Enlightened by the Rockets' Red Glare: The Meaning of the "Star-Spangled Banner" | National Humanities Center

Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Enlightened by the Rockets’ Red Glare: The Meaning of the “Star-Spangled Banner”

Robert A. Ferguson (Fellow, 1994–95)

January 20, 2011

We think we know “The Star-Spangled Banner” — but how many of us realize that Francis Scott Key was not looking at the flag we now revere as the original, and that he never set foot inside Fort McHenry? An instant success in 1814, the anthem’s first stanza opens so many sporting events today that some Americans think it ends with the words “Play ball!” Yet as we anticipate the first pitch, we often fail to pay attention to what our anthem actually says, to its expression of doubt, anxiety, danger, and the difficulty of envisioning a new republic. And what of the three verses we don’t sing? Explore the context and meaning of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to understand how it illuminates Enlightenment thought and America’s early struggle to define itself as a nation.


Literature / History / Literary Criticism / American History / Patriotism / Nationalism /