During the history of the United States many cultural and intellectual developments and movements have effected American society in profound ways. Often times these developments focus and challenge our society helping to shape and mold our definition of what it means to be an American or to live the “American Dream”.
Many times in our history the redefining of American cultural and intellectual life has sprung from the pages of our greatest authors, journalists and intellectuals. From the abolitionist pleas of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the shocking photographs of Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives to the consumer defense of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at any Speed, American literature has extended its impact well beyond the printed page.
Beginning in the later half of the 19th century, a fractured and increasingly diverse America began to find that common forms of media and entertainment served as galvanizing forces in creating a unified United States. Evolving from the common traveling minstrel shows, to parlor music, to professional sports, the phonograph, radio, movies and television, to the Internet and beyond, America’s forms of entertainment evolved in scope and message while providing a shared culture that became uniquely American.
Cultural changes in America seem to occur either as profound waves, washing over all of society or as gentle ripples, making subtle yet noticeable differences on the surface of American life. All cultural change however, happens a result of some need or pressure either from within or outside of American society.
Various movements in intellectual thought have helped shape the destiny of America and individual Americans. From the colonial leaders shaped by the philosophy of the Enlightenment to the immigrant pushed by the teachings of Social Darwinism, philosophies and their impact on the thoughts and perceptions of the nation have helped define American cultural and intellectual life.