Purdue News

August 31, 2006

New book from political scientist studies 19th century writer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University political science professor's new book reflects on the roots of American identity through the writings of a mid-19th century writer.

"After 9/11, I was concerned there would be questions about the source of American national identity," says Michael A. Weinstein, a professor of political science. "So, I wanted to go back to the period when America's values, traits and identity were being culturally formed during the mid-19th century."

Weinstein focused on Oliver Wendell Holmes' writings, especially his lesser-known works such as "A Moral Antipathy" and "Over the Teacups." Weinstein's analysis is published in "The Imaginative Prose of Oliver Wendell Holmes" (University of Missouri Press, $39.95).

Holmes, who also is known for his medical career and his son, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., was a part of the New England Renaissance. During this period, from 1840-55, writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Henry David Thoreau wrote about American life.

"This was an incredible time for Americans," Weinstein says. "The first American novels, like those by Hawthorne and Melville, were published, and now that the country had a solid political foundation it was time for the nation to define its values."

The writers of this time talked and wrote about the importance of self-reliance and individualism for Americans, Weinstein says. Before this period, people's characteristics were more specific to regions of the country, and a national identity had yet to be explored or defined, he says.

"Writers during the New England Renaissance often focused on how America offers the absolute freedom for each individual in how they approach their lives," Weinstein says. "These freedoms — freedom of religion and speech for example — are protected by the American government.

"What I learned from Holmes is that in order to maintain these freedoms, you need to avoid imposing your stance on others. I think these same values can be applied in today's post-9/11 nation."

Weinstein is author or co-author of more than 20 books, including "Culture/Flesh: Explorations of Postcivilized Modernity" and "Finite Perfection: Reflections on Virtue."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Michael A. Weinstein, (765) 494-4173, weinstem@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in review copies should contact Beth Chandler at the University of Missouri Press at (573) 882-9672, chandlerb@umsystem.edu


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