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Constance Rourke: The Roots of American Culture

[ photo: Constance Rourke ]

The Roots of American Culture

Constance Rourke, class of 1907 (and English instructor at Vassar from 1910 to 1915), pioneered the study of American culture, beginning with her first piece, "Paul Bunyan," published in the New Republic in 1918. Her subsequent research and publications poured the foundation on which the field was built—Trumpets of Jubilee (1927), a compilation of five mid-19th century American icons; Troopers of the Gold Coast (1928), a study of 19th-century actors; American Humour: A Study of the National Character (1931); Davy Crockett (1934); Audubon (1936); and her unfinished manuscript, The Roots of American Culture (1942), published posthumously.

Interestingly, after graduating from Vassar, she spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris on a grant from the Borden Fund for Foreign Travel and Study. Was this the experience that gave her the requisite distance to view her own culture as an object of study? In the American Studies Program at Vassar today, "familiarity with a culture other than American" is one of the requirements of the major.