Americana is our collection of writings, materials and things concerning or characteristic of the United States or of the American people, and is representative or even stereotypical of American culture as a whole. The United States of America is such a glorious mess of contradiction, such a crazy quilt of competing themes, such a fecund mishmash of people and ideas, that defining us is pretty much pointless. There is, of course, a kind of faded notion of “Americana”, one that concerns Route 66, diners, freak rock formations, and the like — but even in its halcyon days this “roadside attraction” version of America was never an accurate or nuanced distillation of our massively complicated culture.
We have undertaken here to give some account of the genesis and development in Americana of certain germinal ideas that have come to be considered traditionally American — How they came into being, how they were opposed, and what influence they have exerted in determining the form and scope of our characteristic ideals and institutions. In pursuing such a task, we have chosen to follow the broad path of our political, economic, and social development.