The nationalism present in the late nineteenth century grew
out of an ambivalence about America's early history.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, Americans
valued local traditions but seldom observed national historical
celebrations. American history was not a standard part of
the school curriculum.
But the effects of industrialization and urbanization elicited
what historian Michael Kammen calls a period of "nostalgia
and tradition orientation." (2)
Faced with political expansion, social diversity, and economic
unpredictability, Americans looked to their pre-industrial
heritage for inspiration.
Celebrating America's Past
Kammen argues that a national American historical tradition
began to emerge in the 1870s. From that decade through World
War I, Americans became increasingly interested in their
- Monuments to American war heroes
and political figures dotted city streets.
- Historical groups such as the
American Historical Association and the Association
for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities formed.
- Grand public buildings appeared,
many with mural paintings depicting American progress.
- Illustrated articles on American
history appeared in magazines such as Scribner's
and Harper's Weekly. (4)
such as the Minute Man statue
reminded Americans of their pre-industrial heritage.
Emergence of the Art Profession
In 1876, Americans celebrated their
country's one-hundred-year anniversary with the Philadelphia
Centennial Exposition, the first exposition held in the
United States. The exposition celebrated technology and
America's emergence as an industrial nation. It was also
a celebration of America's past.
The exposition gave artists an opportunity
to display works depicting historical subjects. (5)
At the same time, artists recognized the need to develop
outlets for professional training.
In 1877, the Society of American Artists
and the Society of Decorative Arts formed. American art
schools followed in the 1880s. (6)
Specialized periodicals such as American Architect
and Building News and the Art Review appeared,
reporting developments in American art and architecture.
Toward a Classical Model
As Americans analyzed their history,
many looked to their European heritage for inspiration.
Gothic-style buildings of the mid- to late nineteenth
century reflected the interest of some American architects
in medieval Europe.
Others believed that America possessed
the democratic ideals of the ancient Greeks, and that
American art and architecture should reflect those ideals.
Thus, in the late nineteenth century, many American artists
and architects began to study the works of the Italian
Renaissance (1420-1580), a period of renewed interest
in the art, architecture, and literature of classical