Imagining (and Prescribing) the Future: Archetypes and National Identity (C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists)

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Brett Wiley, MVNU
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Panel for C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
May 20-23, 2010 at Penn State University
Imagining (and Prescribing) the Future: Archetypes and National Identity

In The American Adam (1955), R. W. B. Lewis contends that a dialogue among intellectuals in the early nineteenth century produced a national archetype, based on the Biblical Adam, who then served as a model that all citizens could emulate. This figure, hopeful, forward-focused, and virile, became a prevalent character in early America fiction—Natty Bumppo, as the quintessential example—and surfaced in poetry, history, and theology as well. Eventually, he became the representative of the ubiquitous American Dream. Lewis’ work provides a significant reflection on the use of an archetypal ideal in the formation of national identity, an issue that plagued the fledging United States throughout the nineteenth century.

Adam, however, is merely one of the archetypes produced by writers, thinkers, and leaders in a country laboring to establish an original identity, culturally, politically, economically, and intellectually. Cotton Mather, in Magnalia Christi Americana, recorded the lives of national “heroes,” many based on Biblical antecedents, who he hoped would serve as models for the future and would thus influence the character of the country. The mythology surrounding George Washington also resulted from the desire for a representative American, a larger-than-life model who could help encourage a specific national identity.

This panel seeks papers that address this formation of national identity as initiated through the use of archetypes in fiction and non-fiction writing. How did authors select and portray different models, and from what sources, in nineteenth century American writing? What effect did these archetypes have on the national identity, both positive and negative? How were “contemporary” men and women adopted as impromptu but yet enduring national archetypes who affected the way the country viewed itself?

I would like this panel to be unique in its presentation. Panelists are welcome to complete papers as usual but are encouraged to present their findings in a lecture format (or other non-traditional method) at the conference, using their essays as reference and outline. Audio-visual elements are encouraged. Completed essays will be submitted to the moderator prior to the conference.

Please send abstracts of no more than five hundred (500) words to Brett Wiley, Assistant Professor of English at Mount Vernon Nazarene University ( by September 15.

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