City on a Hill: American Exceptionalism and America’s Past

25 Oct 2023 11.00 AM - 12.30 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Christopher Trigg

What is American exceptionalism, and what does it have to do with early America and America’s past? This talk explains the concept and its evolution over time, looking especially to the way collective memory and national memorials make use of history to set the nation apart. In particular, this talk will explain the role Pilgrims and Puritans have played in establishing a national identity, challenging that identity, and changing it over time. 

Professor Abram Van Engen is the Stanley Elkin Professor in the Humanities and Chair of English at Washington University in St. Louis. His diverse research specialisms include intellectual history, religion and literature, poetry, American literature, puritanism, the history of emotions, and collective memory.  He has held Faculty and Public Scholars Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Center for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis, a Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, a R.M. McFarlin Junior Faculty Fellowship at Trinity University, and a Presidential Fellowship at Northwestern University.

His first book, Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. His second book, City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism was published in 2020 by Yale University Press, and won the Yale University Press Pelikan Award and the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize from the Massachusetts Historical Society. He is the co-editor of A History of American Puritan Literature, published by Cambridge University Press in 2020 and Feeling Godly: Religious Affection and Christian Contact in Colonial North America, published by University of Massachusetts Press in 2021.

With Joanne Diaz, Professor Van Engen hosts and produces the podcast Poetry for all (, which introduces the analysis of poetry to a general audience. The podcast has released 61 episodes so far, and has had over 80, 000 downloads. It has also been nominated for an Ambies Award by the Podcast Academy.