Hunting and American Identity: The Rise, Fall, Rise and Fall of an American Pastime

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This article examines how hunting came to define the American identity in the nineteenth century and how that identity became increasingly restricted to rural, white males in the twentieth century. The tie between hunting and identity began at colonisation, when promoters portrayed North America as a hunter's paradise. Colonial charters, meanwhile, guaranteed colonists the right to hunt. Because colonists associated hunting with both aristocratic indolence and Indian ‘savagery’, however, they seldom deemed it important. Not until the American Revolution did writers and artists transform seemingly Hobbesian hunters into powerful defenders of natural rights. In the Jacksonian era, Americans identified hunters as culture heroes, men whose ‘self-possession’ made them exemplary. The near-universal right to hunt – a right carried over from colonial times – seemed to complement and buttress widening political rights. Both sorts of rights provided a bulwark against aristocracy. For a time – roughly from 1850 to 1950 – Americans viewed hunting as a font of their greatness. Since then, however, Americans, shaped by the Civil Rights Movement – African-Americans, women, urbanites – have rejected the hunter heroes of old, who seem more like oppressors than liberators. Hunting has become a badge of identity not for all Americans, but for rural whites.


This article was originally published in The International Journal of the History of Sport. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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The International Journal of the History of Sport