Elaine Tyler May is Regents Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Minnesota and a past president of the OAH and the American Studies Association. Her books include Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (2017); America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation (2010); Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1988, new edition 2017); Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness (1997); Pushing the Limits: American Women, 1940-1961 (1996); and Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America (1980). She has also written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Ms., Daily Beast, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, among others.
Americans across the political spectrum have come to live by a pervasive belief that the world is a dangerous place and that our nation, and ourselves, are at risk of invasion and attack. Deeply ingrained attitudes, political developments, and public policies have heightened that sense of vulnerability, and also fostered widespread agreement that individuals are responsible for their own protection. This lecture explores how and why that culture of security emerged, how it has changed over time, and its impact on how Americans pursue their daily lives, act politically, and relate to each other. We are left wondering, are we any safer as a result of all the effort poured into achieving security? What have we gained -- and what have we lost?