Exercise: in groups
History, Tradition, and identity
• How identity is being shaped and reshaped
• 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. For example, dances. This is how a lot of people think of
• Natural objective—exsits as an aspect of that culture.
• Dichotomy: “Modern” vs “Traditional”— the past and the present.
Edward Shils on Tradition (2) scientific definition
• 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 its
core. For example, like an avocado. There is the core the hard stuff and the
mushy stuff around.
Constructivist (anthropological) approach (3) –same elements, different meanings
• Traditions are reconstructions
• Meaningful to daily life—meanings are reshaped. Like the best man at a wedding
in the past had a different meaning as it has.
• Symbolic models of the past—this thing was important to people in the past, and
it still is. There’s nothing natural in these traditions, they are always being
reinterpreted. • Traditions are inventions
Perspectives on tradition
• First type: naturalist, commonsensical, essentialist (Shils position)
• Second type: Constructivist—meanings change over time
• “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 tie, become generally recognized as authentic” (Cohen 1988, 379)
• Similar “invention” of tradition and heritage
Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia) – use as example for essay
• Commercial on Tom hanks on colonial Williamsburg
• American justice, perseverance, and the idea of America itself.
Colonial Williamsburg—Why does history change?
• “New facts are found”—more facts about the past and putting them together like
science. History changes as we acquire more facts about the past
• History as the steady discovery and organization of facts – • Mimetic realism (imitate the real) –imitate what the past was like
• “Re-create a facsimile of the past and bring it to life” –it is becoming more and
• “History depends on your viewpoint” –what we feel is important from the past. For
ex. do we keep the material things of the wealthy? This is like a selection
process. Like for ex. what should go into museums?
• History as a story with a moral or meaning that is created for it
• Social history perspective
• Facts/traditions placed within a conceptual framework
History changes –Four periods at Williamsburg
1. “Colonial Revival” (1930’s) – the emphasis was on the buildings and style of the
beauty of it. People were coming there to appreciate it aesthetically.
2. “Patriotic” (1950s) – the bloody war has just ended. Williamsburg becomes a
symbol of American v