10-Minute Talks: Crèvecœur: what is an American?

by Professor Judith Still FBA

30 Jun 2021

Painting of a side-profile portrait of  J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur (1735-1813) was a farmer as well as a complex thinker of the contradictions of American identity as described in his famous Letters from an American Farmer and, more strikingly, in his French texts which develop his description and analysis of the New World and its peoples. Many readers of his English work have focused on his wishful story of the land of the free, a hospitable refuge to the dispossessed of Europe, a glorious melting pot where the American is born: a man who works hard, who can provide for his family, and be treated with respect whatever his origins and whatever his religious beliefs. Yet, as Judith Still discusses in this talk, Crèvecœur reveals in his French work the original sins of British colonisation and of the new United States, sins which still haunt us today: genocide of indigenous peoples, enslavement of Africans and environmental devastation.

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