 1950s, the
refrigerator had replaced the old-fashioned icebox and the cold cellar as a
place to store food. Refrigeration, because it allowed food to last longer,
made the American kitchen a convenient place to maintain readily available
food stocks. However, plentiful wholesome food, when combined with the
sedentary 20th-century lifestyle and work habits, brought its own unpleasant
consequences—overeating and excess weight. During the 1970s, 25 percent of
Americans were overweight; by the 1990s that had increased to 35 percent.
America’s foods began to affect the rest of the world—not only raw staples
such as wheat and corn, but a new American cuisine that spread throughout the
world. American emphasis on convenience and rapid consumption is best
represented in fast foods such as hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks,
which almost all Americans have eaten. By the 1960s and 1970s fast foods
became one of America's strongest exports as franchises for McDonald’s and
Burger King spread through Europe and other parts of the world, including the
former Soviet Union and Communist China. Traditional meals cooked at home and
consumed at a leisurely pace—common in the rest of the world, and once common
in the United States—gave way to quick lunches and dinners eaten on the run
as other countries mimicked American cultural patterns.
By the late 20th century, Americans had become more conscious of their diets,
eating more poultry, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer eggs and
less beef. They also began appreciating fresh ingredients and livelier
flavors, and cooks began to rediscover many world cuisines in forms closer to
their original. In California, chefs combined the fresh fruits and vegetables
available year-round with ingredients and spices sometimes borrowed from
immigrant kitchens to create an innovative cooking style that was lighter
than traditional French, but more interesting and varied than typical
American cuisine. Along with the state’s wines, California cuisine eventually
took its place among the acknowledged forms of fine dining.
As Americans became more concerned about their diets, they also became more
ecologically conscious. This consciousness often included an antitechnology
aspect that led some Americans to switch to a partially or wholly vegetarian
diet, or to emphasize products produced organically (without chemical
fertilizers and pesticides). Many considered these foods more wholesome and
socially responsible because their production was less taxing to the
environment. In the latter 20th century, Americans also worried about the
effects of newly introduced genetically altered foods and irradiation
processes for killing bacteria. They feared that these new processes made
their food less natural and therefore harmful.
These concerns and the emphasis on variety were by no means universal, since
food habits in the late 20th century often reflected society’s ethnic and
class differences. Not all Americans appreciated   California cuisine or
vegetarian food, and many recent immigrants, like their immigrant
predecessors, often continued eating the foods they knew best.
At the end of the 20th century, American eating habits and food production
were increasingly taking place outside the home. Many people relied on
restaurants and on new types of fully prepared meals to help busy families in
which both adults worked full-time. Another sign of the public’s changing
food habits was the microwave oven, probably the most widely used new kitchen
appliance, since it can quickly cook foods and reheat prepared foods and
leftovers. Since Americans are generally cooking less of their own food, they
are more aware than at any time since the early 20th century of the quality
and health standards applied to food. Recent attention to cases in which
children have died from contaminated and poorly prepared food has once again
directed the public’s attention to the government's role in monitoring food
In some ways, American food developments are contradictory. Americans are
more aware of food quality despite, and maybe because of, their increasing
dependence on convenience. They eat a more varied diet, drawing on the
cuisines of immigrant groups (Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, Indian, Cuban,
Mexican, and Ethiopian), but they also regularly eat fast foods found in
every shopping mall and along every highway. They are more suspicious of
technology, although they rely heavily on it for their daily meals. In many
ways, these contradictions reflect the many influences on American life in
the late 20th century—immigration, double-income households, genetic
technologies, domestic and foreign travel—and food has become an even deeper
expression of the complex culture of which it is part.
In many regions of the world, people wear traditional costumes at festivals
or holidays, and sometimes more regularly. Americans, however, do not have
distinctive folk attire with a long tradition. Except for the varied and
characteristic clothing of Native American peoples, dress in the United
States has rarely been specific to a certain region or based on the careful
preservation of decorative patterns and crafts. American dress is derived
from the fabrics and fashions of the Europeans who began colonizing the
country in the 17th century. Early settlers incorporated some of the forms
worn by indigenous peoples, such as moccasins and garments made from animal
skins (Benjamin Franklin is famous for flaunting a raccoon cap when he
traveled to Europe), but in general, fashion in the United States adapted and
modified European styles. Despite the number and variety of immigrants in the
United States, American clothing has tended to be homogeneous, and attire
from an immigrant’s homeland was often rapidly exchanged for American
American dress is distinctive because of its casualness. American style in the
20th century is recognizably more informal than in Europe, and for its fashion
sources it is more dependent on what people on the streets are wearing.
European fashions take their cues from the top of the fashion hierarchy,
dictated by the world-famous haute couture (high fashion) houses of
Paris, France, and recently those of Milan, Italy, and London, England. Paris
designers, both today and in the past, have also dressed wealthy and
fashionable Americans, who copied French styles. Although European designs
remain a significant influence on American tastes, American fashions more often
come from popular sources, such as the school and the street, as well as
television and movies. In the last quarter of the 20th century, American
designers often found inspiration in the imaginative attire worn by young
people in cities and ballparks, and that worn by workers in factories and
Blue jeans are probably the single most representative article of American
clothing. They were originally invented by tailor Jacob Davis, who together
with dry-goods salesman Levi Strauss patented the idea in 1873 as durable
clothing for miners. Blue jeans (also known as dungarees) spread among
workers of all kinds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially
among cowboys, farmers, loggers, and railroad workers. During the 1950s,
actors Marlon Brando and James Dean made blue jeans fashionable by wearing
them in movies, and jeans became part of the image of teenage rebelliousness.
This fashion statement exploded in the 1960s and 1970s as Levi's became a
fundamental part of the youth culture focused on civil rights and antiwar
protests. By the late 1970s, almost everyone in the United States wore blue
jeans, and youths around the world sought them. As designers began to create
more sophisticated styles of blue jeans and to adjust their fit, jeans began
to express the American emphasis on informality and the importance of
subtlety of detail. By highlighting the right label and achieving the right
look, blue jeans, despite their worker origins, ironically embodied the
status consciousness of American fashion and the eagerness to approximate the
latest fad.
American informality in dress is such a strong part of American culture that
many workplaces have adopted the idea of “casual Friday,” a day when workers
are encouraged to dress down from their usual professional attire. For many
high-tech industries located along the West Coast, as well as among faculty
at colleges and universities, this emphasis on casual attire is a daily
occurrence, not just reserved for Fridays.
The fashion industry in the United States, along with its companion cosmetics
industry, grew enormously in the second half of the 20th century and became a
major source of competition for French fashion. Especially notable during the
late 20th century was the incorporation of sports logos and styles, from
athletic shoes to tennis shirts and baseball caps, into standard American
wardrobes. American informality is enshrined in the wardrobes created by
world-famous U.S. designers such as Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne, and Ralph
Lauren. Lauren especially adopted the American look, based in part on the
tradition of the old West (cowboy hats, boots, and jeans) and in part on the
clean-cut sportiness of suburban style (blazers, loafers, and khakis).
                       Sports and Recreation                       
Large numbers of Americans watch and participate in sports activities, which
are a deeply ingrained part of American life. Americans use sports to express
interest in health and fitness and to occupy their leisure time. Sports also
allow Americans to connect and identify with mass culture. Americans pour
billions of dollars into sports and their related enterprises, affecting the
economy, family habits, school life, and clothing styles. Americans of all
classes, races, sexes, and ages participate in sports activities—from
toddlers in infant swimming groups and teenagers participating in school
athletics to middle-aged adults bowling or golfing and older persons
practicing t’ai chi.
Public subsidies and private sponsorships support the immense network of
outdoor and indoor sports, recreation, and athletic competitions. Except for
those sponsored by public schools, most sports activities are privately
funded, and even American Olympic athletes receive no direct national
sponsorship. Little League baseball teams, for example, are usually sponsored
by local businesses. Many commercial football, basketball, baseball, and
hockey teams reflect large private investments. Although sports teams are
privately owned, they play in stadiums that are usually financed by taxpayer-
provided subsidies such as bond measures. State taxes provide some money for
state university sporting events. Taxpayer dollars also support state parks,
the National Park Service, and the Forest Service, which provide places for
Americans to enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, and rafting. Public money also
funds the Coast Guard, whose crews protect those enjoying boating around the
nation's shores.
Sports in North America go back to the Native Americans, who played forms of
lacrosse and field hockey. During colonial times, early Dutch settlers bowled
on New York City's Bowling Green, still a small park in southern Manhattan.
However, organized sports competitions and local participatory sports on a
substantial scale go back only to the late 19th century. Schools and colleges
began to encourage athletics as part of a balanced program emphasizing
physical as well as mental vigor, and churches began to loosen strictures
against leisure and physical pleasures. As work became more mechanized, more
clerical, and less physical during the late 19th century, Americans became
concerned with diet and exercise. With sedentary urban activities replacing
rural life, Americans used sports and outdoor relaxation to balance lives
that had become hurried and confined. Biking, tennis, and golf became popular
for those who could afford them, while sandlot baseball and an early version
of basketball became popular city activities. At the same time, organizations
such as the Boy Scouts and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) began
to sponsor sports as part of their efforts to counteract unruly behavior
among young people.
Baseball teams developed in Eastern cities during the 1850s and spread to the
rest of the nation during the Civil War in the 1860s. Baseball quickly became
the national pastime and began to produce sports heroes such as Cy Young, Ty
Cobb, and Babe Ruth in the first half of the 20th century. With its city-
based loyalties and all-American aura, baseball appealed to many immigrants,
who as players and fans used the game as a way to fit into American culture.
Starting in the latter part of the 19th century, football was played on
college campuses, and intercollegiate games quickly followed. By the early
20th century, football had become a feature of college life across the
nation. In the 1920s football pep rallies were commonly held on college
campuses, and football players were among the most admired campus leaders.
That enthusiasm has now spilled way beyond college to Americans throughout
the country. Spectators also watch the professional football teams of the
National Football League (NFL) with enthusiasm.
Basketball is another sport that is very popular as both a spectator and
participant sport. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hosts
championships for men’s and women’s collegiate teams. Held annually in March,
the men’s NCAA national championship is one of the most popular sporting
events in the United States. The top men’s professional basketball league in
the United States is the National Basketball Association; the top women’s is
Women’s National Basketball Association. In addition, many people play
basketball in amateur leagues and organizations. It is also common to see
people playing basketball in parks and local gymnasiums around the country.
Another major sport played in the United States is ice hockey. Ice hockey
began as an amateur sport played primarily in the Northeast. The first U.S.
professional ice hockey team was founded in Boston in 1924. Ice hockey’s
popularity has spread throughout the country since the 1960s. The NCAA holds
a national collegiate ice hockey championship in April of each year. The
country’s top professional league is the National Hockey League (NHL). NHL
teams play a regular schedule that culminates in the championship series. The
winner is awarded the Stanley Cup, the league’s top prize.
Television transformed sports in the second half of the 20th century. As more
Americans watched sports on television, the sports industry grew into an
enormous business, and sports events became widely viewed among Americans as
cultural experiences. Many Americans shared televised moments of exaltation
and triumph throughout the year: baseball during the spring and summer and
its World Series in the early fall, football throughout the fall crowned by
the Super Bowl in January, and the National Basketball Association (NBA)
championships in the spring. The Olympic Games, watched by millions of people
worldwide, similarly rivet Americans to their televisions as they watch
outstanding athletes compete on behalf of their nations. Commercial sports
are part of practically every home in America and have allowed sports heroes
to gain prominence in the national imagination and to become fixtures of the
consumer culture. As well-known faces and bodies, sports celebrities such as
basketball player Michael Jordan and baseball player Mark McGwire are hired
to endorse products.
Although televised games remove the viewing public from direct contact with
events, they have neither diminished the fervor of team identification nor
dampened the enthusiasm for athletic participation. Americans watch more
sports on television than ever, and they personally participate in more
varied sporting activities and athletic clubs. Millions of young girls and
boys across the country play soccer, baseball, tennis, and field hockey.
At the end of the 20th century, Americans were taking part in individual
sports of all kinds—jogging, bicycling, swimming, skiing, rock climbing,
playing tennis, as well as more unusual sports such as bungee jumping, hang
gliding, and wind surfing. As Americans enjoy more leisure time, and as
Hollywood and advertising emphasize trim, well-developed bodies, sports have
become a significant component of many people's lives. Many Americans now
invest significant amounts of money in sports equipment, clothing, and gym
memberships. As a result, more people are dressing in sporty styles of
clothing. Sports logos and athletic fashions have become common aspects of
people’s wardrobes, as people need to look as though they participate in
sports to be in style. Sports have even influenced the cars Americans drive,
as sport utility vehicles accommodate the rugged terrain, elaborate
equipment, and sporty lifestyles of their owners.
Probably the most significant long-term development in 20th-century sports
has been the increased participation of minorities and women. Throughout the
early 20th century, African Americans made outstanding contributions to
sports, despite being excluded from organized white teams. The exclusion of
black players from white baseball led to the creation of a separate Negro
National League in 1920. On the world stage, track-and-field star Jessie
Owens became a national hero when he won four gold medals and set world and
Olympic records at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. The racial segregation that
prevented African Americans from playing baseball in the National League
until 1947 has been replaced by the enormous successes of African Americans
in all fields of sport.
Before the 20th century women could not play in most organized sports. Soon,
however, they began to enter the sports arena. Helen Wills Moody, a tennis
champion during the 1920s, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, one of the 20th
century’s greatest women athletes, were examples of physical grace and
agility. In 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act outlawed
discrimination based on gender in education, including school sports. Schools
then spent additional funding on women's athletics, which provided an
enormous boost to women’s sports of all kinds, especially basketball, which
became very popular. Women's college basketball, part of the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is a popular focus of interest. By
the end of the 20th century, this enthusiasm led to the creation of a major
professional women’s basketball league. Women have become a large part of
athletics, making their mark in a wide range of sports.
Sports have become one of the most visible expressions of the vast extension
of democracy in 20th-century America. They have become more inclusive, with
many Americans both personally participating and enjoying sports as
spectators. Once readily available only to the well-to-do, sports and
recreation attract many people, aided by the mass media, the schools and
colleges, the federal and state highway and park systems, and increased
leisure time.
                     Celebrations and Holidays                     
Americans celebrate an enormous variety of festivals and holidays because
they come from around the globe and practice many religions. They also
celebrate holidays specific to the United States that commemorate historical
events or encourage a common national memory. Holidays in America are often
family or community events. Many Americans travel long distances for family
gatherings or take vacations during holidays. In fact, by the end of the 20th
century, many national holidays in the United States had become three-day
weekends, which many people used as mini vacations. Except for the Fourth of
July and Veterans Day, most commemorative federal holidays, including
Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Presidents’ Day, are celebrated on
Mondays so that Americans can enjoy a long weekend. Because many Americans
tend to create vacations out of these holiday weekends rather than celebrate
a particular event, some people believe the original significance of many of
these occasions has been eroded.
Because the United States is a secular society founded on the separation of
church and state, many of the most meaningful religiously based festivals and
rituals, such as Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan, are not enshrined as
national events, with one major exception. Christmas, and the holiday season
surrounding it, is an enormous commercial enterprise, a fixture of the
American social calendar, and deeply embedded in the popular imagination. Not
until the 19th century did Christmas in the United States begin to take on
aspects of the modern holiday celebration, such as exchanging gifts, cooking
and eating traditional foods, and putting up often-elaborate Christmas
decorations. The holiday has grown in popularity and significance ever since.
Santa Claus; brightly decorated Christmas trees; and plenty of wreathes,
holly, and ribbons help define the season for most children. Indeed, because
some religious faiths do not celebrate Christmas, the Christmas season has
expanded in recent years to become the “holiday season,” embracing Hanukkah,
the Jewish Festival of Lights, and Kwanzaa, a celebration of African
heritage. Thus, the Christmas season has become the closest thing to a true
national festival in the United States.
The expansion of Christmas has even begun to encroach on the most indigenous
of American festivals, Thanksgiving. Celebrated on the last Thursday in
November, Thanksgiving has largely shed its original religious meaning (as a
feast of giving thanks to God) to become a celebration of the bounty of food
and the warmth of family life in America. American children usually
commemorate the holiday’s origins at school, where they re-create the
original event: Pilgrims sharing a harvest feast with Native Americans. Both
the historical and the religious origins of the event have largely given way
to a secular celebration centered on the traditional Thanksgiving meal:
turkey—an indigenous American bird—accompanied by foods common in early New
England settlements, such as pumpkins, squashes, and cranberries. Since many
Americans enjoy a four-day holiday at Thanksgiving, the occasion encourages
family reunions and travel. Some Americans also contribute time and food to
the needy and the homeless during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Another holiday that has lost its older, religious meaning in the United
States is Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day. Halloween has become a
celebration of witches, ghosts, goblins, and candy that is especially
attractive to children. On this day and night, October 31, many homes are
decorated and lit by jack-o'-lanterns, pumpkins that have been hollowed out
and carved. Children dress up and go trick-or-treating, during which they
receive treats from neighbors. An array of orange-colored candies has evolved
from this event, and most trick-or-treat bags usually brim with chocolate
bars and other confections.
The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is the premier American national
celebration because it commemorates the day the United States proclaimed its
freedom from Britain with the Declaration of Independence. Very early in its
development, the holiday was an occasion for fanfare, parades, and speeches
celebrating American freedom and the uniqueness of American life. Since at
least the 19th century, Americans have commemorated their independence with
fireworks and patriotic music. Because the holiday marks the founding of the
republic in 1776, flying the flag of the United States (sometimes with the
original 13 stars) is common, as are festive barbecues, picnics, fireworks,
and summer outings.
Most other national holidays have become less significant over time and
receded in importance as ways in which Americans define themselves and their
history. For example, Columbus Day was formerly celebrated on October 12, the
day explorer Christopher Columbus first landed in the West Indies, but it is
now celebrated on the second Monday of October to allow for a three-day
weekend. The holiday originally served as a traditional reminder of the
"discovery" of America in 1492, but as Americans became more sensitive to
their multicultural population, celebrating the conquest of Native Americans
became more controversial.
Holidays honoring wars have also lost much of their original significance.
Memorial Day, first called Decoration Day and celebrated on May 30, was
established to honor those who died during the American Civil War (1861-
1865), then subsequently those who died in all American wars. Similarly,
Veterans Day was first named Armistice Day and marked the end of World War I
(1914-1918). During the 1950s the name of the holiday was changed in the
United States, and its significance expanded to honor armed forces personnel
who served in any American war.
The memory of America's first president, George Washington, was once
celebrated on his birthday, February 22nd. The date was changed to the third
Monday in February to create a three-day weekend, as well as to incorporate
the birthday of another president, Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February
12th. The holiday is now popularly called Presidents’ Day and is less likely
to be remembered as honoring the first and 16th American presidents than as a
school and work holiday. Americans also memorialize Martin Luther King, Jr.,
the great African American civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.
King’s birthday is celebrated as a national holiday in mid-January. The
celebration of King's birthday has become a sign of greater inclusiveness in
20th-century American society.
                         Role of Education                         
The United States has one of the most extensive and diverse educational
systems in the world. Educational institutions exist at all learning levels,
from nursery schools for the very young to higher education for older youths
and adults of all ages. Education in the United States is notable for the
many goals it aspires to accomplish—promoting democracy, assimilation,
nationalism, equality of opportunity, and personal development. Because
Americans have historically insisted that their schools work toward these
sometimes conflicting goals, education has often been the focus of social
While schools are expected to achieve many social objectives, education in
America is neither centrally administered nor supported directly by the
federal government, unlike education in other industrialized countries. In
the United States, each state is responsible for providing schooling, which
is funded through local taxes and governed by local school boards. In
addition to these government-funded public schools, the United States has
many schools that are privately financed and maintained. More than 10 percent
of all elementary and secondary students in the United States attend private
schools. Religious groups, especially the Roman Catholic Church, run many of
these. Many of America's most renowned universities and colleges are also
privately endowed and run. As a result, although American education is
expected to provide equality of opportunity, it is not easily directed toward
these goals. This complex enterprise, once one of the proudest achievements
of American democracy because of its diversity and inclusiveness, became the
subject of intense debate and criticism during the second half of the 20th
century. People debated the goals of schools as well as whether schools were
educating students well enough.
                  History of Education in America                  
Until the 1830s, most American children attended school irregularly, and most
schools were either run privately or by charities. This irregular system was
replaced in the Northeast and Midwest by publicly financed elementary
schools, known as common schools. Common schools provided rudimentary
instruction in literacy and trained students in citizenship. This democratic
ideal expanded after the Civil War to all parts of the nation. By the 1880s
and 1890s, schools began to expand attendance requirements so that more
children and older children attended school regularly. These more rigorous
requirements were intended to ensure that all students, including those whose
families had immigrated from elsewhere, were integrated into society. In
addition, the schools tried to equip children with the more complex skills
required in an industrialized urban society.
Education became increasingly important during the 20th century, as America’s
sophisticated industrial society demanded a more literate and skilled
workforce. In addition, school degrees provided a sought-after means to
obtain better-paying and higher-status jobs. Schools were the one American
institution that could provide the literate skills and work habits necessary
for Americans of all backgrounds to compete in industries. As a result,
education expanded rapidly. In the first decades of the 20th century,
mandatory education laws required children to complete grade school. By the
end of the 20th century, many states required children to attend school until
they were at least 16. In 1960, 45 percent of high school graduates enrolled
in college; by 1996 that enrollment rate had risen to 65 percent.  By the
late 20th century, an advanced education was necessary for success in the
globally competitive and technologically advanced modern economy. According
to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with a bachelor’s degree in 1997 earned an
average of $40,000 annually, while those with a high school degree earned
about $23,000. Those who did not complete high school earned about $16,000.
In the United States, higher education is widely available and obtainable
through thousands of private, religious, and state-run institutions, which
offer advanced professional, scientific, and other training programs that
enable students to become proficient in diverse subjects. Colleges vary in
cost and level of prestige. Many of the oldest and most famous colleges on
the East Coast are expensive and set extremely high admissions standards.
Large state universities are less difficult to enter, and their fees are
substantially lower. Other types of institutions include state universities
that provide engineering, teaching, and agriculture degrees; private
universities and small privately endowed colleges; religious colleges and
universities; and community and junior colleges that offer part-time and two-
year degree programs. This complex and diverse range of schools has made
American higher education the envy of other countries and one of the nation’s
greatest assets in creating and maintaining a technologically advanced
When more people began to attend college, there were a number of
repercussions. Going to college delayed maturity and independence for many
Americans, extending many of the stresses of adolescence into a person’s 20s
and postponing the rites of adulthood, such as marriage and childbearing. As
society paid more attention to education, it also devoted a greater
proportion of its resources to it. Local communities were required to spend
more money on schools and teachers, while colleges and universities were
driven to expand their facilities and course offerings to accommodate an
ever-growing student body. Parents were also expected to support their
children longer and to forgo their children's contribution to the household.
Education is an enormous investment that requires contributions from many
sources. American higher education is especially expensive, with its heavy
investment in laboratory space and research equipment. It receives funding
from private individuals, foundations, and corporations. Many private
universities have large endowments, or funds, that sustain the institutions
beyond what students pay in tuition and fees. Many, such as Harvard
University in Massachusetts and Stanford University in California, raise
large sums of money through fund drives. Even many state-funded universities
seek funds from private sources to augment their budgets. Most major state
universities, such as those in Michigan and California, now rely on a mixture
of state and private resources.
Before World War II, the federal government generally played a minor role in
financing education, with the exception of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.
These acts granted the states public lands that could be sold for the purpose
of establishing and maintaining institutions of higher education. Many so-
called land-grant state universities were founded during the 19th century as
a result of this funding. Today, land-grant colleges include some of the
nation’s premier state universities. The government also provided some
funding for basic research at universities.
The American experience in World War II (especially the success of the
Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb) made clear that scientific
and technical advances, as well as human resources, were essential to
national security. As a result, the federal government became increasingly
involved in education at all levels and substantially expanded funding for
universities. The federal government began to provide substantial amounts of
money for university research programs through agencies such as the National
Science Foundation, and later through the National Institutes of Health and
the departments of Energy and Defense. At the same time, the government began
to focus on providing equal educational opportunities for all Americans.
Beginning with the GI Bill, which financed educational programs for veterans,
and later in the form of fellowships and direct student loans in the 1960s,
more and more Americans were able to attend colleges and universities.
During the 1960s the federal government also began to play more of a role in
education at lower levels. The Great Society programs of President Lyndon
Johnson developed many new educational initiatives to assist poor children
and to compensate for disadvantage. Federal money was funneled through
educational institutions to establish programs such as Head Start, which
provides early childhood education to disadvantaged children. Some Americans,
however, resisted the federal government’s increased presence in education,
which they believed contradicted the long tradition of state-sponsored public
By the 1980s many public schools were receiving federal subsidies for
textbooks, transportation, breakfast and lunch programs, and services for
students with disabilities. This funding enriched schools across the country,
especially inner-city schools, and affected the lives of millions of
schoolchildren. Although federal funding increased, as did federal
supervision, to guarantee an equitable distribution of funds, the government
did not exercise direct control over the academic programs schools offered or
over decisions about academic issues. During the 1990s, the administration of
President Bill Clinton urged the federal government to move further in
exercising leadership by establishing academic standards for public schools
across the country and to evaluate schools through testing.
                 Concerns in Elementary Education                 
The United States has historically contended with the challenges that come
with being a nation of immigrants. Schools are often responsible for
modifying educational offerings to accommodate immigrants. Early schools
reflected many differences among students and their families but were also a
mechanism by which to overcome these differences and to forge a sense of
American commonality. Common schools, or publicly financed elementary
schools, were first introduced in the mid-19th century in the hopes of
creating a common bond among a diverse citizenship. By the early 20th
century, massive immigration from Europe caused schools to restructure and
expand their programs to more effectively incorporate immigrant children into
society. High schools began to include technical, business, and vocational
curricula to accommodate the various goals of its more diverse population.
The United States continues to be concerned about how to incorporate
immigrant groups.
The language in which students are taught is one of the most significant
issues for schools. Many Americans have become concerned about how best to
educate students who are new to the English language and to American culture.
As children of all ages and from dozens of language backgrounds seek an
education, most schools have adopted some variety of bilingual instruction.
Students are taught in their native language until their knowledge of English
improves, which is often accomplished through an English as a Second Language
(ESL) program. Some people have criticized these bilingual programs for not
encouraging students to learn English more quickly, or at all. Some Americans
fear that English will no longer provide a uniform basis for American
identity; others worry that immigrant children will have a hard time finding
employment if they do not become fluent in English. In response to these
criticisms, voters in California, the state that has seen the largest influx
of recent immigrants, passed a law in 1998 requiring that all children
attending public schools be taught in English and prohibiting more than one
year of bilingual instruction.
Many Americans, including parents and business leaders, are also alarmed by
what they see as inadequate levels of student achievement in subjects such as
reading, mathematics, and science. On many standardized tests, American
students lag behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. In response, some
Americans have urged the adoption of national standards by which individual
schools can be evaluated. Some have supported more rigorous teacher
competency standards. Another response that became popular in the 1990s is
the creation of charter schools. These schools are directly authorized by the
state and receive public funding, but they operate largely outside the
control of local school districts. Parents and teachers enforce self-defined
standards for these charter schools.
Schools are also working to incorporate computers into classrooms. The need
for computer literacy in the 21st century has put an additional strain on
school budgets and local resources. Schools have struggled to catch up by
providing computer equipment and instruction and by making Internet
connections available. Some companies, including Apple Computer, Inc., have
provided computer equipment to help schools meet their students’ computer-
education needs.
                   Concerns in Higher Education                   
Throughout the 20th century, Americans have attended schools to obtain the
economic and social rewards that come with highly technical or skilled work
and advanced degrees. However, as the United States became more diverse,
people debated how to include different groups, such as women and minorities,
into higher education. Blacks have historically been excluded from many white
institutions, or were made to feel unwelcome. Since the 19th century, a
number of black colleges have existed to compensate for this broad social
bias, including federally chartered and funded Howard University. In the
early 20th century, when Jews and other Eastern Europeans began to apply to
universities, some of the most prestigious colleges imposed quotas limiting
their numbers.
Americans tried various means to eliminate the most egregious forms of
discrimination. In the early part of the century, "objective" admissions
tests were introduced to counteract the bias in admissions. Some educators
now view admissions tests such as the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT),
originally created to simplify admissions testing for prestigious private
schools, as disadvantageous to women and minorities. Critics of the SAT
believed the test did not adequately account for differences in social and
economic background. Whenever something as subjective as ability or merit is
evaluated, and when the rewards are potentially great, people hotly debate
the best means to fairly evaluate these criteria.
Until the middle of the 20th century, most educational issues in the United
States were handled locally. After World War II, however, the federal
government began to assume a new obligation to assure equality in educational
opportunity, and this issue began to affect college admissions standards. In
the last quarter of the 20th century, the government increased its role  in
questions relating to how all Americans could best secure equal access to
Schools had problems providing equal opportunities for all because quality,
costs, and admissions criteria varied greatly. To deal with these problems,
the federal government introduced the policy of affirmative action in
education in the early 1970s. Affirmative action required that colleges and
universities take race, ethnicity, and gender into account in admissions to
provide extra consideration to those who have historically faced
discrimination. It was intended to assure that Americans of all backgrounds
have an opportunity to train for professions in fields such as medicine, law,
education, and business administration.
Affirmative action became a general social commitment during the last quarter
of the 20th century. In education, it meant that universities and colleges
gave extra advantages and opportunities to blacks, Native Americans, women,
and other groups that were generally underrepresented at the highest levels
of business and in other professions. Affirmative action also included
financial assistance to members of minorities who could not otherwise afford
to attend colleges and universities. Affirmative action has allowed many
minority members to achieve new prominence and success.
At the end of the 20th century, the policy of affirmative action was
criticized as unfair to those who were denied admission in order to admit
those in designated group categories. Some considered affirmative action
policies a form of reverse discrimination, some believed that special
policies were no longer necessary, and others believed that only some groups
should qualify (such as African Americans because of the nation’s long
history of slavery and segregation). The issue became a matter of serious
discussion and is one of the most highly charged topics in education today.
In the 1990s three states—Texas, California, and Washington—eliminated
affirmative action in their state university admissions policies.
Several other issues have become troubling to higher education. Because
tuition costs have risen to very high levels, many smaller private colleges
and universities are struggling to attract students. Many students and their
parents choose state universities where costs are much lower. The decline in
federal research funds has also caused financial difficulties to many
universities. Many well-educated students, including those with doctoral
degrees, have found it difficult to find and keep permanent academic jobs, as
schools seek to lower costs by hiring part-time and temporary faculty. As a
result, despite its great strengths and its history of great variety, the
expense of American higher education may mean serious changes in the future.
Education is fundamental to American culture in more ways than providing
literacy and job skills. Educational institutions are the setting where
scholars interpret and pass on the meaning of the American experience. They
analyze what America is as a society by interpreting the nation’s past and
defining objectives for the future. That information eventually forms the
basis for what children learn from teachers, textbooks, and curricula. Thus,
the work of educational institutions is far more important than even job
training, although this is usually foremost in people’s minds.
                                ARTS AND LETTERS                                
The arts, more than other features of culture, provide avenues for the
expression of imagination and personal vision. They offer a range of
emotional and intellectual pleasures to consumers of art and are an important
way in which a culture represents itself. There has long been a Western
tradition distinguishing those arts that appeal to the multitude, such as
popular music, from those—such as classical orchestral music—normally
available to the elite of learning and taste. Popular art forms are usually
seen as more representative American products. In the United States in the
recent past, there has been a blending of popular and elite art forms, as all
the arts experienced a period of remarkable cross-fertilization. Because
popular art forms are so widely distributed, arts of all kinds have
The arts in the United States express the many faces and the enormous
creative range of the American people. Especially since World War II,
American innovations and the immense energy displayed in literature, dance,
and music have made American cultural works world famous. Arts in the United
States have become internationally prominent in ways that are unparalleled in
history. American art forms during the second half of the 20th century often
defined the styles and qualities that the rest of the world emulated. At the
end of the 20th century, American art was considered equal in quality and
vitality to art produced in the rest of the world.
Throughout the 20th century, American arts have grown to incorporate new
visions and voices. Much of this new artistic energy came in the wake of
America’s emergence as a superpower after World War II. But it was also due
to the growth of New York City as an important center for publishing and the
arts, and the immigration of artists and intellectuals fleeing fascism in
Europe before and during the war. An outpouring of talent also followed the
civil rights and protest movements of the 1960s, as cultural discrimination
against blacks, women, and other groups diminished.
American arts flourish in many places and receive support from private
foundations, large corporations, local governments, federal agencies,
museums, galleries, and individuals. What is considered worthy of support
often depends on definitions of quality and of what constitutes art. This is
a tricky subject when the popular arts are increasingly incorporated into the
domain of the fine arts and new forms such as performance art and conceptual
art appear. As a result, defining what is art affects what students are
taught about past traditions (for example, Native American tent paintings,
oral traditions, and slave narratives) and what is produced in the future.
While some practitioners, such as studio artists, are more vulnerable to
these definitions because they depend on financial support to exercise their
talents, others, such as poets and photographers, are less immediately
Artists operate in a world where those who theorize and critique their work
have taken on an increasingly important role. Audiences are influenced by a
variety of intermediaries—critics, the schools, foundations that offer
grants, the National Endowment for the Arts, gallery owners, publishers, and
theater producers. In some areas, such as the performing arts, popular
audiences may ultimately define success. In other arts, such as painting and
sculpture, success is far more dependent on critics and a few, often wealthy,
art collectors. Writers depend on publishers and on the public for their
Unlike their predecessors, who relied on formal criteria and appealed to
aesthetic judgments, critics at the end of the 20th century leaned more
toward popular tastes, taking into account groups previously ignored and
valuing the merger of popular and elite forms. These critics often relied
less on aesthetic judgments than on social measures and were eager to place
artistic productions in the context of the time and social conditions in
which they were created. Whereas earlier critics attempted to create an
American tradition of high art, later critics used art as a means to give
power and approval to nonelite groups who were previously not considered
worthy of including in the nation’s artistic heritage.
Not so long ago, culture and the arts were assumed to be an unalterable
inheritance—the accumulated wisdom and highest forms of achievement that were
established in the past. In the 20th century generally, and certainly since
World War II, artists have been boldly destroying older traditions in
sculpture, painting, dance, music, and literature. The arts have changed
rapidly, with one movement replacing another in quick succession.
                            Visual Arts                            
The visual arts have traditionally included forms of expression that appeal
to the eyes through painted surfaces, and to the sense of space through
carved or molded materials. In the 19th century, photographs were added to
the paintings, drawings, and sculpture that make up the visual arts. The
visual arts were further augmented in the 20th century by the addition of
other materials, such as found objects. These changes were accompanied by a
profound alteration in tastes, as earlier emphasis on realistic
representation of people, objects, and landscapes made way for a greater
range of imaginative forms.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American art was considered
inferior to European art. Despite noted American painters such as Thomas
Eakins, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, and John Marin, American visual arts
barely had an international presence.
American art began to flourish during the Great Depression of the 1930s as
New Deal government programs provided support to artists along with other
sectors of the population. Artists connected with each other and developed a
sense of common purpose through programs of the Public Works Administration,
such as the Federal Art Project, as well as programs sponsored by the
Treasury Department. Most of the art of the period, including painting,
photography, and mural work, focused on the plight of the American people
during the depression, and most artists painted real people in difficult
circumstances. Artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Ben Shahn expressed the
suffering of ordinary people through their representations of struggling
farmers and workers. While artists such as Benton and Grant Wood focused on
rural life, many painters of the 1930s and 1940s depicted the multicultural
life of the American city. Jacob Lawrence, for example, re-created the
history and lives of African Americans. Other artists, such as Andrew Wyeth
and Edward Hopper, tried to use human figures to describe emotional states
such as loneliness and despair.
                      Abstract Expressionism                      
Shortly after World War II, American art began to garner worldwide attention
and admiration. This change was due to the innovative fervor of abstract
expressionism in the 1950s and to subsequent modern art movements and
artists. The abstract expressionists of the mid-20th century broke from the
realist and figurative tradition set in the 1930s. They emphasized their
connection to international artistic visions rather than the particularities
of people and place, and most abstract expressionists did not paint human
figures (although artist Willem de Kooning did portrayals of women). Color,
shape, and movement dominated the canvases of abstract expressionists. Some
artists broke with the Western art tradition by adopting innovative painting
styles—during the 1950s Jackson Pollock "painted" by dripping paint on
canvases without the use of brushes, while the paintings of Mark Rothko often
consisted of large patches of color that seem to vibrate.
Abstract expressionists felt alienated from their surrounding culture and
used art to challenge society’s conventions. The work of each artist was
quite individual and distinctive, but all the artists identified with the
radicalism of artistic creativity. The artists were eager to challenge
conventions and limits on expression in order to redefine the nature of art.
Their radicalism came from liberating themselves from the confining artistic
traditions of the past.
The most notable activity took place in New York City, which became one of
the world’s most important art centers during the second half of the 20th
century. The radical fervor and inventiveness of the abstract expressionists,
their frequent association with each other in New York City’s Greenwich
Village, and the support of a group of gallery owners and dealers turned them
into an artistic movement. Also known as the New York School, the
participants included Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, and
Arshile Gorky, in addition to Rothko and Pollock.
The members of the New York School came from diverse backgrounds such as the
American Midwest and Northwest, Armenia, and Russia, bringing an
international flavor to the group and its artistic visions. They hoped to
appeal to art audiences everywhere, regardless of culture, and they felt
connected to the radical innovations introduced earlier in the 20th century
by European artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. Some of the
artists—Hans Hofmann, Gorky, Rothko, and de Kooning—were not born in the
United States, but all the artists saw themselves as part of an international
creative movement and an aesthetic rebellion.
As artists felt released from the boundaries and conventions of the past and
free to emphasize expressiveness and innovation, the abstract expressionists
gave way to other innovative styles in American art. Beginning in the 1930s
Joseph Cornell created hundreds of boxed assemblages, usually from found
objects, with each based on a single theme to create a mood of contemplation
and sometimes of reverence. Cornell's boxes exemplify the modern fascination
with individual vision, art that breaks down boundaries between forms such as
painting and sculpture, and the use of everyday objects toward a new end.
Other artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg, combined disparate objects to
create large, collage-like sculptures known as combines in the 1950s. Jasper
Johns, a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, recreated countless familiar
objects, most memorably the American flag.
The most prominent American artistic style to follow abstract expressionism
was the pop art movement that began in the 1950s. Pop art attempted to
connect traditional art and popular culture by using images from mass
culture. To shake viewers out of their preconceived notions about art,
sculptor Claes Oldenburg used everyday objects such as pillows and beds to
create witty, soft sculptures. Roy Lichtenstein took this a step further by
elevating the techniques of commercial art, notably cartooning, into fine art
worthy of galleries and museums. Lichtenstein's large, blown-up cartoons fill
the surface of his canvases with grainy black dots and question the existence
of a distinct realm of high art. These artists tried to make their audiences
see ordinary objects in a refreshing new way, thereby breaking down the
conventions that formerly defined what was worthy of artistic representation.
Probably the best-known pop artist, and a leader in the movement, was Andy
Warhol, whose images of a Campbell’s soup can and of the actress Marilyn
Monroe explicitly eroded the boundaries between the art world and mass
culture. Warhol also cultivated his status as a celebrity. He worked in film
as a director and producer to break down the boundaries between traditional
and popular art. Unlike the abstract expressionists, whose conceptual works
were often difficult to understand, Andy Warhol's pictures, and his own face,
were instantly recognizable.
Conceptual art, as it came to be known in the 1960s, like its predecessors,
sought to break free of traditional artistic associations. In conceptual art,
as practiced by Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth, concept takes precedent over
actual object, by stimulating thought rather than following an art tradition
based on conventional standards of beauty and artisanship.
Modern artists changed the meaning of traditional visual arts and brought a
new imaginative dimension to ordinary experience. Art was no longer viewed as
separate and distinct, housed in museums as part of a historical inheritance,
but as a continuous creative process. This emphasis on constant change, as
well as on the ordinary and mundane, reflected a distinctly American
democratizing perspective. Viewing art in this way removed the emphasis from
technique and polished performance, and many modern artworks and experiences
became more about expressing ideas than about perfecting finished products.
Photography is probably the most democratic modern art form because it can be,
and is, practiced by most Americans. Since 1888, when George Eastman developed
the Kodak camera that allowed anyone to take pictures, photography has
struggled to be recognized as a fine art form. In the early part of the 20th
century, photographer, editor, and artistic impresario Alfred Stieglitz
established 291, a gallery in New York City, with fellow photographer Edward
Steichen, to showcase the works of photographers and painters. They also
published a magazine called Camera Work to increase awareness about
photographic art. In the United States, photographic art had to compete with
the widely available commercial photography in news and fashion magazines. By
the 1950s the tradition of photojournalism, which presented news stories
primarily with photographs, had produced many outstanding works. In 1955
Steichen, who was director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New
York, called attention to this work in an exhibition called The Family of
Throughout the 20th century, most professional photographers earned their
living as portraitists or photojournalists, not as artists. One of the most
important exceptions was Ansel Adams, who took majestic photographs of the
Western American landscape. Adams used his art to stimulate social awareness
and to support the conservation cause of the Sierra Club. He helped found the
photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, and six years
later helped establish the photography department at the California School of
Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Art Institute). He also
held annual photography workshops at Yosemite National Park from 1955 to 1981
and wrote a series of influential books on photographic technique.
Adams's elegant landscape photography was only one small stream in a growing
current of interest in photography as an art form. Early in the 20th century,
teacher-turned-photographer Lewis Hine established a documentary tradition in
photography by capturing actual people, places, and events. Hine photographed
urban conditions and workers, including child laborers. Along with their
artistic value, the photographs often implicitly called for social reform. In
the 1930s and 1940s, photographers joined with other depression-era artists
supported by the federal government to create a photographic record of rural
America. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein, among others,
produced memorable and widely reproduced portraits of rural poverty and
American distress during the Great Depression and during the dust storms of
the period.
In 1959, after touring the United States for two years, Swiss-born photographer
Robert Frank published The Americans, one of the landmarks of
documentary photography. His photographs of everyday life in America introduced
viewers to a depressing, and often depressed, America that existed in the midst
of prosperity and world power.
Photographers continued to search for new photographic viewpoints. This
search was perhaps most disturbingly embodied in the work of Diane Arbus. Her
photos of mental patients and her surreal depictions of Americans altered the
viewer’s relationship to the photograph. Arbus emphasized artistic alienation
and forced viewers to stare at images that often made them uncomfortable,
thus changing the meaning of the ordinary reality that photographs are meant
to capture.
American photography continues to flourish. The many variants of art
photography and socially conscious documentary photography are widely
available in galleries, books, and magazines.
A host of other visual arts thrive, although they are far less connected to
traditional fine arts than photography. Decorative arts include, but are not
limited to, art glass, furniture, jewelry, pottery, metalwork, and quilts.
Often exhibited in craft galleries and studios, these decorative arts rely on
ideals of beauty in shape and color as well as an appreciation of well-
executed crafts. Some of these forms are also developed commercially. The
decorative arts provide a wide range of opportunity for creative expression
and have become a means for Americans to actively participate in art and to
purchase art for their homes that is more affordable than works produced by
many contemporary fine artists.
American literature since World War II is much more diverse in its voices
than ever before. It has also expanded its view of the past as people
rediscovered important sources from non-European traditions, such as Native
American folktales and slave narratives. Rediscovering these traditions
expanded the range of American literary history.
American Jewish writing from the 1940s to the 1960s was the first serious
outpouring of an American literature that contained many voices. Some Jewish
writers had begun to be heard as literary critics and novelists before World
War II, part of a general broadening of American literature during the first
half of the 20th century. After the war, talented Jewish writers appeared in
such numbers and became so influential that they stood out as a special
phenomenon. They represented at once a subgroup within literature and the new
voice of American literature.
Several Jewish American novelists, including Herman Wouk and Norman Mailer,
wrote important books about the war without any special ethnic resonance. But
writers such as novelists Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth, and
storytellers Grace Paley and Cynthia Ozick wrote most memorably from within the
Jewish tradition. Using their Jewish identity and history as background, these
authors asked how moral behavior was possible in modern America and how the
individual could survive in the contemporary world. Saul Bellow most
conspicuously posed these questions, framing them even before the war was over
in his earliest novel, Dangling Man (1944). He continued to ask them in
various ways through a series of novels paralleling the life cycle, including 
The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), and Mr.
Sammler’s Planet (1970). One novel in the series earned a Pulitzer Prize (
Humboldt's Gift, 1975). Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in
1976. Like Bellow, Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud struggled with identity and
selfhood as well as with morality and fate. However, Roth often resisted being
categorized as a Jewish writer. Playwright Arthur Miller rarely invoked his
Jewish heritage, but his plays contained similar existential themes.
Isaac Bashevis Singer was also part of this postwar group of American Jewish
writers. His novels conjure up his lost roots and life in prewar Poland and
the ghostly, religiously inspired fantasies of Jewish existence in Eastern
Europe before World War II. Written in Yiddish and much less overtly
American, Singer’s writings were always about his own specific past and that
of his people. Singer's re-creation of an earlier world as well as his
stories of adjusting to the United States won him a Nobel Prize in literature
in 1978.
Since at least the time of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, American writers
of African descent, such as Richard Wright, sought to express the separate
experiences of their people while demanding to be recognized as fully American.
The difficulty of that pursuit was most completely and brilliantly realized in
the haunting novel Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison. African
American writers since then have contended with the same challenge of giving
voice to their experiences as a marginalized and often despised part of
Several African American novelists in recent decades have struggled to
represent the wounded manner in which African Americans have participated in
American life. In the 1950s and 1960s, James Baldwin discovered how much he
was part of the United States after a period of self-imposed exile in Paris,
and he wrote about his dark and hurt world in vigorous and accusatory prose.
The subject has also been at the heart of an extraordinary rediscovery of the
African American past in the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and the fiction of
Alice Walker, Charles Johnson, and Toni Morrison. Probably more than any
American writer before her, Morrison has grappled with the legacy that
slavery inflicted upon African Americans and with what it means to live with
a separate consciousness within American culture. In 1993 Morrison became the
first African American writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize in literature.
Writers from other groups, including Mexican Americans, Native Americans,
Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, and Filipino Americans, also grappled
with their separate experiences within American culture. Among them, N. Scott
Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich have dealt with issues of
poverty, life on reservations, and mixed ancestry among Native Americans.
Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros have dealt with the experiences of Mexican
Americans, and Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston have explored Chinese
American family life.
Even before World War II, writers from the American South reflected on what it
meant to have a separate identity within American culture. The legacy of
slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction left the South with a sense of a
lost civilization, embodied in popular literature such as Gone With the
Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and with questions about how a Southern
experience could frame a literary legacy. Southern literature in the 20th
century draws deeply on distinct speech rhythms, undercurrents of sin, and
painful reflections on evil as part of a distinctly Southern tradition. William
Faulkner most fully expressed these issues in a series of brilliant and
difficult novels set in a fictional Mississippi county. These novels, most of
them published in the 1930s, include The Sound and the Fury (1929), 
Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom (1936). For his
contribution, Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1949. More
recent Southern writers, such as Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Walker
Percy, James Dickey, and playwright Tennessee Williams, have continued this
tradition of Southern literature.
In addition to expressing the minority consciousness of Southern regionalism,
Faulkner's novels also reflected the artistic modernism of 20th-century
literature, in which reality gave way to frequent interruptions of fantasy and
the writing is characterized by streams of consciousness rather than by precise
sequences in time. Other American writers, such as Thomas Pynchon, Kurt
Vonnegut, Jr., and E. L. Doctorow also experimented with different novel forms
and tried to make their writing styles reflect the peculiarities of
consciousness in the chaos of the modern world. Doctorow, for example, in his
novel Ragtime juxtaposed real historical events and people with those
he made up. Pynchon questioned the very existence of reality in The Crying
of Lot 49 (1966) and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).
Aside from Faulkner, perhaps the greatest modernist novelist writing in the
United States was йmigrй Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov first wrote in his native
Russian, and then in French, before settling in the United States and writing
in English. Nabokov saw no limits to the possibilities of artistic imagination,
and he believed the artist's ability to manipulate language could be expressed
through any subject. In a series of novels written in the United States,
Nabokov demonstrated that he could develop any situation, even the most alien
and forbidden, to that end. This was demonstrated in Lolita (1955), a
novel about sexual obsession that caused a sensation and was first banned as
Despite its obvious achievements, modernism in the United States had its most
profound effect on other forms of literature, especially in poetry and in a
new kind of personal journalism that gradually erased the sharp distinctions
between news reporting, personal reminiscence, and fiction writing.
                        20th-Century Poetry                        
Modern themes and styles of poetry have been part of the American repertoire
since the early part of the 20th century, especially in the work of T. S.
Eliot and Ezra Pound. Their works were difficult, emotionally restrained,
full of non-American allusions, and often inaccessible. After World War II,
new poetic voices developed that were more exuberant and much more American
in inspiration and language. The poets who wrote after the war often drew
upon the work of William Carlos Williams and returned to the legacy of Walt
Whitman, which was democratic in identification and free-form in style. These
poets provided postwar poetry with a uniquely American voice.
The Beatnik, or Beat, poets of the 1950s notoriously followed in Whitman’s
tradition. They adopted a radical ethic that included drugs, sex, art, and the
freedom of the road. Jack Kerouac captured this vision in On the Road 
(1957), a quintessential book about Kerouac’s adventures wandering across the
United States. The most significant poet in the group was Allen Ginsberg, whose
sexually explicit poem Howl (1956) became the subject of a court battle
after it was initially banned as obscene. The Beat poets spanned the country,
but adopted San Francisco as their special outpost. The city continued to serve
as an important arena for poetry and unconventional ideas, especially at the
City Lights Bookstore co-owned by writer and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Other modernist poets included Gwendolyn Brooks, who retreated from the
conventional forms of her early poetry to write about anger and protest among
African Americans, and Adrienne Rich, who wrote poetry focused on women's
rights, needs, and desires.
Because it is open to expressive forms and innovative speech, modern poetry
is able to convey the deep personal anguish experienced by several of the
most prominent poets of the postwar period, among them Robert Lowell, Sylvia
Plath, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman. Sometimes called
confessional poets, they used poetry to express nightmarish images of self-
destruction. As in painting, removing limits and conventions on form
permitted an almost infinite capacity for conveying mood, feeling, pain, and
inspiration. This personal poetry also brought American poetry closer to the
European modernist tradition of emotional anguish and madness. Robert Frost,
probably the most famous and beloved of modern American poets, wrote
evocative and deeply felt poetry that conveyed some of these same qualities
within a conventional pattern of meter and rhyme.
Another tradition of modern poetry moved toward playful engagement with
language and the creative process. This tradition was most completely
embodied in the brilliant poetry of Wallace Stevens, whose work dealt with
the role of creative imagination. This tradition was later developed in the
seemingly simple and prosaic poetry of John Ashbery, who created
unconventional works that were sometimes records of their own creation. Thus,
poetry after World War II, like the visual arts, expanded the possibilities
of emotional expression and reflected an emphasis on the creative process.
The idea of exploration and pleasure through unexpected associations and new
ways of viewing reality connected poetry to the modernism of the visual arts.
Modernist sensibilities were also evident in the emergence of a new form of
journalism. Journalism traditionally tried to be factual and objective in
presentation. By the mid-1970s, however, some of America's most creative
writers were using contemporary events to create a new form of personal
reporting. This new approach stretched the boundaries of journalism and brought
it closer to fiction because the writers were deeply engaged and sometimes
personally involved in events. Writers such as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote,
and Joan Didion created a literary journalism that infused real events with
their own passion. In Armies of the Night (1968), the record of his
involvement in the peace movement, Mailer helped to define this new kind of
writing. Capote's In Cold Blood (1966), the retelling of the senseless
killing of a Kansas family, and Mailer’s story of a murderer's fate in The
Executioner's Song (1979) brought this hyperrealism to chilling
consummation. No less vivid were Didion's series of essays on California
culture in the late 1960s and her reporting of the sensational trial of
football star O. J. Simpson in 1995.
                          Performing Arts                          
As in other cultural spheres, the performing arts in the United States in the
20th century increasingly blended traditional and popular art forms. The
classical performing arts—music, opera, dance, and theater—were not a
widespread feature of American culture in the first half of the 20th century.
These arts were generally imported from or strongly influenced by Europe and
were mainly appreciated by the wealthy and well educated. Traditional art
usually referred to classical forms in ballet and opera, orchestral or
chamber music, and serious drama. The distinctions between traditional music
and popular music were firmly drawn in most areas.
During the 20th century, the American performing arts began to incorporate
wider groups of people. The African American community produced great
musicians who became widely known around the country. Jazz and blues singers
such as Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday
spread their sounds to black and white audiences. In the 1930s and 1940s, the
swing music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller adapted jazz to
make a unique American music that was popular around the country. The
American performing arts also blended Latin American influences beginning in
the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1940, Latin American dances, such as the
tango from Argentina and the rumba from Cuba, were introduced into the United
States. In the 1940s a fusion of Latin and jazz elements was stimulated first
by the Afro-Cuban mambo and later on by the Brazilian bossa nova.
Throughout the 20th century, dynamic classical institutions in the United
States attracted international talent. Noted Russian-born choreographer
George Balanchine established the short-lived American Ballet Company in the
1930s; later he founded the company that in the 1940s would become the New
York City Ballet. The American Ballet Theatre, also established during the
1940s, brought in non-American dancers as well. By the 1970s this company had
attracted Soviet defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, an internationally acclaimed
dancer who served as the company’s artistic director during the 1980s.
In classical music, influential Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who
composed symphonies using innovative musical styles, moved to the United
States in 1939. German-born pianist, composer, and conductor Andrй Previn,
who started out as a jazz pianist in the 1940s, went on to conduct a number
of distinguished American symphony orchestras. Another Soviet, cellist
Mstislav Rostropovich, became conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in
Washington, D.C., in 1977.
Some of the most innovative artists in the first half of the 20th century
successfully incorporated new forms into classical traditions. Composers George
Gershwin and Aaron Copland, and dancer Isadora Duncan were notable examples.
Gershwin combined jazz and spiritual music with classical in popular works such
as Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935).
Copland developed a unique style that was influenced by jazz and American folk
music. Early in the century, Duncan redefined dance along more expressive and
free-form lines.
Some artists in music and dance, such as composer John Cage and dancer and
choreographer Merce Cunningham, were even more experimental. During the 1930s
Cage worked with electronically produced sounds and sounds made with everyday
objects such as pots and pans. He even invented a new kind of piano. During
the late 1930s, avant-garde choreographer Cunningham began to collaborate
with Cage on a number of projects.
Perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most popular, American innovation was
the Broadway musical, which also became a movie staple. Beginning in the
1920s, the Broadway musical combined music, dance, and dramatic performance
in ways that surpassed the older vaudeville shows and musical revues but
without being as complex as European grand opera. By the 1960s, this American
musical tradition was well established and had produced extraordinary works
by important musicians and lyricists such as George and Ira Gershwin, Irving
Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, and Oscar
Hammerstein II. These productions required an immense effort to coordinate
music, drama, and dance. Because of this, the musical became the incubator of
an American modern dance tradition that produced some of America's greatest
choreographers, among them Jerome Robbins, Gene Kelly, and Bob Fosse.
In the 1940s and 1950s the American musical tradition was so dynamic that it
attracted outstanding classically trained musicians such as Leonard Bernstein.
Bernstein composed the music for West Side Story, an updated version of 
Romeo and Juliet set in New York that became an instant classic in 1957. The
following year, Bernstein became the first American-born conductor to lead a
major American orchestra, the New York Philharmonic. He was an international
sensation who traveled the world as an ambassador of the American style of
conducting. He brought the art of classical music to the public, especially
through his "Young People's Concerts," television shows that were seen around
the world. Bernstein used the many facets of the musical tradition as a force
for change in the music world and as a way of bringing attention to American
In many ways, Bernstein embodied a transformation of American music that
began in the 1960s. The changes that took place during the 1960s and 1970s
resulted from a significant increase in funding for the arts and their
increased availability to larger audiences. New York City, the American
center for art performances, experienced an artistic explosion in the 1960s
and 1970s. Experimental off-Broadway theaters opened, new ballet companies
were established that often emphasized modern forms or blended modern with
classical (Martha Graham was an especially important influence), and an
experimental music scene developed that included composers such as Philip
Glass and performance groups such as the Guarneri String Quartet. Dramatic
innovation also continued to expand with the works of playwrights such as
Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, and David Mamet.
As the variety of performances expanded, so did the serious crossover between
traditional and popular music forms. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, an
expanded repertoire of traditional arts was being conveyed to new audiences.
Popular music and jazz could be heard in formal settings such as Carnegie
Hall, which had once been restricted to classical music, while the Brooklyn
Academy of Music became a venue for experimental music, exotic and ethnic
dance presentations, and traditional productions of grand opera. Innovative
producer Joseph Papp had been staging Shakespeare in Central Park since the
1950s. Boston conductor Arthur Fiedler was playing a mixed repertoire of
classical and popular favorites to large audiences, often outdoors, with the
Boston Pops Orchestra. By the mid-1970s the   United States had several
world-class symphony orchestras, including those in   Chicago; New York;
Cleveland, Ohio; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even grand opera was
affected. Once a specialized taste that often required extensive knowledge,
opera in the United States increased in popularity as the roster of respected
institutions grew to include companies in Seattle, Washington;   Houston,
Texas; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. American composers such as John Adams and
Philip Glass began composing modern operas in a new minimalist style during
the 1970s and 1980s.
The crossover in tastes also influenced the Broadway musical, probably America's
most durable music form. Starting in the 1960s, rock music became an ingredient
in musical productions such as Hair (1967). By the 1990s, it had become
an even stronger presence in musicals such as Bring in Da Noise, Bring in
Da Funk (1996), which used African American music and dance traditions, and 
Rent (1996) a modern, rock version of the classic opera La Bohиme.
This updating of the musical opened the theater to new ethnic audiences who had
not previously attended Broadway shows, as well as to young audiences who had
been raised on rock music.
Performances of all kinds have become more available across the country. This
is due to both the sheer increase in the number of performance groups as well
as to advances in transportation. In the last quarter of the 20th century,
the number of major American symphonies doubled, the number of resident
theaters increased fourfold, and the number of dance companies increased
tenfold. At the same time, planes made it easier for artists to travel.
Artists and companies regularly tour, and they expand the audiences for
individual artists such as performance artist Laurie Anderson and opera
singer Jessye Norman, for musical groups such as the Juilliard Quartet, and
for dance troupes such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Full-scale
theater productions and musicals first presented on Broadway now reach cities
across the country. The United States, once a provincial outpost with a
limited European tradition in performance, has become a flourishing center
for the performing arts.
                       Libraries and Museums                       
Libraries, museums, and other collections of historical artifacts have been a
primary means of organizing and preserving America’s legacy. In the 20th
century, these institutions became an important vehicle for educating the
public about the past and for providing knowledge about the society of which
all Americans are a part.
Private book collections go back to the early European settlement of the New
World, beginning with the founding of the Harvard University library in 1638.
Colleges and universities acquire books because they are a necessary
component of higher education. University libraries have many of the most
significant and extensive book collections. In addition to Harvard’s library,
the libraries at Yale University, Columbia University, the   University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, and the University of California in
Berkeley and Los Angeles are among the most prominent, both in scope and in
number of holdings. Many of these libraries also contain important
collections of journals, newspapers, pamphlets, and government documents, as
well as private papers, letters, pictures, and photographs. These libraries
are essential for preserving America’s history and for maintaining the
records of individuals, families, institutions, and other groups.
Books in early America were scarce and expensive. Although some Americans
owned books, Benjamin Franklin made a much wider range of books and other
printed materials available to many more people when he created the first
generally recognized public library in 1731. Although   Franklin’s Library
Company of Philadelphia loaned books only to paying subscribers, the library
became the first one in the nation to make books available to people who did
not own them. During the colonial period Franklin’s idea was adopted by
cities such as Boston, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and
Charleston, South Carolina.
These libraries set the precedent for the free public libraries that began to
spread through the United States in the 1830s. Public libraries were seen as
a way to encourage literacy among the citizens of the young republic as well
as a means to provide education in conjunction with the public schools that
were being set up at the same time. In 1848 Boston founded the first major
public library in the nation. By the late 19th century, libraries were
considered so essential to the nation's well-being that industrialist Andrew
Carnegie donated part of his enormous fortune to the construction of library
buildings. Because Carnegie believed that libraries were a public obligation,
he expected the books to be contributed through public expenditure. Since the
19th century, locally funded public libraries have become part of the
American landscape, often occupying some of the most imposing public
buildings in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Philadelphia.
The belief that the knowledge and enjoyment that books provide should be
accessible to all Americans also resulted in bookmobiles that serve in inner
cities and in rural counties.
In addition to the numerous public libraries and university collections, the
United States boasts two major libraries with worldwide stature: the Library
of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the New York Public Library. In 1800
Congress passed legislation founding the Library of Congress, which was
initially established to serve the needs of the members of Congress. Since
then, this extraordinary collection has become one of the world's great
libraries and a depository for every work copyrighted in the United States.
Housed in three monumental buildings named after Presidents John Adams,
Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, the library is open to the public and
maintains major collections of papers, photographs, films, maps, and music in
addition to more than 17 million books.
The New York Public Library was founded in 1895. The spectacular and enormous
building that today houses the library in the heart of the city opened in
1911 with more than a million volumes. The library is guarded by a famous set
of lion statues, features a world-famous reading room, and contains more than
40 million catalogued items. Although partly funded through public dollars,
the library also actively seeks funds from private sources for its
Institutions such as these libraries are fundamental to the work of scholars,
who rely on the great breadth of library collections. Scholars also rely on
many specialized library collections throughout the country. These
collections vary greatly in the nature of their holdings and their
affiliations. The Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor at the San
Francisco Public Library contains more than 20,000 volumes in 35 languages.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, part of the New
York Public Library, specializes in the history of Africans around the world.
The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, located at
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Massachusetts, houses the papers of
prominent American women such as Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Earhart. The
Bancroft Collection of Western Americana and Latin Americana is connected
with the University of California at Berkeley. The Huntington Library in San
Marino,   California, was established by American railroad executive Henry
Huntington and contains a collection of rare and ancient books and
manuscripts. The Newberry Library in Chicago, one of the most prestigious
research libraries in the nation, contains numerous collections of rare
books, maps, and manuscripts.
Scholars of American history and culture also use the vast repository of the
National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., and its
local branches. As the repository and publisher of federal documents, the
National Archives contain an extraordinary array of printed material, ranging
from presidential papers and historical maps to original government documents
such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of
Rights. It houses hundreds of millions of books, journals, photos, and other
government papers that document the life of the American people and its
government. The library system is deeply entrenched in the cultural life of
the American people, who have from their earliest days insisted on the
importance of literacy and education, not just for the elite but for all
The variety of print resources available in libraries is enormously augmented
by the collections housed in museums. Although people often think of museums
as places to view art, in fact museums house a great variety of collections,
from rocks to baseball memorabilia. In the 20th century, the number of
museums exploded. And by the late 20th century, as institutions became
increasingly aware of their important role as interpreters of culture, they
attempted to bring their collections to the general public. Major
universities have historically also gathered various kinds of collections in
museums, sometimes as a result of gifts. The Yale University Art Gallery, for
example, contains an important collection of American arts, including
paintings, silver, and furniture, while the Phoebe Hearst Museum of
Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley specializes in
archaeological objects and Native American artifacts.
The earliest museums in the United States grew out of private collections,
and throughout the 19th century they reflected the tastes and interests of a
small group. Often these groups included individuals who cultivated a taste
for the arts and for natural history, so that art museums and natural history
museums often grew up side by side. American artist Charles Willson Peale
established the first museum of this kind in Philadelphia in the late 18th
The largest and most varied collection in the United States is contained in
the separate branches of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The
Smithsonian, founded in 1846 as a research institution, developed its first
museums in the 1880s. It now encompasses 16 museums devoted to various
aspects of American history, as well as to artifacts of everyday life and
technology, aeronautics and space, gems and geology, and natural history.
The serious public display of art began when the Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York City, founded in 1870, moved to its present location in Central
Park in 1880. At its installation, the keynote speaker announced that the
museum’s goal was education, connecting the museum to other institutions with
a public mission. The civic leaders, industrialists, and artists who
supported the Metropolitan Museum, and their counterparts who established the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the
Philadelphia Museum of Art, were also collectors of fine art. Their
collections featured mainly works by European masters, but also Asian and
American art. They often bequeathed their collections to these museums, thus
shaping the museum’s policies and holdings. Their taste in art helped define
and develop the great collections of art in major metropolitan centers such
as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. In several museums, such as
the Metropolitan and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.,
collectors created institutions whose holdings challenged the cultural
treasures of the great museums of Europe.
Museums continued to be largely elite institutions through the first half of
the 20th century, supported by wealthy patrons eager to preserve collections
and to assert their own definitions of culture and taste. Audiences for most
art museums remained an educated minority of the population through the end
of the 19th century and into the 20th century. By the second decade of the
20th century, the tastes of this elite became more varied. In many cases,
women within the families of the original art patrons (such as Gertrude
Vanderbilt Whitney, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Peggy Guggenheim)
encouraged the more avant-garde artists of the modern period. Women founded
new institutions to showcase modern art, such as the Museum of Modern Art
(established by three women in 1929) and the Whitney Museum of American Art
in New York. Although these museums still catered to small, educated,
cosmopolitan groups, they expanded the definition of refined taste to include
more nontraditional art. They also encouraged others to become patrons for
new artists, such as the abstract expressionists in the mid-20th century, and
helped establish the United States as a significant place for art and
innovation after World War II.
Although individual patronage remained the most significant source of funding
for the arts throughout the 20th century, private foundations began to
support various arts institutions by the middle of the century. Among these,
the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller Foundation were
especially important in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Ford Foundation in the
1960s. The federal government also became an active sponsor of the arts
during the 20th century. Its involvement had important consequences for
expanding museums and for creating a larger audience.
The federal government first began supporting the arts during the Great
Depression of the 1930s through New Deal agencies, which provided monetary
assistance to artists, musicians, photographers, actors, and directors. The
Work Projects Administration also helped museums to survive the depression by
providing jobs to restorers, cataloguers, clerical workers, carpenters, and
guards. At the same time, innovative arrangements between wealthy individuals
and the government created a new kind of joint patronage for museums. In the
most notable of these, American financier, industrialist, and statesman
Andrew W. Mellon donated his extensive art collection and a gallery to the
federal government in 1937 to serve as the nucleus for the National Gallery
of Art. The federal government provides funds for the maintenance and
operation of the National Gallery, while private donations from foundations
and corporations pay for additions to the collection as well as for
educational and research programs.
Government assistance during the Great Depression set a precedent for the
federal government to start funding the arts during the 1960s, when Congress
appropriated money for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as part of
the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities. The NEA provides
grants to individuals and nonprofit organizations for the cultivation of the
arts, although grants to institutions require private matching funds. The
need for matching funds increased private and state support of all kinds,
including large donations from newer arts patrons such as the Lila Wallace-
Reader's Digest Fund and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Large corporations such
as the DuPont Company, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), and
the Exxon Corporation also donated to the arts.
The increased importance placed on art throughout the 20th century helped fuel a
major expansion in museums. By the late 1960s and 1970s, art museums were
becoming aware of their potential for popular education and pleasure. Audiences
for museums increased as museums received more funding and became more willing
to appeal to the public with blockbuster shows that traveled across the
country. One such show, The Treasures of Tutankhamun, which featured
ancient Egyptian artifacts, toured the country from 1976 to 1979. Art museums
increasingly sought attractions that would appeal to a wider audience, while at
the same time expanding the definition of art. This effort resulted in museums
exhibiting even motorcycles as art, as did the Guggenheim Museum in New York in
Museums also began to expand the kinds of art and cultural traditions they
exhibited. By the 1990s, more and more museums displayed natural and cultural
artifacts and historical objects from non-European societies. These included
objects ranging from jade carvings, baskets, and ceramics to calligraphy,
masks, and furniture. Egyptian artifacts had been conspicuous in the holdings
of New York's Metropolitan Museum and the Brooklyn Museum since the early
20th century. The opening in 1989 of two Smithsonian museums in Washington,
D.C., the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of the
American Indian, indicated an awareness of a much broader definition of the
American cultural heritage. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the
Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., maintain collections of
Asian art and cultural objects. The 1987 opening of the Arthur M. Sackler
Gallery, a new Smithsonian museum dedicated to Asian and Near Eastern arts,
confirmed the importance of this tradition.
Collectors and museums did not neglect the long-venerated Western tradition,
as was clear from the personal collection of ancient Roman and Greek art
owned by American oil executive and financier J. Paul Getty. Opened to the
public in 1953, the museum named after him was located in Malibu, California,
but grew so large that in 1997 the J. Paul Getty Museum expanded into a new
Getty Center, a complex of six buildings in Los Angeles. By the end of the
20th century, Western art was but one among an array of brilliant cultural
legacies that together celebrate the human experience and the creativity of
the American past.
                      Memorials and Monuments                      
The need to memorialize the past has a long tradition and is often associated
with wars, heroes, and battles. In the United States, monuments exist
throughout the country, from the Revolutionary site of Bunker Hill to the
many Civil War battlefields. The nation’s capital features a large number of
monuments to generals, war heroes, and leaders. Probably the greatest of all
these is Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where there are thousands
of graves of veterans of American wars, including the Tomb of the Unknowns
and the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy. In addition to these
traditional monuments to history, millions of people are drawn to the
polished black wall that is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located on the
National Mall in Washington, D.C. The memorial is a stark reminder of the
losses suffered in a war in which more than 58,000 Americans died and of a
time of turmoil in the nation.
No less important than monuments to war heroes are memorials to other victims
of war. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened in 1993 in
Washington, D.C., is dedicated to documenting the extermination of millions
of Jews and others by the Nazis during World War II. It contains photographs,
films, oral histories, and artifacts as well as a research institute, and has
become an enormous tourist attraction. It is one example of a new public
consciousness about museums as important sources of information and places in
which to come to terms with important and painful historical events. Less
elaborate Holocaust memorials have been established in cities across the
country, including New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Monuments to national heroes are an important part of American culture. These
range from the memorials to Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,
and Abraham Lincoln on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to the larger-
than-life faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt
carved into Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Some national memorials also
include monuments to ordinary citizens, such as the laborers, farmers, women,
and African Americans who are part of the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Americans also commemorate popular culture with museums and monuments such as
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in   Cleveland, Ohio, and the
Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. These collections
of popular culture are as much a part of American heritage as are fine arts
museums and statues of national heroes. As a result of this wide variety of
institutions and monuments, more people know about the breadth of America’s
past and its many cultural influences. This new awareness has even influenced
the presentation of artifacts in natural history museums. Where these once
emphasized the differences among human beings and their customs by presenting
them as discrete and unrelated cultures, today’s museums and monuments
emphasize the flow of culture among people.
The expansion in types of museums and the increased attention to audience is
due in part to new groups participating in the arts and in discussions about
culture. In the early 20th century, many museums were supported by wealthy
elites. Today’s museums seek to attract a wider range of people including
students from inner cities, families from the suburbs, and Americans of all
backgrounds. The diverse American population is eager to have its many pasts
and talents enshrined. The funding now available through foundations and
federal and state governments provides assistance. This development has not
been without resistance. In the 1980s and 1990s people challenged the role of
the federal government in sponsoring certain controversial art and culture
forms, posing threats to the existence of the National Endowment for the Arts
and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Nevertheless, even these
controversies have made clearer how much art and cultural institutions
express who we are as a people. Americans possess many different views and
pasts, and they constantly change what they create, how they communicate, and
what they appreciate about their past.