I am scouring the internet this morning, looking for an introductory book on English and American cultural history. I want to use it as a companion to a first-year course that introduces students to the highlights of English and American literature in a thematic, chronological order.
A random week from the course would for example focus on discovery, colonisation and trade in the early modern period, and combine a reading of a literary text with, say, a contemporary travel report, with images of travel, colonisation and trade. Or, a week on the metaphysical poets would introduce the poems together with texts from Bacon or Hobbes, or images from Harvey’s publications on the circulation the blood. (Mmm, both these random weeks just happen to be early modern — the course ranges from Anglo-Saxon texts like Beowulf to the present.)
What I am looking for is a cultural history of England & America that takes a similar approach, focusing on themes, offering images, to give student a broad view of cultural historical developments, and not only of dates, wars, and kings and queens. As a student, I read F. E. Halliday’s England, A Concise History, but I remember it as rather old-fashioned. Halliday would say things like: “And England was mistress of the seas once again” — if I remember correctly. The book has been updated since, and is now even subtitled “From Stonehenge to the Atomic Age,” so perhaps I should reconsider my views? Do any of you know a book that is concise like Halliday’s, but has more attention to culture, also deals with America (1620s and later) and is a bit more modern – new historical – gender conscious – etc.? I guess I am asking for the impossible, but you never know!