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Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture Paperback – February 2, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0679741770 ISBN-10: 0679741771 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679741771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679741770
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.1 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kammen's massive study makes an important contribution to our understanding of how Americans define themselves and the parameters of freedom. Illustrations.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Within the last ten years, many American historians have discovered the importance of collective "memory" in shaping their nation. In some respects following the lead of influential historians from other nations, they now try to understand the forces that shaped the ways in which Americans remember and use their past and what significant events altered their consciousness of history. Long before recent scholars began decrying the dominance of obscure monographs and calling for greater convergence of ideas in historical studies, Kammen had demonstrated that synthesis could be accomplished without sacrificing richness of detail and divergent interpretations. Moreover, he showed that historians could communicate with one another and a wider audience at the same time. This book, part of Kammen's multivolume rethinking of American history, presents his view of the growing dependence on and debate over collective memory as a historical force during four periods since 1870. With great skill he distinguishes the ways Americans adapted their views of the past to fit the needs of their present circumstances. He weaves a command of formal cultural history with a thorough understanding of popular culture into an astonishingly wonderful book that enlightens not only the history of the past century and a quarter but also the present.
- Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
Ranges from John Adams to Ronald Reagan, from the origins of Independence Day to the Vietnam memorial,from the Daughters of the American Revolution to NAACP.
This book was so easy to read b/c it was written by a Pulitzer-Prize winning professional who KNOWS how to engage the reader.
It's in chronological order so you can choose the time periods at your discretion to read about.
This is a thoroughly comprehensive book, which is almost an Encyclopedia Americana, only in highly interesting narrative form. After reading this book, I felt that I truly understood the nature of the American life and it's main historical figures as human beings.
Only complaint was that all the photos were b&w, and there weren't enough.
NYT Book Review said: "Brilliant, idiosyncratic, presented with superlative style laced with refreshing wit."
TIME said: "Fascinating...a subtlle and teeming narrative."
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on April 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Michael Kammen questions this possibility and suggests that all meaning about the past is suffused with concerns for the present and shaped by the memory of significance. No area of historical study in the last twenty years has been more important than the nature of memory. The analysis of how stories about the past become a master narrative, and what lessons those teach to those interested in the subject has been a growing area of concern in American history. This book helps to pull those ideas together into a coherent discussion.

At a fundamental level Kammen's subject is the memory of memory, and his entrée point is the cultural institutions that commemorate the past. He asserts that his goal is to discover how "the United States became a land of the past, a culture with a discernable memory (or with a configuration of recognized pasts)" (p. 7). Kammen ranges broadly across the American landscape in time and space, focusing attention on museums, historic sites, patriotic groups, antiquarian groups, and other self-styled keepers of the nation's identity. His discussion of Colonial Williamsburg, as well as other depictions of the past, is an especially interesting aspect of the "Mystic Chords of Memory."

Divided chronologically into four main parts; throughout he offers a level of detail that sometimes strangles his central thesis. That thesis might best be characterized by a concern for "the public's willingness to accept mythical history that is patently unreal." He seeks "genuine remembrance" and laments that "not enough people pay attention to scholarly history" (respectively pp. 129, 137, and 38). Perhaps it is just as well that his thesis is submerged since it has the ring of academic whining.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Thomas D. Mackie on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very important work to understand how Americans developed their heros and create national myths. It was suggested by my doctoral advisor as valuable for my research into public history. Kammen explores how select groups and people in American History gain a public reputation and are used to define what it means to be an American. I found this work most helpful in placing Lincoln's rise to fame in the context of other memorial issues around the country.
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