Holidays and National Identity. How Independence Day fosters American Identity

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

50 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Conceptualizing and Theoretical Framework: National Identity
2.1. Conceptualizing: Imagined Communities and Invented Traditions
2.2. Theoretical Framework: Parameters promoting National Identity
2.2.1. Salience
2.2.2. Opposability
2.2.3. Durability
2.2.4. Affectivity

3. How Independence Day fosters American Identity
3.1. The Fourth of July as a Promoter of Unity and National Identity
3.2. Hypocritical Fourth of Julys - Liberty of All?
3.2.1. Anti-Slavery Movement
3.2.2. Suffragette Movement
3.3. Fourth of July under the Banner of Americanization
3.4. The Fourth of July and the Outpour of Patriotism

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Independence Day is America's most important national holiday since it commemorates the birth of the United States of America. Only recently, Americans celebrated their 239th birthday and commemorated the day with traditional firework displays, picnics, parades, and festivals. The holiday solemnizesthe ratification of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of the United States of America. But the Fourth of July encompasses more meanings than commonly assumed. Since its emergence, Independence Day has been instrumentalized for generating national identity and articulating social and ethnic issues. Down to the present day, the Fourth of July has accomplished important functions that established, defined, and shaped American identity. The aim of this paper is to analyze the meanings and functions of Independence Day which shape American identity. For an integral analysis two important aspects have to be considered: sociopolitical circumstances and the techniques used for generating national identity.

Since national identity is the crucial theme in this paper, it is a prerequisite to gain an understanding of this concept, which will be provided in chapter 2. In orderto grasp the notion of national identity, the terms nation and identity have to be defined. Defining these two terms is important because the meaning or the content of what national identity expresses depends on how nation is understood. Therefore, the paper draws on Benedict Anderson's theory of imagined communities (1991) in order to establish a general understanding of nations. In addition to that and for a complete understanding of the term, Ernest Renan's modern definition of nations will be approached. Furthermore, Eric Hobsbawm's and Terence Ranger's invented traditions (2001) is addressed providing a deeper understanding about how holidays can contribute to a sense of unity and hence identity.

Subchapter 2.2. deals with Patrick Colm Hogan's techniques of nationalization providing the basis for the final analysis in chapter 3. Hogan defines certain parameters that serve as triggers for establishing national identity. Hogan's reflections provide a comprehensive basis for analyzing Independence Day festivities since he does not only approach obvious national elements such as flags or monuments but also considers abstract identity triggering units like emotional attachment, durability, and opposability.

After conceptualizing the major elements for the analysis, chapter 3 analyzes Americas oldest holiday - Independence Day. In the course of the analysis, both sociopolitical developments and Hogan's techniques of nationalization will be identified in order to show how Independence Day celebrations generate and shape American identity. Chronologically, significant developments that changed the meaning of Independence Day are approached alternating between sociopolitical issues and techniques of nationalization. Object of investigation reflecting these developments and techniques are Fourth of July orations and parades. Finally, in the conclusion, the major findings and results will be summarized and an outlook will be given.

2. Conceptualizing and Theoretical Framework: National Identity

In order to understand the identity-establishing factors of holidays, it is crucial to understand the concept of national identity and its promoting parameters. The first subchapter provides a theoretical basis dealing with Benedict Anderson's imagined communities (1991) and Eric Hobsbawm's and Terence Ranger's much quoted invented traditions (2001). Additionally, a short section of this chapter is devoted to Ernest Renan's idea of a nation. Finally, in the second subchapter, Patrick Colm Hogan's techniques of nationalization (2009) are approached providing the overall conceptual framework for the subsequent analysis.

The concept of national identity is neither simple nor definite, but rather complex and flexible. This is reflected in the vast range of approaches and theories that exist in context of national identity and nationalism. The most important and influential researchers of national identity and nationalism constitute Ernest Gellner (1983), Anthony Smith (1998), Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (2001), Ernest Renan (1882), and Benedict Anderson (1991). Their approaches range from perceptions which consider nations as modern phenomena, as for example, Anderson's imagined communities or Hobsbawm's invented traditions to Smith who favors the idea that nations rather "emerge out of, pre-existing 'ethnies'" (Edensor 8). For the purpose of analyzing the meanings of Independence Day and its identity-establishing factors, this paper draws on Benedict Anderson's concept of imagined communities, as well as Eric Hobsbawm's idea of invented traditions and Patrick Colm Hogan's techniques of nationalization constitute suitable approaches, as will be proved in the following chapters. In which ways these approaches help investigating the question of how Independence Day contributes to American identity, will be elaborated in the following chapters.

2.1. Conceptualizing: Imagined Communities and Invented Traditions

Generally speaking, national identity refers to individuals or groups who share a set of mutual beliefs, behaviors, and emotional relations. These commonalities lead to the notion of belonging to a nation and create a feeling of nationhood i.e. national identity. According to Anderson (1991), nations consist of so-called imagined communities. They are "imagined" because, due to geographical distances, it is impossible for people of one nation to know every single fellow-countryman personally. Hence, people of one nation mentally create an imagined community, which is expressed through mutual beliefs (Anderson 6). Imaginations of a nation serve as conjunctive elements within a community and provide a reference to collective identification. In this respect, national identity describes a consciousness or feeling of belonging to a community which is perceived as a nation (Anderson 6).

But what is a noi/on?The definition of the term nation is essential in orderto understand what national identity implies. One of the most influential and eminent writers concerning national identity and nationalism represents Ernest Renan. In his well-known speech Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? held at the University of Sorbonne in 1882, Renan introduces a modern definition of a nation. The author discards previously valid definitions, which consider race, language, denomination or territorial boundaries as sole elements defining a nation. Renan argues, that these principles do not apply for every nation (Renan 10). For him, a nation is nothing materialistic, it rather consists of collective memories and the compromise to live together in terms of a daily plebiscite (Renan 10). However, as a perquisite nations first have to create such collective memories. For nations with a long history the "warehouse" of collective memories is comprehensive but for young nations such as the United States, who only celebrates its 239th birthday this year, the "warehouse" of collective memories is rather small. Thus, nations with a relatively short history need to resort to invented traditions to fill this gap.

Eric Hobsbawm's and Terence Ranger's idea of invented traditions (2001) is an important approach in the context of national identity and identity-establishing factors of holidays.

Especially when analyzing the holidays ofthe United Stated, since these can be considered as such. Additionally, holidays and invented traditions, respectively, contribute to generating unity. Like Anderson's and Renan's approaches, Hobsbawm's and Ranger's concept of invented traditions ranks among the idea that nations are a modern phenomenon. According to the authors, many traditions which seem to have a long history, actually do not. But traditions are often rather of recent origin and constructed artificially (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1). Hobsbawm and Ranger point out that invented traditions do not only comprise those traditions "actually invented, constructed and formally instituted", but also those which emerge "in a less easily traceable manner within a brief and dateable period . . . and establishing themselves with great rapidity." (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1). Both definitions describe a set of cultural practices and seek to convey certain values and beliefs (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1). In order to gain credence and acceptance the perception of continuity with the past is crucial because traditions always relate to a "suitable historic past" (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1). Hobsbawm's and Ranger's concept creates this perception and consciously establishes an artificial historic past (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1).

Hobsbawm and Ranger also point out that it is crucial to demarcate invented traditions from the terms custom and convention or routine. In contrast to invented traditions, which have a static character, as for example seen in their repetitive structure, customs are more flexible and situational. Customs depict an opportunity of action which is justified by precedent situations (Hobsbawm & Ranger 2). The authors exemplify their statement by referring to judges as customs and to the "wig, robe and other formal paraphernalia and ritualized practices surrounding their substantial action", as invented traditions (Hobsbawm & Ranger 3). Furthermore, they differentiate the term routine or convention. In their view, routine differs from invented tradition by the fact that it has a functional necessity. Hence, once an action loses its function and is solely maintained for its ideological implications, a routine turns into an invented tradition (Hobsbawm & Ranger 3 - 5).

Additionally, Hobsbawm and Ranger determine that invented traditions may also constitute of old institutions which are adjusted to new circumstances and maintained in a different context (5). "Old institutions", with their "established functions, references to the past and ritual idioms and practices . . have to deal with changes (Hobsbawm & Ranger 5). Hence, old institutions adopt these changes by adjusting their set of original functions to new circumstances (Hobsbawm & Ranger 5). Although this process entails the adjustment of their original functions, old institutions are maintained (Hobsbawm & Ranger 5). Furthermore, the main characteristics of a tradition is to appear authentic and old (Hobsbawm & Ranger 6). Thus, old material is applied in order to construct new traditions, for example, old cultural practices institutionalized and applied for establishing national identity (Hobsbawm & Ranger 6). Hobsbawm and Ranger speak of a "well-supplied warehouse of official ritual, symbolism and moral exhortation", encompassing religion and princely pomp, folklore and freemasonry . . (6). These cultural practices are adjusted and placed into a new context, forming new traditions that led to the emergence of "festival pavilions, structures for the display of flags, temples of offerings, processions, bell-ringing, tableaux, gun-salutes, government delegations in honor of the festival, dinners, toasts and oratory." (Hobsbawm & Ranger 6). All these elements originate from the ancient baroque period where festivities, pageantry and performances were common (Hobsbawm & Ranger 6). However, it is not always possible to avail oneself on the "well-supplied warehouse" of rituals, since some developments are so novel to the society so that the entire historic continuity and symbols have to be established (Hobsbawm & Ranger 7). In the context of the United States, this circumstance is applicable for the emergence of nationalism and the advent of national anthems, national flags or the embodiment of the nation, such as the famous Athena, Britannia, John Bull, Uncle Sam, Columbia and many more (Hobsbawm & Ranger 7).

In contrast to old traditions, which Hobsbawm & Ranger define as "specific and strongly binding social practices", invented traditions comprise elements that are more trivial and vague, encompassing "patriotism, loyalty, duty, 'playing the game', [and] 'the school spirit'" (Hobsbawm & Ranger 10). Besides these elements that encompass conventions, such as "the flag ritual in American schools" or standing up while singing the national anthem, "the invention of emotionally and symbolically charged signs" is of great importance. Their "undefended universality" make them enormously powerful and serve as the most important tool for generating national identity (Hobsbawm & Ranger 11). Hobsbawm and Ranger note that members of a community are especially sensitized of their nationality when they are exposed to "semi-ritual practices" such as holidays and commemorations that employ invented symbols such as "flags, images, ceremonies and music." (13).

Finally, invented traditions serve three functions. First, they suggest social cohesion or group membership within a real or imagined community (Hobsbawm & Ranger 9). Second, they help to establish and legitimize institutions, status and power and thirdly, convey a set of values and beliefs or serve to impart certain behaviors (Hobsbawm & Ranger 9). Moreover, the first type is the prevailing function of invented traditions comprising the latter two. Invented traditions emerge out of the demand for allocating oneself to a community and establishing national identity by means of institutions that symbolize a nation (Hobsbawm & Ranger 9).

On the basis of the first subchapter, it can be concluded that Renan's reflections on memory and Anderson's concept of imagined communities constitute crucial components in understanding national identity. Furthermore, it can be stated that communities create intergenerational self-images and generate identity by forming a culture of memory. The key aspect here is that each community does this in very different ways. In addition to that, the concept of invented traditions serves as an instrument for creating such memories by imparting special values and beliefs, which contribute to fostering collective identity. Invented traditions establish a reference to the past, which is accomplished both consciously and artificially. One of the beneficial characteristics of invented traditions is the fact that they provide a stable and safe environment in times of "constant change and innovation" (Hobsbawm & Ranger 2). In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of national identity and its abstract concepts the following subchapter defines core elements that are essential for triggering feelings of a collective identity observed by Patrick Colm Hogan in his work Understanding Nationalism (2009).

2.2. Theoretical Framework: Parameters promoting National Identity

This chapter deals with core parameters that generate national identity described by Patrick Colm Hogan (2009) in his analysis of nationalism. Like Anderson and Hobsbawm and Ranger, Hogan champions the idea that nations are a modern phenomenon and highlights the importance of nationalism with reference to national identity. Hogan identifies four parameters which he refers to as techniques of nationalism: saliency, opposability, durability, and affectivity. According to the author, each parameter is instrumentalized for generating national identity (Hogan 65). However, before analyzing their application on Fourth of July festivities and their effect on American citizens, it is crucial to provide a theoretical framework first.

Hogan's techniques of nationalization can operate in two ways. On the one hand, they can be manipulated deliberately, for instance, by nationalists in order to trigger patriotic feelings towards a nation. On the other hand, they can emerge unconsciously and ad-hoc "through the interaction of individuals" (Hogan 66). According to Hogan, the action itself is incidental. What is of crucial importance here, is the reaction of the action (66). He states: "Whatever the motives might be, the establishment of a monument to a soldier in a national war serves as a technique of nationalization ..." (66-67). Furthermore, Hogan's techniques of nationalization cannot solely be treated as independent units. They must rather be considered as collaborative functions as they merge in various ways. In the next sections, the four techniques of nationalization are described in detail, also pointing out their interaction.

2.2.1. Salience

Saliency is the first technique introduced. Saliency aims to make the nation and national identity visible in obvious ways through the application of certain symbols and objects. Such symbols are national flags, monuments, national buildings, parks, roads, squares, and artifacts. By the mere exposure of such national symbols the nation becomes omnipresent (Hogan 68). However, national flags, monuments, and buildings do not only make the nation salient but they also convey certain ideas, values, and beliefs of the particular nation (Hogan 69). According to Hogan, "National public objects perform their salient-enhancing function most obviously for people living near them." (Hogan 70). This assertion clearly applies to the observance of national holidays since it is common for people to celebrate their holidays at places with historical relevance for the particular holiday. For example, on Memorial Day or Veterans Day people tend to gather at locations, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. Thus, the function of saliency comes into effect by celebrating and commemorating holidays at places of historical relevance. Besides the salient character of national public objects and symbols, they also carry a sense of durability of the nation (Hogan 70).

Tourism depicts a phenomenon that attributed salience to various national objects. National and international culture enthusiasts pilgrim to national or religious sights, expanding the set of salient objects and defining landscape as national land (Hogan 70 - 71). Hogan states that "a tour of the countryside can serve to make the national category more salient." (70 - 71). Furthermore, it nurtures emotions and attributes them to national territory, so that national identity is triggered (Hogan 70 - 71).

Besides national buildings, monuments and landscapes, there are other objects carrying salient functions. For example, national heirlooms such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or a president's letter (Hogan 71). Furthermore, roads or squares which bear names of important people or historical events of the nation, as for example, Abraham Lincoln Highway, that encourage saliency (Hogan 71). Similarly, particular flowers, trees or leaves also enhance this category. Some prominent examples are the maple leaf in Canada and the lotus flower that depicts a national symbol in India (71). Equally important is the reproduction of such symbols in the form of postcards, currency, films, or souvenirs (Hogan 71). All of these elements symbolically reflect the nation, its values and ideas. The symbolic power of these objects originates from the identification and emotions that people attach to them (Hogan 71 -72).

The media is another crucial tool that should not be underestimated with reference to saliency. Television and radio broadcasts contribute enormously to this technique since they frequently represent the national perspective. As for example in the U.S., during the celebration of national holidays or in the election weeks, where the media praises the country and its democracy (Hogan 72 - 73). Likewise sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, significantly contribute to promoting saliency since such occasions encompass various identity triggering rituals like singing the national anthem. In fact, collectively singing the national anthem creates a sense of unity and diverts from social differences (Hogan 75). Hogan also refers to recurring events and "common collective practices" which "serve as a sort of transition between the habitual and the truly extraordinary [serving] as moments of particular nationalist intensity." (Hogan 74). Such events are "highly routinized", contain "strong national feeling" and their "impact is more controlled" (Hogan 74). This assertion clearly applies to holidays where certain practices and rituals are accomplished in the same manner they were accomplished in previous years. Furthermore, they contain highly salient symbols and practices, as for example special food, parades or fireworks.

2.2.2. Opposability

Opposability constitutes the second technique of nationalization. In Hogan's opinion, opposability operates in two ways. The first way depicts polarization of an in- or out-group. The second involves identification of the in-group (Hogan 80). In orderto generate unity within a group one has to be conscious about other nationalities and to demarcate oneself from them by thinking of "us" and "them" (Hogan 81 - 82). Opposability, is concerned with distinctiveness between the own national category and other national categories, i.e. in-group versus out-groups (Hogan 81 - 82). According to Hogan:

An identity category will have the highest degree of opposability, and thus contributes most powerfully to the privileging of that category in identity hierarchies, in circumstances where it is contrasted directly . . . and where the attentional focus of those is in the out-group. (82)

Obvious examples that contribute to opposability are national food or certain garbs that are generic for a particular region, as for example, kilts in Scotland or leather pants in Bavaria. The reason why national food depicts a trigger for enhancing opposability demonstrates the fact that national cuisines involves a shared "taste and consumption within a nation" but also demarcates "differences of taste and consumption between nations" (Hogan 84). However, it must be pointed out that due to globalization current eating behavior has changed significantly. This is reflected in the vast amount of international food that is available in many countries (Hogan 84). Furthermore, opposability is enhanced by dress. On the one hand, dress operates on a regional level in form of garbs, as for example kilts that contribute to the identification as a Scotsman. On the other hand, dress operates on an international level, as for example the case with military uniforms. National dress encompasses many functions: demarcation, tradition, grace, and martial appeal (Hogan 87). Military uniforms are not only present in wars but are also frequently displayed during parades that take place during the celebration of national holidays.

2.2.3. Durability

Last but one technique depicts durability. The third technique heavily draws on Hobsbawm's and Ranger's theory of invented traditions since many nations do not have a longstanding history. Thus, they employ elements, such as monuments or holidays which express durability ofthe nation. According to Hogan, "this goes so far as to present the nation as having always existed, even if it has not always been recognized or allowed to exist in its proper form." (Hogan 89). Durability is very important for national identity because it testifies a nation's "enduring existence" and conveys a sense of security and power (Hogan 89). Only if a nation exists for many centuries, prevails over other nations, and celebrates successes in history it imparts superiority and fosters the feeling of stability. One way durability is conveyed in daily lives are monuments. Hogan states, that monuments are built "to last into the future" but created to commemorate the past (Hogan 90). Furthermore, monuments connect their own durability with the nation's durability and thus constantly generate national awareness to everyone passing by (Hogan 90). Monuments do not only represent durability through their mere existence, but also imply that there are reasons for their creation. Monuments honor important days in history, such as battles and wars, or relate to persons, like presidents or national heroes (Hogan 90).

In addition to monuments, durability can also be enhanced through places and documents with historical importance. Two prominent examples are Gettysburg or the Declaration of Independence (Hogan 90). Equally important with reference to durability are national holidays. Events which are celebrated annually serve as a reminder of important national and historic events and contribute to a national consciousness. In general one can say that recurring days of celebration do not only contribute to convey durability but also impart security, stability and continuity (Hogan 92).

2.2.4. Affectivity

The last and most complex technique of nationalization is affectivity. This technique involves certain emotions connected to one's nation triggering national identity. All other parameters mentioned above are based on affectivity and cannot operate without it (Hogan 93). Hogan distinguishes momentary emotions from sustained emotions and points out that only the latter type contributes to national identity (93). The reason why sustained emotions are more important is due to the fact that they are "marked by periodic spikes of momentary intensity ..." and that such moments are "systematically organized, integrated with goals and efforts." (Hogan 93). Furthermore, an identity group must attribute certain emotions to their nation and to their national land (Hogan 93-94). One of the most important emotions with reference to national identity represents pride and relatedly patriotism. However, for the development of emotional attachment to one's nation it is crucial to overcome a significant emotional barrier (Hogan 95). As discussed earlier in this chapter, nations consist of imagined communities whose members do not know each other personally. Furthermore, humans have an innate self-protective behavior towards anything new or unfamiliar. Hogan defines this as an emotional barrier of "default distrust" (95). This general distrust is problematic, since national communities entirely consist of people we do not know (Hogan 95). The author suggests two ways to approach this problem. In advance it must be explicitly clarified that it is impossible to remove this emotional barrier completely. Nevertheless, it is possible to mitigate distrust in form of personal interaction (Hogan 95). Once a personal interaction takes place the initial distrust is mitigated by homogenization as for instance sharing mutual values and believes, language, food, and dress (Hogan 95). Thus, unfamiliar strangers turn into less unfamiliar members of a community.

Another way of mitigating fundamental distrust constitutes the "cultivation of prototypes and exempla" (Hogan 95). In the moment confronted with such national stereotypes, these stereotypes instantly trigger certain associations to one's nation. Such associations depict particular ideas and memories that are part of one's national identity (Hogan 96). Furthermore, the cultivation of prototypes and exempla transforms the abstract concept of a nation into something more graspable. While prototypes describe typical characteristics of peoples or groups, exempla rather depict particular persons that are associated with a group i. e. nation. An example of an American prototype would be the notion of Americans being optimistic, hardworking, and conservative. American exempla, on the other hand, are famous people such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Neil Armstrong. Hogan points out that, "Traditionally, one function about the nationalist history has been to associate our thought about the nation with emotionally powerful exempla - for instance, leaders and soldiers who protect us, thus figures that we can trust and admire." (Hogan 96).


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Holidays and National Identity. How Independence Day fosters American Identity
University of Kassel
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holidays, national, identity, independence, american
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Julia Trede (Author), 2015, Holidays and National Identity. How Independence Day fosters American Identity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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