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In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes
The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820
Paper: 978-0-8078-4691-9 ($28.95)
University of North Carolina Press
A Prize-Winning Book
- Jamestown Prize (1995)
In this innovative study, David Waldstreicher investigates the importance of political festivals in the early American republic. Drawing on newspapers, broadsides, diaries, and letters, he shows how patriotic celebrations and their reproduction in a rapidly expanding print culture helped connect local politics to national identity. Waldstreicher reveals how Americans worked out their political differences in creating a festive calendar. Using the Fourth of July as a model, members of different political parties and social movements invented new holidays celebrating such events as the ratification of the Constitution, Washington's birthday, Jefferson's inauguration, and the end of the slave trade. They used these politicized rituals, he argues, to build constituencies and to make political arguments on a national scale. While these celebrations enabled nonvoters to participate intimately in the political process and helped dissenters forge effective means of protest, they had their limits as vehicles of democratization or modes of citizenship, Waldstreicher says. Exploring the interplay of region, race, class, and gender in the development of a national identity, he demonstrates that an acknowledgment of the diversity and conflict inherent in the process is crucial to any understanding of American politics and culture.
About the Author
David Waldstreicher is professor of history at Temple University.
Waldstreicher’s brilliant study brings ideological abstractions down to the streets; it links political mobilization to the emergence of collective identities in the early republic. Perpetual Fetes will transform the way we think about the origins and development of American political culture. . . . An exciting contribution to the new literature on the social construction of national identities. A major achievement.
--Peter S. Onuf
Cultural history at its best, Perpetual Fetes examines the complex interplay between the new bourgeois press, elite fetes, popular festivals, and street theater. Carefully, creatively, it traces the ways warring groups of ‘Founding Fathers’ deployed the press and festivals, singly and collectively, to constitute a new nation and a new American ‘people,’ battling all the time over whose bodies were legitimate members of the American body politic.
America’s numerous celebrations, pageants, and parades may seem to be little more than patriotic rituals of assent. David Waldstreicher knows better. He shows how the early republic’s festivals actually helped create American nationalism, not out of bland consensus but out of intense conflict over America’s destiny. An excellent and important work.
David Waldstreicher's In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes is enormously ambitious in its attempt to explain the origins of American nationalism, not as ideology simply and abstractly, but as popular political practice. Its complex arguments, deep research, and brilliant analysis . . . should transform the way we think about nationalism and national identity. . . . A major achievement . . . it sets the agenda and the standard for future work on American nationalism and political culture.
--Journal of American History
Standard reading just three years after publication . . . [this book] is on its way to becoming a pivotal work in early American history. . . . A highly original work of political history.
--William and Mary Quarterly
A book that demands the attention of specialists in the early American republic, and of social and cultural historians more generally. . . . Graduate students and serious scholars of the early republic will find much of value here.
--Journal of Social History
Anyone interested in the early history of the United States, the history of American journalism, or the development of American nationalism, will benefit from reading this book.
--Georgia Historical Quarterly
A remarkable explication of the development of the political culture of the new American nation.
Waldstreicher combines cultural theory with fresh research, graceful writing, and a defined subject matter. It is the last three that separate him from others in the field.
A very readable, extremely competent, thought provoking book, which should be read by all who have an interest in the development of American nationalism.