The Chosen People: The Hudson River School and the Construction of American Identity


This article considers nineteenth-century riverscapes of the Hudson in relation to the formation of American identity. It argues that riverscapes in the United States contributed to welding a national identity to a Christian one, although officially the identities were distinct. I examine the role of the Hudson River School in the creation of the ‘wilderness’ as an image of American homeland, and how this construct incorporated the iconic figure of the Euro-American Christian ‘pilgrim-pioneer.’ America looked more to the future than to the past for its national narrative, and an orientation to the future was symbolized in art by the flow of the Hudson toward distant horizons, while the pioneer identity was extended to embrace the entrepreneur-developer. The pioneer has remained an iconic figure for American nationalism, but is now more firmly located in the nation’s past; Janus’s gaze has been adjusted, demonstrating the potentially fluid character of nationalist discourse.


Painting; The Hudson River School; American Identity; Christian identity; pilgrim-pioneer; fluidity; nationalist discourse

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Published : 2021-09-30

CusackT. (2021). The Chosen People: The Hudson River School and the Construction of American Identity. Review of International American Studies, 14(1), 107-152.

Tricia Cusack
Independent scholar  Ireland

Tricia Cusack has taught at the Open University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on how visual art in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries embodies ideas about national and cultural identities. Books include Riverscapes and National Identities (Syracuse, N.Y., 2019) and three edited volumes: Framing the Ocean, 1700 to the Present: Envisaging the Sea as Social Space (Abingdon, 2016); Art and Identity at the Water’s Edge (Abingdon, 2016); and Art, Nation and Gender: Ethnic Landscapes, Myths and Mother-Figures (Abingdon, 2018), co-edited with Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch. She has published articles in diverse journals including Art History; Nations and Nationalism; National Identities; New Formations; Irish Review; Journal of Tourism History; Nineteenth Century Studies; and the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. Tricia’s forthcoming book, The Reading Figure in Irish Art in the Long Nineteenth Century will be published by Anthem Press in 2021.

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