I was lecturing in my U.S. survey class today on the social consequences of economic nationalism in the early American republic. I wanted the students to see that the United States’ attempt at developing a sense of nationalism in the wake of the War of 1812 led to improvements in infrastructure such as roads, canals, etc… that profoundly changed the lives of ordinary people. We discussed the way the subdivision of tasks undermined the master craftsman and how roads helped people to see themselves as participants in a community that transcended their local bounds. We talked about the growing class-consciousness among Irish immigrant canal-workers and the life-changing consumer habits of rural farmers with access to markets.
During the lecture I referenced an essay I wrote a few years ago on the liberal cosmopolitanism of Theodore Giesel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. Seuss’s writings challenge kids to think beyond the local. In books like Oh the Places You’ll Go or McElligott’s Pool he asks young people to imagine the world beyond home. I argue that Seuss, like the industrialists and economic improvers of the early 19th century, have contributed to the destruction of an older Jeffersonian vision of America rooted in place, agriculture and local community. (Ironically, many of those who supported this destruction of place in the early 19th century claimed the mantle of Jeffersonianism).
A few students have asked me about the piece, so I have linked to it here.
Of course I explored many of these themes in the eighteenth-century in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.