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February 10: History, Tradition, and Society

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York University
ANTH 3120
Karl Schmid

HISTORY, TRADITION, AND IDENTITY Tradition • Commonsensical notion: A tradition is a ritual, belief, or object passed down within a society, unchanged and still maintained in the present, with origins in the past; a custom or habit • Natural object ◦ Edward Shils on tradition ◦ Traditions do change, however ◦ at the core of a tradition is a “bundle” of cultural traits that persists unchanged through time, while the tradition itself changes as new elements adhere to this core • Dichotomy: ‘modern’ versus ‘traditional’ Constructivist (anthropological approach) • Traditions are reconstructions • habitual • meaningful to daily life • what people come up with, not a natural object • Symbolic models of the past • Traditions are inventions • the reasons why they exist and why they continue change regularly • they are always being reinterpreted Perspectives on tradition • First type: naturalist, commonsensical, essentialist • Second type: constructivist ◦ Black Creek Pioneer Village; attaching new meanings, arranging things according to what we view as valuable Emergent Authenticity • “Since authenticity is not a primitive given, but negotiable, one has to allow for the possibility of its gradual emergence…[a cultural form]… may, in the course of time, become generally recognized as authentic” • Similar ‘invention’ of tradition and heritage Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia) • American sites, founding of America, tourist site • Naturalist/Essentialist perspectives: ◦ “New facts are found” ◦ History as the steady discovery and organization of facts ◦ Mimetic realism (imitate the real) ▪ accumulation of an accurate representation of the past ◦ “re-create a facsimile of the past and bring it to life” ◦ opportunity as facts accumulate to make Williamsburg more and more accurate • Constructivist Perspective: ◦ “history depends on your viewpoint” ▪ what is meaningful? what do you choose to include, what do you choose to leave out ◦ history as a story with a moral or meaning that is created for it ▪ who is it created for? ◦ social history perspective ◦ facts/traditions placed within a conceptual framework ▪ facts change • Can study the history of history • History changes • Four periods at Williamsburg 1. “Colonial Revival” (1930s) ▪ emphasis on the buildings and objects ▪ style and beauty ▪ people were coming there to appreciate it aesthetically ▪ appreciation for craft-making ▪ see in America a lot of industrial production, things are made in factories; there’s a nostalgia for the past where things were made by hand 2. “Patriotic” (1950s) ▪ after WWII, Americans have been drafted and contributed to the war effort ▪ new emphasis ▪ symbol of America values, where American values were born, that’s why we fought in the war because we have these values ▪ what America stands for in the world ▪ they revive the military traditions 3. “Six Appeals” (1960s) ▪ maturation of colonial Williamsburg, appreciated by tourists for a variety of different reasons ▪
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