The United States encompasses a variety of landscapes, from Alaska’s arctic tundra to Arizona’s desert, and Florida’s tropical swamps. It is the third most populous country in the world, the home to nearly five percent of the earth’s inhabitants. Its population has increased through repeated waves of immigration providing a mingling of cultures and giving the U.S. its distinctive character. Historically, its prosperity was built on agriculture, mining, forestry and manufacturing. Today the United States has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world.
Although English is the country’s official language, a substantial minority of Hispanic residents speaks Spanish, either exclusively or along with English. There are also close to 200 Native American languages in the country. Defining American culture has been a challenge for observers for many decades, as it is a country of extremes. Freedoms, be it personal freedom or freedom of speech, are important values. Conforming to a norm is not something that is necessarily valued in American society: people prefer to act according to what they think is best rather than following a rigid set of values imposed by others. In general, Americans believe strongly in the ‘American Dream’, a belief that hard work will lead to success. They tend to be very mobile, moving around the country for job opportunities and choice of lifestyle, extended families living close together is no longer the norm.
American culture, historically influenced by European patterns, with African and Asian contributions, was created through a blending of the many different people living there. It has since developed a distinctly American identity and made significant contributions to multiple areas of global culture. Blues, jazz, rock n’ roll and hip hop all originate in the United States. Their origins came from the music of African slaves and developed into truly American styles with famed musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and George Gershwin. At the same the nation maintains a vibrant classical music tradition with composers such as Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein. It has fostered numerous world class symphonies, ensembles and schools of music. Musicals, a combination of theatre, orchestral music and singing, are a popular form of musical performance from New York City’s famed Broadway to community groups and schools across the nation.
There is a strong literary tradition with authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace to name just a few. Numerous poets such as Robert Frost, T.S. Elliot and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have contributed to a prolific and varied library of poetry. Equally, the film industry, with its breadth of cinematic work, its technical inventions and huge markets has played an enormous role in American culture and has had a huge impact globally.
The United States has been at the forefront of the world’s visual arts since the beginning of the 20th century when the Armoury Show, held in New York, spawned rapid growth in Modern Art, Abstract Art and many subsequent art movements with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns and Willem De Kooning. Concurrently American crafts have a well-deserved reputation for both their quality and innovation, ranging from glass blowing, to pottery, to furniture making, to fibre arts and metal work. The styles are equally varied, whether it is the beadwork of Native Americans, the lamps of Tiffany or quilts by avant-guard artists. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of many architects who influenced building design globally and is but a few of the many Americans who have influenced the world.
The American popular culture has become increasingly international, imported by countries around the world, and symbolizes what is most modern and up-to-date. In many areas of the world, traditional costumes are worn at festivals or holidays. Americans, however, do not have distinctive folk attire and, except for the characteristic clothing of Native Americans, dress in the Unites States is generally not specific to certain areas or based on the preservation of patterns or crafts. Blue jeans, originally created as durable clothing for miners, are possibly the most representative article of American clothing. Americans love sports, and attending sporting events plays a large part in American social life. Sport related attire has been incorporated into many areas of everyday dress.
The United States and Canada share a special relationship, economically and culturally. Many Canadians have moved to the United States over the past centuries, while Americans have been immigrating to Canada since the late 1700s with the most extensive wave occurring between 1895 and 1915. The number of farmers who settled in the west nearly equaled that from the British Isles. The effect they had can still be seen in the high US-born presence in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and in the proportion of farmers among this group. Americans settlers have been involved in many Canadian enterprises including the fur trade, exploration, industrialization, railway and bridge engineering and construction, and science. Sharing the world’s longest undefended border, many Americans continue to come to Canada for educational or job opportunities. They have settled throughout the country contributing to, and influencing, multiple areas of society and culture.
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