Class of 1954 Professor of American History; Director, Gilder Lehrman Center, Department of History, Yale University
ABSTRACT | Composite Nation: Frederick Douglass and the Question of Whether America Can Ever Achieve a Unifying Narrative
I will address the question of how or if Americans can ever really find a common or unifying national historical narrative in this time of new populisms and identity politics. I will root it at first in Frederick Douglass’s speech of 1867 called “The Composite Nation,” his argument at the peak of the hopeful stage of Reconstruction for a multi-ethnic, multi-racial nation that would actually conquer its divisions. Perhaps utopian, or just modern and too early, I’ll then move ahead to our struggle over time to ever reach the dreams of Douglass imagination.