The large view of American history
may well sweep over six hundred years,
from pre-Columbian Indian cultures of the fourteenth century
to the end of the twentieth century and into the future.
Reculer pour mieux sauter, and too,
the farther back the start, the farther forward the leap.
The American people are considered here to be
the past and present inhabitants of the territory of the
fifty States, the District of Columbia, the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and sundry tiny
islands, of the Caribbean Sea and Mid-Pacific Ocean.
Several millions live and work abroad, too, globally,
and tens of millions emerge in any given year
to flit around Earth's continents.
The name of Americans came hard.
They called themselves by their colonies, or were
spoken of as British Americans, then plain Americans,
then by their states much more than now,
or "hailed from" some "neck of the woods."
George Washington called his troops "Americans"
on occasion, and used the term in a letter
to the Continental Congress and finally
in his so-called "Farewell Address" declared:
"The name of American
which belongs to you in your national capacity,
must always exalt the just pride of patriotism
more than any appellation derived from local discriminations."
Few were keen on "Indianans."
There was still talk of calling them "U.S.-ians,"
to rhyme with "Hessians," and today, in the corridors of
world governance, one harks to the word "Use-yans".
Many proposed "Columbians," others "Freedonians."
But the USA was the first country to shake off the
authority of Europe, and had first call on the word "Americans."
Too, Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, and the others,
found well-sounding names for themselves,
and when they felt like it, or in special circumstances,
organized themselves into the Pan-American Union,
and called themselves "Americans."
But Americans have never been officially
from an "America," as such.
The world's super-power, mused a recent author,
was "a country without a name."
The bounds of this nation of Americans have always been "unnatural,"
though people are conditioned to the idea of some determined
geographical goal or get used to their boundaries after a while,
and regard them as natural, or even sacred, as
Dante chants of Italy's shapely shores and mountains,
Shakespeare exclaims at the lovely isolation of England,
French kindergartners read straightaway of the
perfect hexagonal shape of La belle France; so
Americans sing out, "from sea to shining sea!"
At first thought, the Atlantic and Pacific and Caribbean seas,
with the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes and Rio Grande,
seem to mark off territories logically, but only a
weak logic allots two nations one side
each of a river, lake, or ocean,
when more good might come from serving people of both banks.
The Rio Grande seems bent upon helping two great nations.
Also Baja or Lower California could become California State,
or the American Southwest be Mexican as it once was.
Hawaii and Alaska, so typically American while distinct
sub-cultures, are far distant and climatically alien.
The USA is an ocean from Britain, but Canada worked well
with France and Britain for a long time.
If within the continental United States,
one were to seek natural boundaries
natural regions would not appear, while those
regions so important to us, like New England and Dixie,
formidable centers of attitudes, interests, and peculiar behaviors
over the years, are cultural artifacts,
bereft of nature's will of climate or race.
Blacks assigned to heat "by nature" fled to prosper in Milwaukee;
Italians dug in the Mesabi iron range of Northernmost Minnesota,
while Germans worked the hot cow ranges of Southern Texas.
New England is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the East,
the St. Lawrence River to the North, the Hudson River to the West,
and a swollen New York City metropolis on the South.
Its Southern boundary and early cultural crossing of the
Hudson to the North proves that no
natural internal region exists.
Its foreshortened Northern boundary betokens that a
natural boundary can mean little internationally;
the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 sliced off
a "naturally American" area and gave it to the British.
So, too, was Oregon Territory's boundary,
politically and peaceably determined,
but hardly natural, in 1846,
despite a clamor for war.
Moreover, numerous ways have been found to
divide the national domain to give
states and localities boundaries, and draw
regional boundaries for administrative purposes and analyses.
Thomas Jefferson was culpable for drawing all America
beyond the original colonies as an exercise in rectangles -
states, counties and townships - so far as possible.
Once it would have been logical to include the Philippines
as an important part of American history,
for the United States was providing the Islands
with American government, dictating their present and future.
The Filipinos, now grown in numbers from six to seventy millions,
strategically well-situated, and possessing great natural resources,
might have occupied in an American history book -
according to the egalitarianism of which Americans boast -
a quarter of its pages between 1898 and 1946.
However, historians conveniently considered
the Philippines to be a passing imperial fancy of
the American government, for which they,
the historians, would shirk accountability,
when highlighting, for instance, the liberties, rights,
and material comforts of the American people.
Unequal historiography was prerogative of imperial power.
Great Britain would claim preeminence as a democracy
because at home it gave some freedoms and
opportunities to some of its people,
even while imposing sovereign restraints
upon hundreds of millions of people
in Ireland, India, the South Pacific, the Middle East,
Africa and other parts of the world.
One did not have to be dark or black or brown
or red or yellow for this kind of subjection;
the English ruling class and its generally deluded and
often miserable domestic minions were pleased
to impose the same rule upon their own ethnics
wherever these settled, from Newfoundland to New Zealand,
and not excluding ancestors of today's Americans.
Ditto Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Belgian,
Russian, German and Italian elites and their minions,
when these were conducting themselves imperially.
The 270 million Americans are affected by the
natural processes of past ages, some of which
forcefully impacted not long before the European-African influx.
Enhanced geographic attention to American history
illuminates the basic conditions affecting human activity,
both before and after 1500 A.D.
Natural processes are history, too.
So we begin by doing honor to the natural processes
of the country, which are always with us.
Hurricane "Andrew" - one of the first named masculine
instead of feminine - in 1992
destroyed scores of thousands of buildings,
disrupted the lives, work, and income of millions of people,
and inflicted billions in costs upon Florida State and the nation.
It would be hard to name a recent piece of federal legislation
whose effects were so prompt and prodigious upon so many people.
As for the people of America Medieval,
(for there was a more ancient American history beforehand)
they bred many cultures prior to the European incursions,
Where they came from, where their customs and artifacts originated,
in all or part, pose intriguing mysteries. American traditions
are being deciphered and assembled in new order
to accelerate fast-moving changes in USA-Indian relations
- also to recollect and reorganize the past in our minds.
Historical Generations and Periods
A Tour de Force
Historians follow the process of events through time
as they would the course of a river.
Whenever a set of events occurs to change the course of history,
they mark it as they would the bend of a river,
calling attention to changed landscape and a new direction.
They designate a new period, calling it by a name.
And so we have divided American history into a number of parts,
each new part containing mostly more of the same events
that have been flowing all the while
but carrying enough of new directions and new events
to be labeled as a new period.
One could call the new period a new historical
generation, adding this to three other types of generations
that we can distinguish also:
the biological, political and memorial generation.
There is a political or social generation of about
33 years, between civically active parents and
civically active progeny, a typical
length of a political and work life,
say from 25 to 58 years.
The average age of top politicians has changed
little from 1780 to 2000, averaging mid-forty.
The clutch of historical interests leads politics,
from one social generation to the next,
and politics retards the future, so that
a two-generation gap separates determining
realities from social action. Well-typifying
all states, representatives of Ohio
localities for two centuries subtended from
outmoded interests of their parents' generation,
acted in consonance with immediate issues,
and left the future to their successors,
by which time the future had become history.
So the three-phase cycle would probably continue,
not only there but everywhere.
A biological generation may be set at 20 years,
between successive births of women on the same line of descent.
This varies as women bear children now earlier, now later.
Too, women of one generation will average later or
younger births than in another period.
If all memories and calculations are correct,
and Dr. Techeng Kong of Taiwan is the
seventy-ninth direct descendent of Confucius,
premier philosopher of all Chinese history,
the average of biological generations that
called him up was ~32 years.
A memorial or mnemonic generation connects the oldest
story-teller and a young listener, typically
extending for some 65 years.
The average length of life by 2000 increased to the
mid-seventies from the mid-forties in 1780,
but there had always been the old around and about
The three concepts of bio-generations,
poli-generations, and memo-generations help to
invigorate the bland uniform years-count
when shaping the historical record.
Timing History by Generations
Six centuries before us comprise, then, only
18 political generations, 30 biological
generations, and between nine and ten
mnemonic generations, say ten.
We can readily understand how history can be passed down,
even with some veracity, by word of mouth,
especially when the events being reported are sacred or disastrous.
We can understand also how the force
of a culture is conveyed, for better or worse.
The hardest job on Earth, indeed, is to crack
the cement of customary cultural force once
it has been laid down, yet needs to be reseated.
Myself, I extend beyond one of the ten mnemonic generations.
As a child, I listened attentively to a neighbor
telling stories of her father, a Civil War soldier,
who probably could have had a grandfather involved
somehow in the Revolutionary War - a mere three or four
mnemonic generations removed from me, writing here now.
This method of registering history is in desuetude,
but if one went back to the Revolutionary War
and switched to the Indian folk historians,
proceeding by mnemonic generations,
the method would be state-of-the-art and
it would require a mere six generations more
to hear of Indian affairs in the year 1400 A.D.
The Indians had little reason to measure time like now;
they played their own kind of chronological games.
Thus, a little Indian girl who was told by her grandmother
(born in 1427) to watch for the cannibals
who came by sea and ate children up
was amazed on the dawn of "October 12, 1492"
to see men rowing back and forth from a large boat.
And she lived to tell this tale to a little Spanish girl
who in 1552 was on her way to Cuba
who could have told this and more stories
to a little boy in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1617.
This little boy, grown old and moved to Albemarle Point,
South Carolina, could tell many more stories to a
little girl from England in 1682.
This child could, as a grandmother,
convey many a tale to her granddaughter in
Charleston in 1747, and the
next grandchild would be thrilled with stories of the Revolution,
while scared at the thought of a new British invasion
in the War of 1812.
Subsequently the chain had only to perpetuate itself
through four more memorial generations to be
passing among the tellers of tales about the railroad trains,
the tragedies of the Civil War and Reconstruction,
the infinite smoke stacks of the Northern States,
the splendors and stinking crowds of the "Empire City,"
controlled nuclear fission, and
man's landing on the Moon.
If, upon each occasion, the child had been knocked on the
head (not too hard) to assist her recalling the
telling of the arrival of Columbus,
if the line of descent had not failed nor had there been
substitute nannies in attendance, and even if
the story had neither been heard or read elsewhere,
the woman today at the end of the chain of history
would picture for us the ship of Columbus
mysteriously interpreted, mythically so,
since an Indian girl learned to evoke its sight.
Putting Labels on Nine Memo-generations
The memorial generations can be tabulated,
with a phrase describing the essences so far
as the United States is geographically involved. Each memorial
generation, it was earlier noted, carries roughly 3 biological
generations and two political generations:
... A country
of hundreds of Indian nations speaking hundreds of
languages, concentrate their more technologically
complex cultures in the Northeast "United States,"
"Florida," "Virginia," "Missouri," the "Southwest,", and Hawaii.
Spanish, Dutch, French, and English
pass-bys and stop-bys of
total U.S. coastline and Caribbean Islands.
Spanish follow Indians to explore two-thirds of interior of USA.
Demographic decline of Indians everywhere.
... First lasting Spanish and English settlements in "USA."
Africans begin to arrive in North America. Indian decline continues.
... Prototypical U.S. cultures established in New England,
New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Virginia, the Frontier, and Far Southwest.
... Stabilization and expansion of colonial cultures.
Heavy immigration begins.
... Stresses between colonies and imperial government
end in independence and constitutional synthesis.
... Intense internal states development.
Full continental expansion.
Industrialization begins and flourishes.
War to confirm national rule and end slavery.
... Southern depression and
terrorist resistance to North and Blacks.
Northern agricultural and industrial revolution.
The economy nationalizes.
A cosmopolitan culture emerges.
The USA becomes a world power, then super-power.
... USA is dominant world
military, scientific, cultural and economic power,
but begins to lose pre-eminence because of
domestic and world problems.
All the world experiencing deteriorating values and benefits,
despite extreme technical virtuosity.
The world is governed as one, but badly,
while the USA is pulling together the
components of its cosmopolitan global culture.