Unique Opportunities: forging unity and national identity through anniversary commemorations in post-war America

Galina Myers (2012). Unique Opportunities: forging unity and national identity through anniversary commemorations in post-war America PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Galina Myers
Thesis Title Unique Opportunities: forging unity and national identity through anniversary commemorations in post-war America
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012-04
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Associate Professor Chris Dixon
Associate Professor Martin Crotty
Total pages 255
Total colour pages 2
Total black and white pages 253
Language eng
Subjects 210312 North American History
Abstract/Summary National commemorative events bring to the forefront of public discourse issues of identity and meaning which normally function without overt debate or discussion. In so doing, they represent forums through which understandings of these issues can be reinforced, shifted or directly challenged. This study explores how successive alliances within American society perceived, and sought to exploit, three milestone anniversaries of crucial events in their national history. Through particular interpretations of national identity, and by the espousal of unity, these commemorations had the potential - if properly utilised - to promote national stability. After explaining the parameters and goals of the study in the Introduction, Chapter 1 (“Opportunity and Challenge: Anniversary Commemorations and National Identity”) explores the broader context of the relationship between such observances and national identity. The chapter surveys the particular role in American national identity and unity of the three historical events commemorated in the anniversaries and considers the ways in which they had been previously remembered and represented in the public domain. The three observances are then considered chronologically. The second chapter - “The Civil War Centennial: Lessons in Americanism” - and Chapter 3 - “The Civil War Centennial: Balancing the Civil War’s Legacy” - examine the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War celebrated between 1961 and 1965. Chapter 4 (“The American Revolution Bicentennial: Feeling Good About America Again”) considers the observance of anniversary of the nation’s founding in the following decade, while Chapter 5 – “The Bicentennial of the United States Constitution: The ‘Cerebration’ of a Living Document” - moves to the 1987 fete celebrating the creation of the Constitution. As well as detailing the major elements of such commemorations and their relationship to national identity and unity as evidenced by the three anniversaries, the Conclusion examines the evolution of the perception and management of national anniversary commemorations as seen through the three case studies. The comparative aspect of this study, and the chronological analysis, enables an understanding of the ways in which the alliances seeking to utilise the observances to formulate national identity and inculcate unity for specific times developed, and as they learned from their predecessors. As the nation confronted new challenges in the post-war period, those guiding and supporting the observances sought to mitigate the potential challenges and obstacles to their conception, interpretation and representation of the American past. But in so doing, their ability to convincingly construct the national identity and unity they so prized was compromised. Increasingly, although they continued to believe in the potential of commemorative anniversaries of historic events to provide a forum to encourage national identity and unity, the alliance using these events to promote such goals recognised the challenges arising from the diversity of American society to their successful achievement. Accordingly, in order to avoid the complete negation of such observances as a force of stability, they settled for the expression of only a diffuse message about national identity and unity. This thesis thus asks fundamental questions about the construction of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ in a society that had long prized diversity, but in which tolerance was increasingly tested.
Keyword United States
commemoration
anniversaries
national identity
unity
centennial
bicentennial
Civil war
Revolution
constitution
Additional Notes 78, 173

 
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Created: Tue, 22 May 2012, 10:04:05 EST by Galina Myers on behalf of Library - Information Access Service