The American Renaissance is a period in American history, frequently dated between 1876 and 1917, characterized by renewed self-confidence in the national mood, and the belief that American society was the natural heir to such landmark historical movements as Greek democracy, Roman law, and the Italian Renaissance. In literature, the American Renaissance slightly predates this period, roughly spanning the 1850s, when many major American novels were first published.
The term “American Renaissance” was first used by F.O. Matthiessen in his 1941 book American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. Matthiessen originally restricted the term to the major literary works written during the 1850s, including Melville’s Moby-Dick, Thoreau’s Walden, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Later scholars, however, have expanded the term.
Following the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, American attention began to promote the idea of excellence. The Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, was largely symbolic of new expression in American culture and design, the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed. Other notable architectural examples from the period include the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Politically, this was the Gilded Age and the rise of American Imperialism, as America’s industrial might began to place the nation center stage in world affairs.