The Idea of American Exceptionalism:
From the Puritans to President Obama

Thursday, October 27, 2011
7:00–8:30 p.m. (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Andrew Delbanco
Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities
Director of American Studies, Columbia University
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

A nation set apart, divinely empowered to lead the world — that is how we have seen ourselves since the very beginning. The seventeenth century’s “city upon a hill” became, in the eighteenth, a model of liberty for all the world. In the nineteenth century, Manifest Destiny drove this nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and in the twentieth, we proclaimed an American Century as our destiny went global. Where did this sense of exceptionalism originate? How did it become part of our national identity? What is its status today?

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Assigned Readings

  1. “A Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop, 1630 (excerpt)
  2. “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford, (excerpt)
  3. “America or the Muse’s Refuge: A Prophecy,” poem, Bishop George Berkeley
  4. “The Course of Empire,” series of paintings, Thomas Cole
  5. “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson, (excerpt)
  6. White-Jacket, Herman Melville, (Chapter 36)
  7. “The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln
  8. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, (Chapter 9)
  9. “The Administration: February 1966,” Henry Graff, from Reporting Vietnam, (excerpt)
  10. “Farewell Address (January 11, 1989),” Ronald Reagan
  11. “An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,” Noah Webster, 1802, and discussion questions.
  12. “Trans-National America,” Randolph Bourne

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