Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving History: From the Vaults

Nothing new this year.

For that matter, I suppose, I never have anything truly new to say about Thanksgiving: just my occasional musings based on old histories or new coverage in the media.

But that's the point, I suppose: Thanksgiving is the quintessential and universal American holiday. To be sure, July 4th is the official national holiday, but although it is far older, its rituals and practices are more variable: we celebrate in our mulitfarious ways, from barbecues to nothing in particular. By contrast, "The Thanksgiving dinner" (whatever its varied constituents) is the national norm and in that sense unique as a means of celebration transcending cultures, ethnicities, and faiths (taking into account of course, some modern resistance to the traditional political-historical narrative: 1, 2 ).

Because I've already posted a good many times on this favorite American holiday, I thought I would content myself with offering an overview of those earlier posts rather than introducing a new theme this year.

In addition, I'll upload the collected images to the tumblr for better viewing. [Update: okay, didn't happen. That's life, too.]

Amuse yourselves as best you can. Wishing all a pleasant holiday feast and extended weekend.

• 2008 The Inevitable Thanksgiving Piece : focusing on food and fable as well as historiography: how the holiday came to assume its familiar form. Among my minor favorites are the mystery of the cranberry (pregnant insects?! wtf?) and Pilgrim drinking habits (a shot and a brew).

• 2009 Thanksgiving Day (Thanksgiving Again): brief piece with focus on historiography--contrasting historical approaches of the focus on material culture and the larger narrative (including the long-term consequences), exemplified by James and Patricia Deetz on the one hand and Nathaniel Philbrick, on the other (with links to a variety of topics, from the date of the holiday to presidential turkey pardons and the relation between poultry and dinosaurs).

• 2010 (a) The Annual Thanksgiving History Buffet: a smorgasbord of topics, starting with foodways (eels and sweet potato) and moving on to the conservative canards about Pilgrims, socialism, and capitalism.

• 2010 (b) Thanksgiving Miscellany: e.g. never rocked to the Turkey Gobbler's Ball? Here's your chance.

• 2010 (c) (I must have been on a roll that year): 13 December 1621: The "Fortune" Sails from Plymouth to England (and why the Pilgrims were neither "socialists" nor "capitalists")

Conservatives in recent years have for some reason decided to make much of a supposed contrast between the early failures of the Pilgrims under what is termed a "socialist" arrangement vs. their great successes once they abandoned this Obama-avant-la-lettre policy and threw themselves into the sluttish welcoming arms of free-market capitalism.

This is not my field, but one doesn't need to be a specialist--only to understand historical perspective and use of evidence--in order to see that this is bunk. As any historian worth his or her salt (a valuable commodity in Colonial days) can tell you, the whole notion of a struggle between "socialism" and "capitalism" in seventeenth-century America is unhistorical nonsense. And what is more, the Pilgrims and their descendants--before and after the supposed great transformation--intruded in the lives of citizens in a way that would be anathema to modern socialists and libertarians alike. Myth busted. QED.

• 2012 From the Vaults: Thanksgiving Retrospective (socialists, eels, eating pregnant insects, a shot and a brew, more): a less (an abbreviated version of what you have here).


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