ABSTRACT

W hen the American Studies movement was founded in the1930s there was a confidence that America could be explained in terms of its exceptional circumstances and nature. The exis-

tence of ‘free’ land, an abundance of natural resources, the nature of a fron-

tier experience, the fact of immigration and its racial admixture all seemed

keys to a society that asserted its unique nature and function. Admittedly

that movement was constituted by scholars who were at that moment liable

to be in contention with a capitalist ethos that had also seemed definitional

until the Depression stopped the American clock. Nonetheless, just as

authors of what came to be called the Great American Novel seemed to believe

that they could capture the society whole and entire, so it seemed possible

for scholars drawing on the techniques of history, literature and the new

social sciences to do likewise.