History at Leicester

Un Americans: Ideological Dissent, Patriotic Subversion and Isolating the "Other" in the USA

British Academy Research Development Award (£111,404)

July 2009 - June 2012

Dr George Lewis

When supporters of Sarah Palin decried Barack Obama as "un-American" during the 2008 presidential elections, they were drawing upon a history as old as the United States itself. From the late nineteenth century until the present, a variety of American citizens and organisations has sought to identify, isolate and attack those deemed guilty of un-American activities. This project will use archival sources to provide the first ever history of those un-Americans, from the Alien Sedition Act of 1798 via the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Using a series of case studies on the key themes of immigration, religion, race, gender, sexuality, and patriotism, the focus will be on questions such as: why did the term un-American originate, and what explains its longevity? What do its changing uses reveal about national ideology, citizenship and American exceptionalism? In what ways, and by what processes, did its meanings alter over time? Was it kept deliberately ill-defined so as to maximise its political capital? Why did its continued use begin to attract sustained opposition by the second half of the twentieth century?

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