Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What this blog is about and why it exists

I've created this blog as a place to explore how ideas about the meaning of American national identity and the nature of citizenship shape contemporary politics. The meaning of what it is to be an American and what American nationality represents are constantly in flux, in part because ours is perhaps the most "imagined community" of them all. Almost all Americans agree that we are bound together as a nation by our ideals rather than a common ethnicity like other nations (supposedly) are. But what are those ideals? What kinds of political ideologies and initiatives are consistent with them? Who gets to decide where the limits of those ideals are? What responsibilities as citizens do we share in living up to those ideals? These questions have been central to the historical development not just of American national identity and citizenship but to the history of American politics as well. These questions have been shaped, too, by notions of race, ethnicity, and gender - and of course still are. These types of issues are still integral to modern political life, even if they are subsumed within particular political debate. It is the mission of this blog to bring these underlying issues about American citizenship and national identity to the fore.

My interest in this task derives from my academic interest in the history of American nationalism and citizenship. I completed a dissertation on how these ideas shaped American political culture during the first half of the 20th century at the University of Virginia. I'm currently revising that work as a book manuscript for Penn Press (shameless plug). The book won't be out for a long while -- and it's a rather narrow historical monograph. This blog is an attempt to be part of a larger conversation about politics and ideas in the here and now, drawing from time to time upon historical similarities or historians' scholarship for illumination.

I hadn't really though about blogging in this exact way until I was watching the founding editors of Politico on Charlie Rose. While they were talking about owning the conversation or driving the conversation as a way to capture market share, I still like the idea of blogging to point a dialogue in new directions. I think that examinations of fundamental ideas like national identity and citizenship are missing from much of our contemporary conversation about politics. So consider this blog my (very modest) attempt to nudge an understanding about contemporary politics in a different direction and to give it a bit of historical depth.

In this way, this blog will not be straight political commentary but more along the lines of analysis-- it'll be more interesting I think as such. It'll be easy to figure out where my political leanings fall, but I want to be analytical rather than proscriptive here.

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