What is Americana?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Americana refers to cultural artifacts, cooking, art, architecture, and history that distinctly reflect the US culture. In essence, Americana expresses those things that would be most associated with Americans, even if they were beloved in other countries. For example, the apple pie, though made in a number of other countries is thought a perfect example of Americana cuisine. Statements like “It’s as American as baseball or apple pie,” suggest that Americans in a sense “own” certain cultural developments and most associate these things as part of their cultural heritage.

Eating turkey for Thanksgiving is an American tradition.
Eating turkey for Thanksgiving is an American tradition.

Americana can also be used to express movements in art, literature or music, or artists that seem especially American may be said to be part of Americana. For example, in the visual arts, Norman Rockwell, and his artwork for the covers of the Saturday Evening Post were thought of as representing Americana. In music, rockabilly, and for that matter rock and roll are considered American cultural expressions.

American football is considered part of Americana.
American football is considered part of Americana.

Literature that seems distinctly American is not always easy to define. Some say Washington Irving captures a slice of American culture in his short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Others argue the work is imitative of European style. It is important to remember that many things considered Americana, especially early cultural productions of necessity, imitated European cultural values, since many of the early artists were not that far removed from their European roots.

Baseball is often considered to be the most American of sports.
Baseball is often considered to be the most American of sports.

Certain cuisine is also distinctly associated with Americana. Apple pie is just one example among many. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes for instance would be considered solid American food, and the hamburger and fries on fast food menus throughout the country certainly are.

Cheeseburgers are considered a very American food.
Cheeseburgers are considered a very American food.

Though baseball is the most American of sports, American football is yet another Americana sport. Certain traditions like watching football on Thanksgiving, the ultimate in Americana feasts, are seen as unique to the US. Of course, in many European countries, watching athletic events are a part of holidays, but Americans have made this tradition with a sport developed here, and with a holiday that is exclusively American. It should be noted that many countries have feasts celebrating the harvest, and Canada celebrates a Thanksgiving holiday too.

Norman Rockwell paintings, such as those in the Four Freedoms series, illustrated traditional American values.
Norman Rockwell paintings, such as those in the Four Freedoms series, illustrated traditional American values.

If America is viewed as a cultural melting pot, which indeed it can be at times, it can be difficult to trace the roots of various Americana cultural activities or concepts. Rock and Roll for instance derives from the contributions of numerous cultures: the percussive music maintained by slaves and then freed African Americans, folk music from various European countries, and a variety of other sources. In other cases you can draw a more direct line between cultures that produced Americana cultural products. Clogging, for instance, a popular form of dance is very closely related to Celtic step dancing.

The sum total of cultural products that represent Americana give people from other countries impressions about what they’re likely to find here. Sometimes, predominant or well-known aspects of a society are expected by visitors, which can lead to stereotyping or deluded expectations regarding what people will find when they visit or immigrate. During the Industrial Revolution, it could be argued that the principle Americana product was the concept of the American Dream.

With effort, all could prosper, and this meme carried to other cultures. Mass immigration to America certainly influenced our culture, but many found that the life that embodied "Americana" was difficult to obtain. Despite hardship, many immigrants and later generations prospered — thus the Americana concept of “the good life in America” perpetuates.

Apple pie is distinctly associated with Americana.
Apple pie is distinctly associated with Americana.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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