Constance Rourke (1885-1941) was a historian, anthropologist, and critic who revolutionized the study of American culture. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and educated at Vassar and the Sorbonne, she spent most of her life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her influential studies of American life include Trumpets of Jubilee (1927), Troupers of the Gold Coast (1928), and biographies of Davy Crockett (1928), Audubon (1936), and Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition (1938). Her most famous work remains American Humor: A Study of the National Character, recognized as a classic from its publication in 1931. Rourke devoted her later life to “living research,” exploring regional culture, from Shaker furniture to African-American song, and Western folk tales. She died in 1941, after falling on an icy porch.
Constance Rourke’s pioneering “study of the national character” examines such legendary figures as the Yankee, the backwoodsman, and the minstrel singer to show how the popular comic imagination contributed to America’s changing self-awareness.