The American Studies program embodies the mission and tradition of Hillsdale College in a way that no other program does. Through a study of American literature, history, and political philosophy, students in this program immerse themselves in the liberal arts tradition that has remained at the center of Hillsdale’s education. This intermingling of the three disciplines allows students to study the American character from three different vantage points in order to then discover the threads that connect John Winthrop to the Constitutional Convention to James Fennimore Cooper to Mark Twain and so on. In an organized and serious fashion, it provides an opportunity for students to study and examine what the “We the People” really meant in 1787, and how the people have shaped American culture since then. The students in the American Studies program also understand that “We the People” at Hillsdale college are “grateful to God for the inestimable blessings resulting from civil and religious liberty,” and they devote their college years to understanding those liberties so that they may defend them. The program not only “develops the minds” but also “improves the hearts” of students, for as they study the Founders and writers and leaders of the American tradition, they become acutely sensitive to the themes that rooted this nation and that continue to nourish it. These themes of rights paired with duty, of education paired with leadership, of property paired with stewardship, of wealth paired with generosity, of individuality paired with Christian morals, resonates with the hearts of students as they live in their little platoon both on campus and in their home communities. On graduation day, the American Studies graduates have accomplished massive amounts of reading, studying, and writing for an undergraduate student, and while the object of it all was to learn for the sake of knowledge, they walk across the stage with an understanding of the duty they have to their family, their community, and their country. Whether through teaching, politics, writing, or many other avenues, they understand that it is their duty to preserve the permanent things that are so vital to nourishing the tree of ordered liberty.
I think it is evident that Dr. Kirk helped shape this major, and I am grateful that our own Dr. Wilson and Dr. Birzer have played such instrumental roles in carrying on the Kirkean tradition through their teaching, writing, and more than anything their exceptional character, which moves and inspires so many students. Thank you both for carrying on the myth, and thank you for living it as well.
Books on the topic discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.