City on a Hill A History of American Exceptionalism Abram C. Van Engen

Format:
Hardback
Publication date:
14 Apr 2020
ISBN:
9780300229752
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
392 pages: 235 x 156mm
Illustrations:
19 b-w illus.
Sales territories:
World

In this illuminating book, Abram Van Engen shows how the phrase “City on a Hill,” from a 1630 sermon by Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, shaped the story of American exceptionalism in the twentieth century.

By tracing the history of Winthrop’s speech, its changing status throughout time, and its use in modern politics, Van Engen asks us to reevaluate our national narratives. He tells the story of curators, librarians, collectors, archivists, antiquarians, and often anonymous figures who emphasized the role of the Pilgrims and Puritans in American history, paving the way for the saving and sanctifying of a single sermon. This sermon’s rags-to-riches rise reveals the way national stories take shape and shows us how those tales continue to influence competing visions of the country—the many different meanings of America that emerge from its literary past.

Abram C. Van Engen is associate professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is also a Faculty Affiliate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. He lives in St. Louis, MO.

“This deeply researched and startling study of national myth is a revelation. Van Engen takes us on an extraordinary intellectual journey through the idea of exceptionalism. Here, good history punctures our hardened assumptions with evidence, even as it allows for myth's powers over our imaginations.”—David W. Blight, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
 


“Fluidly written, deeply and widely researched, persuasively argued, scintillating, and stunningly effective. . . . A landmark contribution.”—Mark Noll, author of In the Beginning Was the Word


“Van Engen uncovers the story of the most revered sermon in the American saga, tracing its shadowy origin to the bully pulpit centuries later as a motto for national exceptionalism. A trifecta of scholarship, narrative history, and a timely contribution to debates over our role in the world.”—Strobe Talbott, Brookings Institution
 


“Abram Van Engen has written a brilliant cultural history of how the meaning of America has been defined, over time, by appeals to the Puritans’ grand vision of a ‘city on a hill.’ This story, with its many twists and turns, illuminates the power and the contradictions of these myths of American exceptionalism. The chapters on the influence of Perry Miller are truly exceptional.”—Nathan Hatch, President of Wake Forest University
 


“Abram Van Engen blends deep research in rare primary sources with a gripping story that runs from the 1620s to the present. Drawing on history, religion, and literature, he makes a persuasive argument in page-turning prose about the mythic roots of American exceptionalism. This should be a prize-winning book.”—Grant Wacker, author of One Soul at a Time: The Story of Billy Graham