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Video transcript

in this video I'm going to take some time to talk about the culture of the young United States that developed in the early 19th century at the beginning of this period most of the dominant artistic and cultural productions in the United States the paintings architecture literature and even philosophy or either borrowed from or imitations of what was being produced in Europe the United States itself was born in the midst of an intellectual movement that crossed the Atlantic from Europe the Enlightenment and if you read the Declaration of Independence you can hear the echoes of the Enlightenment we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed Jefferson looks at the evidence the rational reasons for self-government now contrast that with a piece of writing from an American at the end of this period here's the last stanza from Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven first published in 1845 and the Raven never flitting still is sitting still is sitting on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door and his eyes have all the seeming of a demons that is dreaming and the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor and my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted Nevermore what is going on here Poe's talking about demons and souls and shadows is clearly not interested in reason or logic where Jefferson is cold Poe is hot emotional imaginative concentrating on the unseen world instead of the observable world that Jefferson Prizes this is because Poe writing nearly seventy years later was a product of the Romantic era the romantics rebelled against the Enlightenment ideas of Pure Reason the scientific method arguing instead that individual experience and emotion mattered more so why do we care about this transition from the Enlightenment to the Romantic era in the history of the United States well for one thing because it helps us explain the Second Great Awakening that period of intense religious devotion that emerged in the first half of the 19th century and drove not only a creation of new religious movements in the United States but also major reform movements but we also care because it was during this time of transition that the first truly American art and literary movements emerged artists and writers stopped merely imitating European styles although they were certainly still influenced by them and began trying to capture a unique and different American culture what they produce not only tells us a lot about their time period but also created the foundation of what's considered American art or American literature today one of the ways that Americans began to distinguish their culture was through architecture in the late 1700s American architecture started to move away from the Georgian style it had borrowed from Britain the various symmetrical brick homes that were built during the era when kings named George were in power and they started to draw more from the models of Roman and Greek architecture Americans saw themselves as carrying on the traditions of the Roman Republic and Greek democracy so they started employing some of the same architectural language the federal style started incorporating Roman elements into Georgian buildings like Roman arches here you can see a bit of the transition from this Georgian building on Harvard's campus to this Federal Building in Salem Massachusetts you go from square windows and doors to Roman arches and this transition continued as the US Capitol was built in Washington DC starting in the 1820s the Greek Revival style became prominent for monumental buildings incorporating triangular pediments and Greek columns here you can see the original design of the US Capitol building which houses Congress it has a central dome like the Pantheon in Rome and then a full-on Greek temple pasted to its face by adopting these elements American architects sent the message that the United States wasn't just imitating British styles instead they were crafting an architectural form that was suitable for a republic American art also began to diverge from its European forebears during the early 19th century american-born painters in the Revolutionary era like Gilbert Stuart went to Europe to study and start their careers before heading back to the United States Stuart's portraits of important American figures like George Washington followed the conventions of classical portraiture it wasn't until the 1820 is that American art began to come into its own with the Hudson River school this was started by a group of painters working in upstate New York who captured the majestic nature of the American landscape they were influenced by the Romantic movements emphasis on emotion and the sublime which is the inspiring untamed aspect of nature that you find in mountains and storms and wilderness the painters of the Hudson River School explored the relationship between the American environment and the march of settlement let's take a look at one Hudson River School painting the Oxbow which was painted in 1836 by Thomas Cole the painting depicts a bends in the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts you can see that a thunderstorm is passing with dark clouds here on the left and there's this twisted tree and downed limbs which show how violent the storm was up on the mountain it feels dangerous and unpredictable that's the sublime right there then on the right side you have this River Valley with farms and little plumes of smoke from houses there's a boat on the river and some sheep grazing down here and just barely visible on the foreground is a little self portrait of Thomas Cole out with his Diezel he's kind of saying yeah that's right I'm out here dodging lightning to show you how the real deal looks so you can see in this painting that there's kind of a tension between the settled society on the right side and the wilderness on the left side the vastness of the American West and the march of the first wave of industrialization gave painters a unique American subject for their art lastly the first American writers and thinkers came on the scene during this era remember the romantics glorified the experience of the individual and their emotions the first American fiction writers to gain traction for an international audience described unique aspects of American society Washington Irving who we remember today for the Headless Horseman in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow another romantic ghost story like Poe's the Raven achieved renowned by telling folk tales about the lingering Dutch culture in upstate New York james fenimore cooper's protagonist in his leather stocking tales natty bumpo was a white frontiersman who grew up among the indigenous delaware people his nickname was Hawkeye and yes the Marvel character is named after him which gives you a sense of how these first American characters have continued to live on in our contemporary culture in New England particularly Boston and the surrounding areas American intellectuals embraced Romanticism in the philosophy of transcendentalism the transit analysts were a group of writers poets and philosophers who believed that truth transcended the observable world of the Enlightenment and that spiritual meaning could be found in nature Henry David Thoreau is probably the most famous transcendentalist he wrote a book about his two years living simply in a cabin he built on the edge of Walden Pond on fellow transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson's property the transcendentalists also emphasized the individual and freedom of thought an arson who's generally considered the founder of the transcendentalist movement wrote essays encouraging Americans to think for themselves not just go along with a crowd some of the most influential transcendentalists were women like Margaret Fuller who wrote about the state of women in the 19th century and edited the transcendentalist magazine the diol poet Emily Dickinson has sometimes been classed among the transcendentalists as has Louisa May Alcott the author of Little Women the freedom of thought that the transcendentalists espoused also led them to become some of the strongest opponents of the institution of slavery the ROE refused to pay his taxes in protest of the mexican-american war which he and many Northerners saw as an unjust land-grab to extend southern territory and spread slavery West he wrote an essay about his experience called resistance to civil government sometimes shortened to civil disobedience which encouraged individuals not to obey unjust laws his ideas would go on to influence Mahatma Gandhi and later Martin Luther King jr.