The Frontier in Books
Publishing Research Quarterly
Unique among contemporary Western nations, the American national identity was created from present and living memory, unlike the English modern national identity, which was created out of distant memories from an era many centuries past. The English visions, which hearkened back to Anglo-Saxon England and the mythical Arthurian realms, were mediated by a small group of scholars who alone could understand the ancient languages. The books those scholars wrote were then read by a narrow circle of educated people who reinterpreted the ancient histories and myths for the general public, and in time the sense of what medieval England had been and how it related to the present began to work its way into the popular conception of English history. By the eighteenth century, the average Englishman was fully conscious of his Anglo-Saxon heritage that distinguished him from all other peoples and endowed him with an innate strength of character and democratic spirit. These modern Anglo-Saxons looked to the past with pride and to the future with a certainty in their own moral superiority and thus the righteousness of British imperial dominion. In America, which also shared in this Anglo-Saxon heritage, there was no need for scholarly mediation or a hearkening to the distant past, as the general reader could read about the frontier even as he or she experienced it firsthand.
“The Frontier in Books.” Publishing Research Quarterly 14:3 (1998): 53-65.