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How can we characterize an American identity in a nation with such diversity? Conflicts around identity and race reveal that many Americans have a deep investment in drawing boundaries around national belonging. Our current cultural and political moment feels fragile, unstable, even dangerous to some, while others see opportunities to imagine American identity anew.
The history of this particularly fraught time in our national life dates back centuries. Though the United States often has been described as a nation of immigrants or a land of opportunity, the realities about who can define themselves as American—and who gets to decide—always have been more complicated than prevailing national myths about inclusion.
In this installment of “Conversations at the Newberry,” two historians, Kathleen Belew and Erika Lee, share their research on the long histories of American identity, offering fresh perspectives on the forces that seek to expand or narrow understandings of what it means to be American.
Kathleen Belew is Assistant Professor of US History at the University of Chicago.
Erika Lee is director of the Immigration History Research Center, Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, and the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History at the University of Minnesota.
“Conversations at the Newberry” are generously sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray.
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