United States of America
United States of America (American Eagle)
The United States of America is a large country in North America, often referred to as the “USA,” the “U.S.,” the “United States,” “America,” or simply “the States”. It has a land area of about 9.6 million sq km (about half the size of Russia and about the same size as China). It also boasts the world’s third largest population, with over 310 million people. It includes both densely-populated cities with sprawling suburbs, and vast, uninhabited and naturally beautiful areas. With its history of mass immigration dating from the 17th century, it is a “melting pot” of cultures from around the world.
The country plays a dominant role in the world’s cultural landscape, and is famous for its wide array of popular tourist destinations, ranging from the skyscrapers of Manhattan and Chicago, to the natural wonders of Yellowstone and Alaska, to the warm, sunny beaches of Florida, Hawaii and Southern California.
History Â of Â United States of America
The United States was initially populated by people believed to have migrated from northeast Asia. In the United States their descendants are known as Native Americans, or American Indians. While Native Americans are often portrayed living a singular, usually primitive lifestyle, in fact prior to European contact the continent was densely populated with sophisticated societies. The Cherokee, for example, are descended from the overarching Mississippian culture which built huge mounds and large towns that covered the landscape, while the Anasazi built elaborate cliff-side towns in the Southwest. As was the case in other nations in the Americas, the primitive existence depicted of Native Americans is generally the result of mass die-outs triggered by Old World diseases such as smallpox. In effect they were a post-apocalyptic people.
During the 16th and 17th Centuries, the continent began to be colonized by European nations; Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia established colonies in various parts of the area. The British colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts formed the kernel of what is now known as the United States of America.
Massachusetts was first settled by religious immigrantsâ€”Puritansâ€”who later spread and founded most of the other New England colonies, creating a highly religious and idealistic region. Other religious groups also founded colonies, including the Quakers in Pennsylvania and Roman Catholics in Maryland.
Virginia, on the other hand, became the most dominant of the southern colonies. Because of a longer growing season, these colonies had richer agricultural prospects, especially for cotton and tobacco. As in Central and South America, African slaves were imported and forced to cultivate large plantations. Slavery became an important part of the economy in the South, a fact that would cause tremendous upheaval in the years to come.
By the early 18th Century, the United Kingdom had a number of colonies along the Atlantic coast from Georgia north into what is now Canada. On 4 July 1776, colonists from 13 colonies, frustrated with overseas rule and encouraged by Enlightenment philosophy, declared independence from Great Britain. The resulting Revolutionary War lasted until 1783, with the Americans taking control of all British land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.
After a largely unsuccessful first attempt at establishing a national government, in 1788 the country created the United States Constitution, inspired by Enlightenment-era ideas about individual liberty. George Washington, the commanding general of American forces during the War, was elected the first President of the United States. By the turn of the 19th Century, a national capital had been established in Washington, D.C..
As American and European settlers pushed farther west, past the Appalachians, the United States began admitting new states. This was enabled by the displacement and decimation of the Native American populations through warfare and disease. In what became known as the Trail of Tears, many Native American tribes in the east were forcibly relocated to lands in present-day Oklahoma, which was known as “Indian Territory” until the early 20th Century. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 brought French-owned territory extending from the Mississippi River to parts of the present-day American West under American control, effectively doubling the country’s land area.
The United States fought the War of 1812 with Britain in an attempt to reassert its authority and to capture Canada. Though dramatic battles were fought, including one that ended with the British Army burning the White House, Capitol, and other public buildings in Washington, DC, the war ended in a virtual stalemate, and territorial boundaries between the two nations remained nearly the same. Nevertheless, the war had disastrous consequences for the western Native American tribes that had allied with the British, with the United States acquiring more and more of their territory for white settlers.
Florida was purchased in 1813 from Spain after the American military had effectively subjugated the region. The next major territorial acquisition came after American settlers in Texas rebelled against the Mexican government, setting up a short-lived independent republic that was absorbed into the union. The Mexican-American War of 1848 won the northern territories of Mexico, including the future states of California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, giving the continental United States the rough outlines it has today. Many Native Americans were relegated to reservations by treaty, military force, and by the inadvertent spread of European diseases transmitted by large numbers of settlers moving west along the Oregon Trail and other routes.
By the late 1850s many Americans were calling for the abolition of slavery. The rapidly industrializing North, where slavery had been outlawed several decades before, favored national abolition. Southern states, on the other hand, believed that individual states had the right to decide whether or not slavery should be legal. Beginning in 1861 the Southern states, fearing domination by the North and the avowedly anti-slavery President Abraham Lincoln, seceded from the Union and formed the breakaway Confederate States of America. These events sparked the American Civil War. To date, it is the bloodiest conflict on American soil, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. In 1865, Northern forces prevailed and began the re-assimilation of the Confederacy, a period known as Reconstruction. Slavery was abolished by Constitutional amendment, but the former slaves and their descendants were to remain an economic and social underclass, particularly in the South.
The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, and the previously independent Hawaii was annexed in 1898. After decisively defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War, the United States gained its first “colonial” territories: Cuba (granted independence a few years later), the Philippines (also later granted independence), Puerto Rico and Guam (which remain American dependencies today).
In the eastern cities of the United States, Southern and Eastern Europeans, and Russian Jews joined Irish refugees to become a cheap labor force for the country’s growing industrialization. Many Southern African-Americans fled rural poverty for industrial jobs in the North. Other immigrants, including many Scandinavians and Germans, moved to the now-opened territories in the West and Midwest, where land was available for free to anyone who would develop it. A network of railroads crisscrossed the country, accelerating development.
With its entrance into World War I in 1917, the United States established itself as a world power by helping to defeat Germany and the Central Powers. However after the war, despite its strong support from President Woodrow Wilson, the United States refused to join the newly-formed League of Nations, which substantially hindered that body’s effectiveness in preventing future conflicts. Real wealth grew rapidly in this period. In the Roaring 20s stock speculation created an immense “bubble” which, when it burst in October 1929, contributed to economic havoc, known as the Great Depression. The Depression was devastating, but it created a culture of sacrifice and hard work that would serve the country well in the coming conflict.
In December 1941 Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor, a American military base in Hawaii, plunging the United States into World War II, which had been raging in Europe for two years and in Asia prior to World War I. In alliance with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the United States helped to defeat the Axis powers of Italy, Germany, and Japan. By the end of World War II the United States firmly established itself as the dominant economic power in the world, responsible for nearly half of the world’s industrial production. The newly developed atomic bomb, whose power was demonstrated in two bombings of Japan in 1945, made the United States the only force capable of challenging the Communist Soviet Union, giving rise to what is now known as the Cold War.
After World War II, America experienced far greater affluence. In the 1960s a civil rights movement emerged which eliminated most of the institutional discrimination against African-Americans, particularly in the Southern states. A revived women’s movement in the 1970s also led to wide-ranging changes in American society. After World War II the United States also saw a shift to an economy primarily based on technology rather than agriculture. Today, many of the leading technology companies are based in the United States (especially on the Pacific Coast). The United States also took the lead in military and space technology.
The 1950s saw the beginnings of a major shift of population to the suburbs and largely contributed to the rise of the American car culture and the convenience of fast food restaurants. The Interstate Highway System, constructed primarily from the 1960s to the 1980s, became perhaps the most comprehensive freeway system in the world. Major chain stores began popping up in cities across the country, and some later spread to foreign countries. The American consumer culture, as well as Hollywood movies and many forms of popular music, arguably established the United States as the cultural center of the world.
CultureÂ United States of America
The United States is made up of many diverse ethnic groups and the culture varies greatly across the vast area of the country and even within cities – a city like New York will have dozens, if not hundreds, of different ethnicities represented within a neighborhood. Despite this difference, there exists a strong sense of national identity and certain predominant cultural traits. Generally, Americans tend to believe strongly in personal responsibility and that an individual determines his or her own success or failure, but it is important to note that there are many exceptions and that a nation as diverse as the United States has literally thousands of distinct cultural traditions. One will find Mississippi in the South to be very different culturally from Massachusetts in the North.
National Holidays in United States of America
The United States has a number of holidays â€” official and/or cultural â€” of which the traveler should be aware. Note that holidays observed on Mondays or Fridays are usually treated as weekend-long events. (A weekend consists of a Saturday and a Sunday.) Federal holidays â€” i.e., holidays observed by the federal government â€” are indicated inÂ bold italics. If a federal holiday with a fixed calendar date (such as Independence Day) falls on a weekend, federal and most state offices will be closed on the nearest non-weekend day. Since the early 1970s several federal holidays, including Memorial Day and Labor Day, have been observed on a certain Monday rather than on a fixed date for the express purpose of giving federal employees three-day weekends.
Due to the number of major holidays in close proximity to each other, many Americans refer to the period between Thanksgiving in late November and New Year’s Day as simply “the holidays.” School and work vacations are commonly taken during this period.
- New Year’s DayÂ (1 January) â€” most non-retail businesses closed; parades; brunches and football parties.
- Martin Luther King DayÂ (third Monday in January) â€” many government offices and banks closed; speeches, especially on African-American history and culture.
- Chinese New YearÂ (January/February â€” varies based on the Chinese lunar calendar) â€” Chinese cultural celebration.
- Super Bowl SundayÂ (usu. first Sunday in February) â€” The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the NFL American football league and the most-watched sporting event of the year; supermarkets, bars, and electronics stores busy; big football-watching parties.
- (St.) Valentine’s DayÂ (14 February) â€” private celebration of romance and love. Most restaurants are crowded; finer restaurants may require reservations made well in advance.
- Presidents DayÂ (third Monday in February) â€” (officiallyÂ Washington’s Birthday) â€” many government offices and banks closed; many stores have sales.
- St. Patrick’s DayÂ (17 March) â€” Irish-themed parades and parties. Expect bars to be crowded. They will often feature themed drink specials. The wearing of green or a green accessory is common.
- EasterÂ (a Sunday in March or April) â€” Christian religious observances.
- PassoverÂ (varies based on the Jewish calendar, eight days around Easter) â€” Jewish religious observance.
- Cinco de MayoÂ (5 May) â€” A minor holiday in most of Mexico often incorrectly assumed to be Mexican independence day, but nevertheless a major cultural celebration for Mexican-Americans. As with St. Patrick’s Day, expect bars to be crowded, frequently with themed drink specials.
- Memorial DayÂ (last Monday in May) â€” most non-retail businesses closed; some patriotic observances; trips to beaches and parks;Â traditional beginning of summer tourism season.
- Independence Day / Fourth of JulyÂ (4 July) â€” most non-retail businesses closed; patriotic parades and concerts, cookouts and trips to beaches and parks, fireworks at dusk.
- Labor DayÂ (first Monday in September) â€” most non-retail businesses closed; cookouts and trips to beaches and parks; many stores have sales;Â traditional ending of summer tourism season.
- Rosh HashanahÂ andÂ Yom KippurÂ (varies based on the Jewish calendar, September or early October) â€” Jewish religious observances.
- Columbus DayÂ (second Monday in October) â€” many government offices and banks closed; some stores have sales. Columbus Day can be controversial, especially among Native Americans, and is not as widely observed as it was in the past.
- HalloweenÂ (31 October) â€” trick-or-treating, parades, and costume parties.
- Veterans DayÂ (11 November) â€” government offices and banks closed; some patriotic observances.
- Thanksgiving DayÂ (fourth Thursday in November) â€” almost all businesses closed,Â including grocery stores and many restaurants; family dinners. The next day, known as “Black Friday,” major Christmas shopping traditionally begins. Many non-retail employees are given Friday off or take it as a holiday.
- Hanukkah / ChanukahÂ (varies based on the Jewish calendar, eight days usually in December) â€” Jewish religious observance, often culturally associated with Christmas.
- ChristmasÂ (25 December) â€” almost all businesses,Â grocery stores, and many restaurantsÂ closed the evening before and all day. Families and close friends exchange gifts; Christian religious observances.
- KwanzaaÂ (26 December-1 January) â€” African-American cultural observance.
- New Year’s EveÂ (31 December) â€” many restaurants and bars open late; lots of parties, especially in big cities.
The United States is composed of 50Â states, as well as the city ofÂ Washington, D.C., a federal district and the nation’s capital. Below is a rough grouping of these states into regions, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:
Map of the USA
New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,Rhode Island, Vermont)
Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques, and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows, and some of the nation’s oldest cities, in a territory small enough to tour (hastily) in a week.
Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
Ranging from New York in the north to Washington, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic is home to some of the nation’s most densely populated cities, as well as historic sites, rolling mountains, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the Lehigh Valley, and seaside resorts like the Long Island beaches and the Jersey Shore.
South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi,North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
The South is celebrated for its hospitality, down-home cooking and its blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and country music traditions. This lush, largely subtropical region includes cool, verdant mountains, agricultural plantations, and vast cypress swamps.
Northern Florida is similar to the rest of the South, but is not so in the resorts of Orlando, retirement communities, tropical Caribbean-influencedMiami, the Everglades swamp, and 1200 miles of sandy beaches.
Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio,Wisconsin)
The Midwest is home to farmland, forests, picturesque towns, industrial cities, and the Great Lakes, the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world, forming the North Coast of the U.S.
The second biggest state in the nation, it’s like a whole other country (and in fact, once was). The terrain ranges from southeastern swamplands to the cattle-ranching South Plains to the sandy beaches of South Texas to the mountains and deserts of West Texas.
Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma)
Travel westward through these supposedly flat states, from the edge of the eastern forests through the prairies and onto the High Plains, an enormous expanse of steppes (shortgrass prairies) nearly as desolate as in the frontier days.
Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
The spectacular snow-covered Rockies offer hiking, rafting, and excellent snow skiing as well as deserts, and some large cities.
Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah)
Heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture, this area is home to some of the nation’s most spectacular natural attractions and some flourishing artistic communities. Although mostly empty, the region’s deserts have some of the nation’s largest cities.
Like the Southwest, California has a history under Spanish and Mexican rule and is heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture. California offers world-class cities, deserts, rain forests, snowy mountains, and beautiful beaches. Northern California (around the Bay Area) and Southern California (around Los Angeles) are culturally distinct.
Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)
The pleasantly mild Pacific Northwest offers outdoor pursuits as well as cosmopolitan cities. The terrain ranges from spectacular rain forests to scenic mountains and volcanoes to beautiful coastlines to sage-covered steppes and deserts.
One fifth as large as the rest of the United States, Alaska reaches well into the Arctic, and features mountainous wilderness.
A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific, 2,300 miles south west of California (the nearest state), laid-back Hawaii is a vacation paradise.
Politically, the U.S. is a federation of states, each with its own rights and powers (hence the name). The U.S. also administers a motley collection of non-stateterritories around the world, the largest of which are Puerto Rico (which has the special status of a “commonwealth”) and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean plusAmerican Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in Oceania.