Inventing American Tradition

From the Mayflower to Cinco de Mayo

Jack David Eller

Inventing American Tradition

Jack David Eller

Distributed for Reaktion Books

352 pages | 48 halftones | 6 x 9
Cloth $30.00 ISBN: 9781780239866 Published November 2018 For sale in North and South America only

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.

Review Quotes
Booklist
“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.”
Gavin Esler | Literary Review
“Highly entertaining. . . . Eller illuminates with gentle wit and skepticism 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.’”
Gary Alan Fine, author of "Talking Art: The Culture of Practice and the Practice of Culture in MFA Education"
"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."
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
Google preview here

Chicago Manual of Style

RSS Feed

RSS feed of the latest books from Reaktion Books. RSS Feed