Friday, November 26, 2004

Contested authenticates

Thanksgiving, for Americans, starts a long season of hyperactivity consumerism that has become the hallmark of year-end behavior. There is no denying that a ritual of shopping has emerged, and that few (even the atheists) can offer any meaningful resistance to the "holiday season."

Sharon has already received some guff for saying that Thanksgiving is "... a classic Invented Tradition ... ." (Hopefully, she won't mind a little more.)

There are few cultural practices that originate before 1800 or whose meaning has not been radically altered since. Carnival, for instance, is by no means a modern invention, but the festivities have been better defined over the modern period than any longer duration. The evolution of Carnival (into its currently codified form) was a reaction to the process of modernization (nationalism, secularization, tourism, consumerism, etc.) as they were experienced in different contexts. In other cases, practices transcended their temporal and spatial bounds in order to achieve broader, more often national, importance.

Why should we care whether or not a tradition has been invented? Should historians judge the authenticity of culture, looking to locate the roots of practices in antiquity or folklore? Given that most of the nations of the world are young (less than two hundred years), their national festivals could be nothing other than recent constructions, nationalizations of local cultures, or secularizations of religion.


At 5:20 AM, Blogger Sharon said...

Ha! I think I deserved no less for being a) intellectually lazy and b) teasing people about such a revered symbol. (But it is hard for Brits to 'get' it.) But at least it's provoked some interesting discussions (over at Cliopatria too). So I don't mind. Perhaps I could pretend that was my intention all along...

At 12:29 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

It's not your fault. Historians need to discuss what they are going to do with all the culture that they are uncovering.


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