U.S. Culture

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

Crvecoeur, 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 culturefamily life, law,

arts, philosophy, and dressAmericans 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.


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 artsporcelain, 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 arts.

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 centurys most notable figures of American literatureHerman

Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Mark Twainalso influenced this tradition.

The poetry of Walt Whitman, perhaps above all, spoke in a distinctly

American voice about peoples 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


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 Americas 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 Citys Harlem district. They began to write

about their unique experiences, creating a movement called the Harlem


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 citys 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 jazzs

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


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 programs 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


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 distinction.


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


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


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 Servicemens

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


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 vintage.

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

townhousesavailable as rentals and as condominiumshave become familiar

parts of suburban life. For more information on urbanization and


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, Americas 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

consequencesovereating and excess weight. During the 1970s, 25 percent of

Americans were overweight; by the 1990s that had increased to 35 percent.

Americas foods began to affect the rest of the worldnot 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

McDonalds 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 pacecommon in the rest

of the world, and once common in the United Statesgave 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 states 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 societys

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 publics

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 publics attention to the

government's role in monitoring food safety.

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 centuryimmigration, double-income households,

genetic technologies, domestic and foreign traveland 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 immigrants homeland was often

rapidly exchanged for American apparel.

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 fields.

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 activitiesfrom toddlers in infant swimming groups

and teenagers participating in school athletics to middle-aged adults

bowling or golfing and older persons practicing tai 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 Mens 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 mens and womens collegiate teams. Held annually

in March, the mens NCAA national championship is one of the most popular

sporting events in the United States. The top mens professional

basketball league in the United States is the National Basketball

Association; the top womens is Womens 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

hockeys popularity has spread throughout the country since the 1960s. The

NCAA holds a national collegiate ice hockey championship in April of each

year. The countrys 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 leagues

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 kindsjogging, 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

peoples 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 centurys 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 womens 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 womens basketball league. Women have

become a large part of athletics, making their mark in a wide range of


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 holidays 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: turkeyan indigenous American birdaccompanied 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. Kings 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



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 accomplishpromoting 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 conflict.

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


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

Americas 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 bachelors 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 nations greatest assets in creating and maintaining a

technologically advanced society.

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 persons

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 nations 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 governments increased presence

in education, which they believed contradicted the long tradition of state-

sponsored public schooling.

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 education.

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 nations

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 statesTexas, California, and

Washingtoneliminated 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 nations

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

peoples minds.


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 thosesuch as classical orchestral

musicnormally 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 prospered.

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

Americas 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 constrained.

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 intermediariescritics, 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 success.

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 nations artistic heritage.

Not so long ago, culture and the arts were assumed to be an unalterable

inheritancethe 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


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 stylesduring 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 societys 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 worlds 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

Citys 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 artistsHans Hofmann, Gorky, Rothko, and de Kooningwere 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 Campbells 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


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 Man.

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 viewers 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. Sammlers 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, Singers 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 America.

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 Gravitys Rainbow (1973).

Aside from Faulkner, perhaps the greatest modernist novelist writing in

the United States was migr 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 obscene.

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


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 Whitmans

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 Kerouacs 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


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

Mailers 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 artsmusic, opera, dance, and theaterwere 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 companys 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 Andr 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 innovation.

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


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 Bohme. 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 Americas 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

Harvards 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

Americas 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 Franklins 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 Franklins 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 operations.

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 Americans.


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


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 century.

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


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 museums 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 museums 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 1998.

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 nations 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 Americas 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, todays 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. Todays 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.

© 2009