Making the American Self
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Making the American Self : Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

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Originally published in 1997 and now back in print, Making the American Self by Daniel Walker Howe, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought, charts the genesis and fascinating trajectory of a central idea in American history. One of the most precious liberties Americans have always cherished is the ability to "make something of themselves"-to choose not only an occupation but an identity. Examining works by Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and others, Howe investigates how Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries engaged in the process of "self-construction," "self-improvement," and the "pursuit of happiness." He explores as well how Americans understood individual identity in relation to the larger body politic, and argues that the conscious construction of the autonomous self was in fact essential to American democracy-that it both shaped and was in turn shaped by American democratic institutions. "The thinkers described in this book," Howe writes, "believed that, to the extent individuals exercised self-control, they were making free institutions-liberal, republican, and democratic-possible." And as the scope of American democracy widened so too did the practice of self-construction, moving beyond the preserve of elite white males to potentially all Americans. Howe concludes that the time has come to ground our democracy once again in habits of personal responsibility, civility, and self-discipline esteemed by some of America's most important thinkers. Erudite, beautifully written, and more pertinent than ever as we enter a new era of individual and governmental responsibility, Making the American Self illuminates an impulse at the very heart of the American experience.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 20.32mm | 498.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195387899
  • 9780195387896
  • 818,351

Review quote

"Making the American Self is at once a history of, and argument for, the process of self-construction. Focusing on selected American figures and their writings on the self, Daniel Walker Howe maps out a wide-ranging discourse on self-making running from roots in faculty psychology and the Scottish Enlightenment to the reincarnation of self-constructions in Romanticism and Transcendentalism. The writers whom Howe analyzes are a diverse lot, but he gives them collective coherence through his thesis, which he develops with striking erudition, deep conviction, and luminous clarity...Howe, it should be acknowledged, is a brilliant lumper whose explication of these diverse American texts on the self will help the reader see not only how the disciplined realism of faculty psychology created important boundaries for nineteenth-century liberalism, but also why such an amalgam might serve well today. In this intellectual history, Howe explores how Americans have developed their individualism or, as Jefferson phrased it, their 'pursuit of happiness.' Howe...discusses figures like Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Margaret Fuller...An erudite study. "Making the American Self" is at once a history of, and argument for, the process of self-construction. Focusing on selected American figures and their writings on the self, Daniel Walker Howe maps out a wide-ranging discourse on self-making running from roots in faculty psychology and the Scottish Enlightenment to the reincarnation of self-constructions in Romanticism and Transcendentalism. The writers whom Howe analyzes are a diverse lot, but he gives them collective coherence through his thesis, which he develops with striking erudition, deep conviction, and luminous clarity...Howe, it should be acknowledged, is a brilliant lumper whose explication of these diverse American texts on the self will help the reader see not only how the disciplined realism of faculty psychology created important boundaries for nineteenth-century liberalism, but also why such an amalgam might serve well today. -- Norma Basch "Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences" Making the American Self is at once a history of, and argument for, the process of self-construction. Focusing on selected American figures and their writings on the self, Daniel Walker Howe maps out a wide-ranging discourse on self-making running from roots in faculty psychology and the Scottish Enlightenment to the reincarnation of self-constructions in Romanticism and Transcendentalism. The writers whom Howe analyzes are a diverse lot, but he gives them collective coherence through his thesis, which he develops with striking erudition, deep conviction, and luminous clarity...Howe, it should be acknowledged, is a brilliant lumper whose explication of these diverse American texts on the self will help the reader see not only how the disciplined realism of faculty psychology created important boundaries for nineteenth-century liberalism, but also why such an amalgam might serve well today. Howe succeeds triumphantly in linking the cultural gestures of politicos like Madison and Lincoln with the formal systems of thinkers like Edwards, and middle-brow culture brokers like Mann, Emerson, and Fuller. His skill in dovetailing these otherwise angular and resistant minds illuminates landscapes of the American intellect that the pragmatic narcosis of American public philosophy had for long closed off to view. -- Allen C. Guelzo "Books & Culture" "Making the American Self" is an important book...[Howe's] achievement...is hardly limited to fulfilling his stated goal of proving that a reexamination of 'the place of morality and the "moral sense" in the process of character-formation, ' both individual and national, is long overdue. For along the way, he shows that this effort must not neglect the role of religion in the making of the American self. And in that, Daniel Walker Howe more broadly suggests that American history is a matter best not left to those who worship exclusively in the Temple of Reason. -- K. P. Van Anglen "Religion and the Arts" In a thoroughly researched and skillfully written book, Daniel Walker Howe traces the faculty psychology fostered by 'classical learning, Renaissance humanism, Christian theology, Enlightenment science, and Scottish-American moral philosophy' in prominent eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American thinkers...Howe [has] masterful insights for American intellectual historians who, in their efforts to show the dynamics of change, have perhaps drawn too sharp a contrast between the ideas of the Enlightenment and the romantic movement. In "Making the American Self," Howe never minimizes the rich diversity of his subjects' thought, but he artfully binds the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers together with his theme and in the process offers convincing solutions to historiographical disputes about the influences of Europe on the American mind. -- John W. Kuehl "North Carolina Historical Review" "An erudite, original, and often eloquent reconstruction of, and tribute to, a vital and protean tradition in American liberal culture."--Charles Capper, Boston University "By reinvigorating a vanished past...Howe provides also much to ponder for the present. We have no better historian on broad questions at the intersection of mind and culture in the American past than Howe."--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame "Howe succeeds triumphantly in linking the cultural gestures of politicos like Madison and Lincoln with the formal systems of thinkers like Edwards, and middle-brow culture brokers like Mann, Emerson, and Fuller. His skill in dovetailing these otherwise angular and resistant minds illuminates landscapes of the American intellect...long closed off to view."--Allen C. Guelzo, Books & Culture "An erudite, original, and often eloquent reconstruction of, and tribute to, a vital and protean tradition in American liberal culture."--Charles Capper, Boston University "By reinvigorating a vanished past...Howe provides also much to ponder for the present. We have no better historian on broad questions at the intersection of mind and culture in the American past than Howe."--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame "Howe succeeds triumphantly in linking the cultural gestures of politicos like Madison and Lincoln with the formal systems of thinkers like Edwards, and middle-brow culture brokers like Mann, Emerson, and Fuller. His skill in dovetailing these otherwise angular and resistant minds illuminates landscapes of the American intellect...long closed off to view."--Allen C. Guelzo, Books & Cultureshow more

About Daniel Walker Howe

Daniel Walker Howe is Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of What Hath God Wrought (OUP 2007), which won the Pulitzer Prize in History, The Unitarian Conscience, and The Political Culture of the American Whigs. He lives in Los Angeles.show more

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION ; I VIRTUE AND PASSION IN THE AMERICAN ENLIGHTENMENT ; 1. Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Problem of Human Nature ; 2. The American Founders and the Scottish Enlightenment ; 3. The Political Psychology of The Federalist ; II CONSTRUCTING CHARACTER IN ANTEBELLUM AMERICA ; 4. The Emerging Ideal of Self-Improvement ; 5. Self-Made Men: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass ; 6. Shaping the Selves of Others ; III THE CULTIVATION OF THE SELF AMONG THE NEW ENGLAND ROMANTICS ; 7. The Platonic Quest in New England ; 8. Margaret Fuller's Heroic Ideal of Womanhood ; 9. The Constructed Self Against the State ; CONCLUSION ; NOTESshow more

Rating details

35 ratings
3.97 out of 5 stars
5 37% (13)
4 31% (11)
3 26% (9)
2 3% (1)
1 3% (1)
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