Sarah Igo

Sarah E. Igo is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public.

Recent Articles

Old Image, New Portrait

Treating an entire population as being of one mind can obscure more than it reveals.

A celebration in Union Square, New York. (Flickr/recompose)
Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character , by Claude S. Fischer, University of Chicago Press, 511 pages, $35.00 A half-century ago, writing in the crucible of the early Cold War, American historians were convinced that something ran deep among U.S. citizens linking them to one another -- a national personality or fundamental essence that made Americans American . "By some alchemy," as Henry Steele Commager put it, "out of the blending of inheritance, environment, and experience, there came a distinctive American character." Louis Hartz and Daniel Boorstin suggested that its core was a deep-seated liberalism. David Potter argued that from the beginning, Americans were a "people of plenty," their history defined by material abundance. But whatever the particular interpretation, the "consensus historians," as they came to be known, viewed American character as distinct, coherent, and exceptional. The very concept of national character went out of fashion in the...