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The Invention of Tradition (Canto)

4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521437738
ISBN-10: 0521437733
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Editorial Reviews


'The most stimulating history book which has come my way this year ...'. History Today

Book Description

Many of the traditions thought of as very ancient in their origins were not in fact sanctioned by usage over the centuries, but invented relatively recently. This book addresses the complex interaction of past and present in a fascinating study of the development of symbolic ritualism.

Product Details

  • Series: Canto
  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 31, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521437733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521437738
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The basic thesis of all essays in "The Invention of Tradition" is that many of the mass, public traditions in various societies of the world (from Scottish kilts to the very concept of tribes in Africa) are well-crafted ("invented") constructs of the 18th/19th centuries, and are not as ancient or immemorial as they are generally believed to be. Parenthetically, the very expression "invention of tradition" is somewhat redundant, since all traditions, as products of human behavior and human imagination rather than the result of natural forces, are invented in one way or another. All of the essays in the book show how this is so, providing an excellent analysis of the origins of these traditions. As such they are very valuable contributions to contemporary social/political history. However, although the tone of the book is that such "invented traditions" were frequently almost imposed and/or used as instruments of political manipulation, it can't be denied that they also very often gave expression to very real feelings - as editor Hobsbawm concedes in his concluding essay. Thus, rather than demonstrating some sort of arbitrary "invention" and manipulation, Prys Morgan's chapter on the Welsh also shows how previous traditions in Wales were revived, reformulated and continuously adapted from the late seventeenth century on to meet various political, social and cultural challenges, thus making the process of invention seem quite "natural." On the other hand, Terence Ranger's essay on Africa is almost disturbing in that it seems to imply that almost every aspect of African politics and society today were bequethed by the continent's former European colonial masters.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The principle argumentative thread running through each of this book's essays is that the traditions Europeans hold dear about their respective cultures date back merely to the turn of the 20th century. Far from legendarily old, things like Scottish tartans and the English monarchical love of pomp and circumstance date back only to the Victorian era. More to the point, many traditions aren't even native to the land which celebrates them. Tartans, the book concludes, are actually northern English ideas, and the "British" love of pageantry comes more from India than from anything deeply rooted in the gardens of the House of Windsor.
But so what? What is the importance of discovering the "truth" of a legend? Does it make us less reverential of it? Judging by the continued popularity of Santa Claus, no. Traditions, after all, aren't really about truth. Many traditions are simply lies that have been repeated enough that they become ennobled. The point isn't that they were once lies. The point is the journey they have made from lie to legend.
That is what is so intriguing about this book. True, there are other, more political subtexts in these essays-some of the authors clearly don't LIKE that the lies have become cultural "truth"-but all of the essays tell of the trek each of these myths made. Far from the "inconsequence" that another reviewer has mentioned, these essays deepen our understanding of cherished myths and even make them more endearing.
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Format: Paperback
The Invention of Tradition is a collection of essays. The majority of the essays in the volume focus on the creation of mythical pasts to fill a space in the social fabric opened by changes in power relationships. Prys Morgan captures the essence of these creations, in his chapter on the hunt for a Welsh past, when he notes that Welsh scholars and patriots, in their efforts to preserve things Welsh in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, "rediscovered the past, historical, linguistic and literary traditions, and where those traditions were inadequate ... created a past which had never existed." (p. 44)

The question, of course, is inadequate for what? And the answer is that Welsh culture proved inadequate to stave off English encroachment and so traditions that privileged Welsh culture, and at the same time allowed it to be consumed by the English, were invented. The Welsh gave themselves a grandiose past based on association with the Celtic race. Similarly the Welsh language was discovered to be the tongue of the ancient Gauls and Britans. The Druids were studied and emulated one result of which was the (re) introduction of cremation. Another result, not mentioned by Morgan, was the creation of societies with grand names such as the Ancient Order of Druids and Oddfellows, that were tied to London through their involvement in the insurance business. The London connection was all important. The first Welsh societies were established in London, the Ancient Britons in 1715 and the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion in 1751. These societies propagated a view of the Welsh as the primary people of Britain.
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Hugh Trevor-Roper's contribution to this book is priceless. In his chapter "Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland", he details for the reader where the supposedly "ancient" costume of Scotland came from. The kilt was invented by an English Quaker about 1726 to allow his Highland workmen to more easily move while smelting the iron ore he was extracting. The kilt was thus an expression of the Industrial Revolution rather than an ancient freedom of the heather.
The "setts" of tartans purporting to show a particular pattern of plaid belonging to a particular Highland clan is an even more recent invention. The concept of a unified group wearing the same tartan began with the English formation of the Highland regiments in the 1740s and later. The Scottish cloth industry recognized a good thing when they saw it and with the help of the Scottish Romantic movement and with promotion by Sir Walter Scott, by the 1820s, Clan/tartan pattern books (which often disagreed with one another) were happily catering to this invented tradition.
Invented by mis-guided or plainly fraudulent "antiquarians", the concept of particular tartan patterns being associated with a specific Clan is one of the long-running jokes played by the Scots on the rest of the world. Rather like the game of golf.
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