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Inventing American Tradition: From the Mayflower to Cinco de Mayo
by Jack David Eller
Reaktion Books, 2018
Cloth: 978-1-78023-986-6 | eISBN: 978-1-78914-035-4

What really happened on the first Thanksgiving? How did a British drinking song become the US national anthem? And what makes Superman so darned American? Every tradition, even the noblest and most cherished, has a history, none more so than in the United States—a nation born with 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 such divisive forces as the trauma of the Civil War or fears for American identity stemming from immigration and socialism.

In pithy, entertaining chapters, Inventing American Tradition explores a set of beloved traditions spanning political symbols, holidays, lifestyles, and fictional characters—everything from the anthem to the American flag, blue jeans, and Mickey Mouse. Shedding light on the individuals who created these traditions and their motivations for promoting them, Jack David Eller reveals the murky, conflicted, confused, and contradictory history of emblems and institutions we very often take to be the bedrock of America. What emerges from this sideways take on our most celebrated Americanisms 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—especially in the land of the free.

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