Scholarly series: America finds its place in the world

Global perspective and the United States’ place in the world will be the focus of Finding Our Place: Evolving American Identity, the Wilton Library Association and Wilton Historical Society’s 10th annual scholarly lecture series.

Central Connecticut State University history professor and author John Day Tully will kick off this year’s five-part series with his lecture — American Identity and the ‘American Century’: How U.S. Foreign Policy in the 20th Century Shaped and Reflected American Values — on Sunday, Jan. 29, at Wilton Library.

During his lecture, Tully will discuss the ways that American foreign relations in the 20th Century were affected by, and also shaped, American values.

“The influence of the United States in the world in the 20th Century has been tremendous,” Tully told The Bulletin.

“Our interactions with the world through not only directed actions like war but interactions through diplomacy and economics and social connections has really shaped how the world has developed.”

Tully said America’s interactions have also shaped its own internal development.

“What we consider domestic politics or domestic history has also been shaped by how we interact with the world,” said Tully, who plans to “look at the key moments of some of those interactions” during his scholarly series lecture.

Tully said the influence of the United States goes back as far as the founding of the nation.

“The founders, and their different views of what America should be, influenced how they felt the U.S. should interact with the world,” he said, “especially with Great Britain and France.”

In the beginning of the 20th Century, Tully said, the United States felt “special and separate.” Not only was it isolated and “kind of geographically protected,” he said, but it also didn’t want to be involved in world affairs.

After World War II, Tully said, that changed.

“Americans’ definition of our identity in the world changed dramatically in that we began to see ourselves as a world citizen,” he said, “and all of a sudden, what was happening in other countries became so much more important.”

By 1947, the United States became “the world’s policeman” and Americans’ sense of mission in the world changed dramatically,” said Tully, “and that had drastic implications.”

Tully said he will also mention some often underestimated influences on America’s approach to the world during his lecture.

For example, he said, “I think what often gets underestimated is how domestic politics and domestic concerns have shaped how the U.S. has approached the world.

“I think often we have the sense that our interactions with the world are based on just one set of principles,” he said, “but, really, how we see ourselves as Americans and how that has evolved over the years has had a real influence on how we’ve seen the world.”

Outlook on the future

He may be coming to Wilton Library to discuss the past, but, Tully said, he will do so with “a view toward what the future might bring.”

With a new presidential administration soon taking office, Tully said, “it’s very hard to tell” what the future holds for the United States.

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration seems to be challenging “some very long-standing and bipartisan views about NATO, about alliances, about aid,” he said, “and that was really the foundation of the post-World War II U.S. foreign policy.

“In some ways it’s new, but it’s also going back to a pre-World War II sense of what the U.S. should do,” he said.

“Whether that’s good or bad is something that everyone will have to decide, but I think we’re looking at a major break from where we’ve been for the past 60 or 70 years.”

Scholarly series

This year’s scholarly series will run through April, with the following talks taking place from 4 to 5:30:

  • Feb. 26: Connecticut and the Federal Art Project: Idealism and Identity During the 1930s, with Amy Trout at Wilton Library.

  • March 12: Finding Brass Valley, a Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished, with Emery Roth at Wilton Library.

  • March 26: Navigating the New Digital Landscape of Knowledge, with Julia Adams at Wilton Historical Society.

  • April 2: 9/11 and America’s World View, with Matthew Warshauer at Wilton Historical Society.

Receptions will follow each lecture. There is no charge, but registration for each lecture is required.

Information and registration: