Tuesday, 25 October 2011

America the shockingly new

My love of America, Americans and Americana has many roots and branches. One of them is the "newness" of the country, at least from a European immigration perspective.

As a comparison, the English Civil War was fought in the seventeen century. Before that, the Elizabethan era, and various Henrys and Edwards as kings. Before that, lots more history. My family on my fathers side was easy to trace back to 1505, and we've since gone a lot further back. The village I grew up in sits in a flood plain that's been an agriculture area for several thousand years. When bits and pieces of artifacts from the Roman occupation of some 2,000 years ago are found, locals don't get excited about it; it's all been seen before. Boring.

The history of America, on the other hand, as a growing and expanding population, is almost shockingly new. The Huff recently ran a piece on a TV clip that's on YouTube:

Just...wow. That was a TV show from 55 years ago.

Which means there are people alive today who will have watched that TV show, where a guest revealed he saw President Lincoln being assassinated, as the American Civil War drew to a close.

Heck, doing the math it's possible that the guest had known, spoken to people who were alive before America gained independence, less than 90 years before Lincoln was shot.

It's difficult sometimes to get my head around how recent, new, this all is. Perhaps I have the same dislocation feeling as American colleagues and friends do when they visit England, or "the old country". Last time one did, we went in a rural pub. He spent much of the evening transfixed at a plaque detailing the seven hundred year history of the building, while the regular drinkers stared transfixed at a soccer match on the TV.

Moon over Boston

Yes, there may be many similarities between Britain and America, but in terms of historical timeline, they couldn't be more different. At the time America was electing its 1st President of the United States, England was on royal monarch number ... 54 (if you start with King Offa in the year 757). By the time Lincoln was assassinated, the royal family-ruler situation had been in effect in England for over 1,100 years.

Yes, sometimes America feels shiny, new, and in many ways running through an accelerated growth and catchup. While the senior who is Britain plods on, doing what it does every day and smiling at past glories (real or imagined), America is the teenager who's just drank too much sugary pop and is running noisily around everyone. Gotta love the place.

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