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Dimensions:
234 × 156 mm
344 pages
Format:
Hardback
ISBN:
9781780239866
Illustrations:
48 illustrations
Published:
13 Aug 2018

Inventing American Tradition From the Mayflower to Cinco de Mayo Jack David Eller

What really happened on the first Thanksgiving? How did a British drinking song become the national anthem of the United States? And what makes Superman so darned American? Every tradition, even the noblest and most cherished, has a history, nowhere more so than in the usa, which was born with a relative indifference, if not hostility, to the past. Most Americans would be surprised to learn just how recent – and controversial – the origins of their traditions are, as well as how those origins are often related to the trauma of the Civil War and to fears for American identity stemming from immigration and socialism.

Inventing American Tradition explores a wide range of beloved traditions, including political symbols, holidays, lifestyles and fictional characters, and looks at the people who conceived of and adapted them into the forms familiar to Americans – and the innumerable people around the world influenced by American culture – today.

What emerges is the realization that all traditions are invented by particular people at particular times for particular reasons, and that the process of ‘traditioning’ is forever ongoing.

EXTRACT: to read an extract from the book please click here.

‘In his highly entertaining Inventing American Tradition, the anthropologist Jack David Eller illuminates with gentle wit and scepticism the many myths, legends and traditions that have grown up in the United States . . . Reading about American traditions while witnessing the contortions of the Trump presidency lends peculiar poignancy to this book . . . What makes Eller’s book so timely is captured in his observation that “tradition is and always has been more about the present and the future than the past”’ – Literary Review

‘The concept of traditions being invented seems counterintuitive, writes Eller, but since the United States has no ancient past and was “self-consciously created,” what we now consider uniquely American traditions had to be constructed or cobbled together from a variety of sources . . . The stories behind these traditions help provide texture to the fabric of everyday American life . . . With such wide-ranging subjects, Inventing American Tradition should appeal to those interested in dipping into a digestible history of Americana.’ – Booklist

‘This is a wonderful book because it is not only about America, but also about ourselves: we all love Superman, swig Coke and say “OK.” Many traditions have become successful exports and have conquered the planet. (Though some remain stubbornly domestic.) The triumph of American culture, though lamented by some, is an indication that these traditions must have got something right. It is not simply that we all love traditions, and that human beings are traditional creatures – the whole world is, to some extent, American now. This delightful and thoughtful book convinces the reader that this is not altogether a bad thing.’ – Catholic Herald

‘Just be warned: If, at Thanksgiving dinner, Uncle Leo shouts facts about the origin of the humble hamburger or Pledge of Allegiance, you’ll know he got to the book first.’ – Washington Independent Review of Books

‘investigates the often-surprising origins of American political symbols (the national anthem), iconic clothing (blue jeans), and holiday celebrations (Thanksgiving), with an eye to those who created them and their reasons for doing so.’ – Publishers Weekly

‘Although Eller’s book focuses on American traditions like the origins of the national anthem, the eponymous hamburger and Micky Mouse it will make you consider how our own traditions have evolved.’ – Comfortably Hungry blog

‘Jack David Eller’s lively and engaging Inventing American Tradition recognizes that every nation develops invented traditions that bind its citizens. Creatively combining history, literature, and folklore, Eller demonstrates that this is gloriously true in the American republic. From our National Anthem to Mickey Mouse to Coca-Cola to Thanksgiving, we could not consider ourselves a nation without sharing these traditions. This fascinating volume explains how each of these symbols shapes what it means to be a patriotic American.’ – Gary Alan Fine, co-author of Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America

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Jack David Eller is a former Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Community College of Denver. He is the author of numerous books, including Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives (2016), Culture and Diversity in the United States (2015) and Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History (2010).