Arbiters of Identity: Remembering the American Revolution through Early Nineteenth Century Schoolbooks



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In this thesis, I examine how the early Americans formed a united national identity through the memory of the American Revolution that was widely accepted on behalf of the publication of early American schoolbooks. These historical narratives, promoted by early schoolbook authors, were intentionally modified in order to create an ideal historical memory for the purpose of instilling a national patriotism and morale. I argue that the collective effort of the schoolbook authors was successful in creating a nationally accepted identity by manufacturing the Revolution as unique and exemplary, but also personal and intimately experienced by all of those within the United States, whose perceived superiority was only further reinforced by placing it in comparison to other dignified countries that ultimately fell short of the American paradigm. This thesis makes extensive use of the Nietz Collection held at the Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh, a collection that houses 20,000 volumes of nineteenth century schoolbooks. The majority of the texts I studied, which were published between the 1790s and 1840s, endured long after their first publication. Many earning thirtieth, fortieth, and fiftieth edition publications often with little to no revision, only subsequent chapters tacked onto the end to keep it current. Thus, these juvenile texts carried excessive cultural weight in defining what was American for multiple generations long after the Revolutionary generation had passed.



Revolution, Identity